Using the FamilySearch Website (19 April 2013)

Options and Tips for Searching Historical Records

If you understand the way the options on the search screen work, you have a better chance of finding the historical records that you need.

Unless you are looking for a specific type of record, it is often better to leave many search fields blank, even if you know the information. FamilySearch.org may contain records about this individual, but the records may not contain all of the information that you know. Entering less information may help your search criteria match the individual’s record more closely and increase the likelihood that it will appear near the top of your search results.
Tip: The following tips are essential to searching historical records successfully:
  • Search only for deceased people who lived before about 1940.
  • Enter the name of only one person in the First Names field.
  • You can leave fields blank and estimate information.
  • When searching for a woman, search with her maiden name to find records that were created before her marriage. Use her married name to find records created after. Or try your search with just her first name and the names of her spouse or her parents.
Table 1. Screen Options
Option Instructions Tips
First Names Enter the first and middle names of the individual.
  • Try adding or omitting middle names.
  • Try nicknames.
  • Try spelling variations.
  • If the individual moved to a new country, try spelling the name as it is spelled in the old country and in the new one.
  • Try using wildcards. (Enter * to replace zero or more characters. Enter ? to replace one character.)
  • Leave this field and the Last Name field blank. Then click Spouse or Parents, and enter the names of the individual’s parents or spouse.
Last Names Enter the last name of the individual.
  • Try spelling and language variations.
  • Look for women using both a maiden name and married name.
  • Try using wildcards. (Enter * to replace zero or more characters. Enter ? to replace one character.)
  • Leave this field and the First Name fields blank. Then click Spouse or Parents, and enter the names of the individual’s parents or spouse.
  • If you do not know a woman’s maiden name, enter her first name, and leave the last name blank. Then click Parents, and enter the names of her father and mother.
Restrict records by
  • Location
  • Type
  • Batch Number
Click the type of restriction that you want to apply to your search. Then enter the requested information.
  • The location restriction is on the screen by default.
  • You can use more than one restriction. For example, you can restrict your search results to only marriage records from Canada.
Check boxes in name and place fields Click the check box of each field for which you want to perform an exact search. If you use this option and do not find what you need, try your search again without it. Repeat the search even if you think you know exact names and places.
Add a life event
  • Any
  • Birth
  • Marriage
  • Residence
  • Death
  1. Click the type of life event that you want to include in your search.
  2. Enter the place and estimated year range.
  • Try your search with different events.
  • Try your search with no events.
  • Use the Residence event to find records that identify where a person was living. For example, a record might contain an address or identify the individual’s “last place of residence.” Birthplaces, marriage places, and death places are not the same as residence places, because someone may have been away from home when these events happened.
  • Use the Any event if you know a date and place for an event other than birth, marriage, death, and residence. For example, a search with an Any event might find dates of military enlistment or immigration.
  • In the place field, try these tips:
    • Try searching at a more or less specific place level. For example, if you searched for a town, try the county, state, or district instead. Try entering just the country name.
    • Try using wildcards in place-names. (Enter * to replace zero or more characters. Enter ? to replace one character.)
    • Remove the place from your search. Instead, use the filters on the left side of the search results to narrow your search by place.
  • In the year fields, try these tips:
    • Increase or decrease the year range.
    • Try searching with no years. Instead, use the filters on the left side of the search results to narrow your search by year.
    • Try either a beginning year or end year.
  • You can include multiple events in your search. However, do this when you are looking for a specific type of record that contains all of those events. For example:
    • To find a death certificate, you might want to search with both birth and death events. Death certificates often include both birth and death information.
    • To find a birth certificate, include only a birth event. Birth certificates do not contain death events.
Add a relationship
  • Spouse
  • Parents
  1. Click the type of relationship that you want to include in your search.
  2. Then enter the first, middle, and last names of the father, mother, or spouse.
  • Use the same tips as for the individual’s first and last names.
  • When entering the names of mothers or wives, try searching by the woman’s married name and maiden name. If you do not know her maiden name, leave the Last Name field blank.
Match all exactly Click this option to have the system find only records that match everything you entered exactly. If you use this option and do not find what you need, try your search again without it. Repeat the search even if you think you know exact names and places.
Reset form Click this option to remove everything that you have entered into the search fields.
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