Family history Search in FamilySearch

On this page, we'll go step-by-step through your first family history search. Have you ever wondered how genealogists find people? Want to know how to add ancestors to your tree? Want to see where that information comes from?

Let's get started!


Using FamilySearch Hints

Before we get too deep in family history search techniques, I wanted to show the easiest way to add new ancestors and information to your tree.

Once you've set up your account and begun to add ancestors, you'll want to click on someone in your tree and then click on either "Person" or their name to open their "Person" profile. Have a look at the right column, where all the search and data tools are. Notice where I've circled in red the "Record Hints" with the number "9" next to it. This means FamilySearch has found nine records that are potential matches for this ancestor. 

Go ahead and click on the "Record Hints" link.

I get this pop-up showing a list of hints to review. In this example, I'll click on the "Find A Grave" hint:

Note that the first and last name, birth date and place, death date and place all match. Now we click the "Attach and Review" button to add this record to our information. We get this screen that compares the record with what we already have:

Usually, this page will show multiple names on the record, with a "Compare" link next to each name. When we click on these, we can compare additional information in the record that isn't already in our tree and then "add" individual pieces as needed before we attach. In this case, however, the record isn't giving us anything new, so we just click "Attach" at the bottom of the screen. The system will give us another screen showing the newly attached record. Go ahead and close this tab.

That's basically all there is to using hints in your family history search. You'll see these most often when you add a record that has very specific information about a person. You'll also see this when you import data from another website or computer program along with sources.


Using the Search Function to Do a Family History Search

All right, now down to the brass tacks.

Whenever we're doing a family history search of any kind, we use what we already know to find something we don't know. The trick is learning how to make the most of what you do know.

Click on the FamilySearch link in the right hand column.

We get a list of results like this:

In the left side, you'll see a box that shows a set of search parameters. You'll notice the records search function has already been automatically loaded with some of your ancestor's information.

Place names don't have to be complete or capitalized or written in any special format; you just put in what you know. If I happen to know the birth and death years, I like to enter the specific year in both range boxes. It helps shorten the list of search results I have to sort through.

You can target certain kind of records in your search.

Targeting Marriage Records

For example, let's say you're looking for a marriage record. You would enter the birth year of your ancestor, then click the "Spouse" link and enter the birth year and name of the spouse. Be sure to use maiden name when it applies, because that's the only name that will appear for a bride. You might also consider including the names of your ancestor's parents in your family history search because they are often listed on marriage records. Click on the "Parents" link to open the search parameters for that. When you get a marriage record and click "Review and Attach", be sure to go through and add all the info for your ancestor, then click the "Change" link to change the record perspective to the spouse and add and attach the record to people on her side of the family.

Targeting Death Records

If you want a death record, enter married names only. Obviously, this can be difficult if a woman married more than once and you haven't found the husband she had when she died. Enter birth and death years, if you have them. Guess at the death year if you don't. You can narrow down your death year guess by looking at any census records you've collected. Was your ancestor still alive in the 1870 census? Does it get hard to find information on your ancestor after a certain point in time?

Why Can't I Find Anything on This Person?

I've run into trouble finding census and marriage records, only to discover that an ancestor had met an untimely demise.

I remember having a hard time finding information on what I thought was an adult man, only to come across a church register in Northampton, Pennsylvania showing that the little guy had been buried just four months after he was born. I never did find anything that gave an indication as to what had happened to him. As a parent myself, I couldn't help but feel for him and for his mom and dad.

In another instance, I noticed that a father and son both died on the same day. There had to be a story behind that, so I searched the newspapers for that city and time period and found an article about an explosion at the mine where they worked.

From  the military service of a young corporal cut short by enemy machine guns to railroad engineers, blacksmiths, seamstresses, and homemakers going to heaven in their old age, death records have a way of telling very poignant stories. 

Be sure to add the parents' names, as these often appear in death certificates. You can use the "Other Person" search if you happen to know the name of a sibling or fellow boarder. This will usually give you census records and obituaries.

When you find a record that matches your ancestor, just follow the same "Review and Attach" procedure that we used for hints. Then click on the "View Tree" link in your ancestor's "Person" profile, and notice you've added more ancestors to your tree. 

You have unlocked the power of this completely free LDS genealogy search tool. You're in a position to begin to see for yourself what an incredible genealogy research site FamilySearch is.

Congratulations on your first successful family history search; you are now officially a newly minted family historian! 


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