Whether your ancestors came from Argentina, Scotland, the Czech Republic, or Montana, you can access a wealth of genealogical records online at FamilySearch, the genealogy arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their best resource, in my opinion, is the wealth of indexes and document images available through their free Historical Records Collection, which includes more than 3.5 billion names in 1,500+ collections from countries all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, England, Germany, France, Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines and many more.
Navigate to the Records
Begin your search for information on FamilySearch Historical Records by selecting the Search option on the main page. From the main Search page, choose one of the following:
- Use the search box at the top of the page (which searches for names across all collections)
- Scroll down and select a country under Browse by Location to view record groups available for that region
- Select All Record Collections for a browsable list.
Search Tips for FamilySearch Historical RecordsThere are SO many records online at FamilySearch now that a general search often turns up hundreds if not thousands of irrelevant results. Sometimes this leads people to claim that FamilySearch has nothing on their family. Do keep in mind as you search, however, that these are historical records. While FamilySearch does have some records with information on living or recently deceased individuals, this is not true of the majority of their collections.
Check the Exact Search Boxes – When you're getting a lot of irrelevant results, try checking the exact search boxes next to the names and other information you're fairly confident of.
Try Using Wildcards – FamilySearch recognizes both the * wildcard (replaces one or more characters) and the ? wildcard (replaces a single character). Wildcard searches work both with and without exact search.
Narrow by Date or Event – Select a life event (birth, marriage, residence, death or any) to narrow your search by a particular date and event (e.g. someone born in Oklahoma about 1908). Residence search is the one I use most.
Narrow by Relationship – Select Spouse, Parents, or Other Person to narrow your search by entering either the name of a parent, spouse or possible sibling/associate. This search technique is especially useful for locating siblings - just enter the surnames of both the mother and the father and leave everything else blank. If the two surnames are common you may need to also add one or both first names, or narrow by location. You can also use this technique when searching a particular record collection (see below).
Search by Collection – A general search almost never works well for me unless I'm searching for someone with a very unusual name. For best results, I almost always start a new search at FamilySearch by browsing by location down to a particular record collection (e.g. North Carolina Deaths, 1906-1930). You can also use the "Narrow by Relationship" technique discussed above within each collection (e.g. use parent surnames only to find married female children in the N.C. Deaths collection)
Show Preview – Once your search has returned a list of results, click on the little upside-down triangle to the right of each search result to open a more detailed preview. This reduces the time than clicking back and forth between the results list and the result pages.
Filter Your Results - If you're searching across multiple collections at one time, use the Category list in the left-hand navigation bar to narrow your results by category. This is useful for filtering out census records, for example, which often end up topping results lists. Once you've narrowed to a particular category (Births, Marriages & Deaths, for example), the left-hand nav bar will list record collections within that category, with the number of results that match your search query next to each collection title.
Browse as Well as Search – Many collections at FamilySearch are only partially searchable at any given point in time, and this information isn't always easy to determine from the collection list. Even if a particular collection is searchable, try comparing the total number of searchable records listed in the Collections List with the total number of records available if you select the record set and scroll down to see the number of records listed under "View Images in this Collection." In many cases you will find there are many records available for browsing that aren't yet included in the searchable index.
If you find that you really get a lot from the free genealogy records available at FamilySearch, you can thank the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who have generously donated their time to help to index these new collections through FamilySearch Indexing. If you're interested in volunteering yourself, the software is easy to download and use, and instructions are well thought out and generally self-explanatory. A little of your time can help get that genealogy record online for someone else who is searching for it - for free!