12 Quick FamilySearch Search Hints and Tips

By Rick Crume

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  1. You can use wildcards when searching Historical Records and Family Trees. An asterisk stands for any number of letters and a question mark stands for one letter.
  2. Historical Records matches automatically include similar name spellings. Click Advanced Search to search on exact name spellings, to search on a specific event (birth, marriage, residence, death) and to add a spouse’s name or parents’ names to your target person.
  3. Use the filters (located on the left side of your screen) to narrow your Historical Records search results by category, such as Census & Lists, place or date.
  4. You also can click Exact boxes to search for the exact place of residence, birth, death or other life event you specify.
  5. Use the Search with a relationship section to search with the name of a spouse, parent, or other person who might appear in a record with your target ancestor. This can help the right records rise to the top of your results list, especially when you’re searching for someone with a common name.
  6. Use the arrow in the Preview column to view indexed information from each match.
  7. To run a new search, instead of going back to the search page, use the Refine Your Search box to the top left of your search results page.
  8. If a book or record collection is online, the library catalog now has links to the digital materials.
  9. Because FamilySearch catalogs records by the locality that kept them, your best bet for finding relevant microfilmed records is often a place search (select “place-names” from the drop-down menu). Type in your ancestor’s county and state or parish and country to see what’s available.
  10. An author search turns up records created by a particular government agency as well as books by a specific person. Enter immigration naturalization service into the Last or Corporate Name field to see the FHL’s holdings of US passenger list microfilm.
  11. Use the keyword search as a catch-all option, especially when other searches strike out. This type of search finds a term anywhere in the catalog listing, not just the author, title or other specific field.
  12. Search a specific record collection, step-by-step. Searching a specific record collection is a good way to focus on the most relevant matches, as this search for my Pennington family of Aroostook County, Maine, illustrates:

Step 1: Click the Historical Records tab. Under Browse by Location, click USA, Canada, and Mexico.

Step 2: Historical record collections appear in an alphabetical list, and most titles begin with the name of a state or country. You can search for a word in a collection name and filter by place, date and category. Or just scroll down the list.

Step 3: Choose Maine Marriages, 1771-1907, which has almost 600,000 records and was last updated on April 27, 2010.


Step 4: Fill in at least a first or last name and, optionally, add a place (such as a town or county) and range of years. Since Pennington isn’t a common surname, start with a broad search for just the last name. Click the Search button.

Step 5: It’s not hard to scroll through the 39 matches, but you can refine the search by expanding the New Search box and entering the county name, Aroostook as the Place. Click Search.

Step 6: All 14 matches are my relatives. Hit the down arrow to the right to preview a record; click on a person’s name to view the full record.


Step 7: This particular record doesn’t link to a record image, but it gives the source microfilm number, 10450. Do a film search of the library catalog for more details. You can order the microfilm through a FamilySearch Center for a small fee. Refer to volume 2, page 84 on the microfilm.

A version of this article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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