A Beginner’s Guide to Searching Records

July 19, 2019  - by 
Woman searching through stacks of books.

FamilySearch.org is bursting at the seams with great records—some of which almost certainly have new information about your family. Learn from this beginner’s guide how to search these records and find your ancestors.

Start by going to FamilySearch’s main search screen, which you can find by selecting Search in the bar at the top of the screen and then, in the drop-down menu, Records. From here, you can see multiple ways to search.

The Basic Search: Search by Individual

A screenshot of the search records page, where you can find your ancestors.

There are a few ways you can search records and find your ancestors on FamilySearch, but one of the most basic ways is to search by individual.

To search this way, focus on the Search Historical Records box on the left of the main search screen, and follow these simple steps:

  1. Fill in information about your ancestor. It’s easy to assume that the more detailed information you put in about your ancestor, the better. Actually, the opposite is generally true. Put in as little information as possible that brings up a reasonable amount of results.
  2. Click Search to get a list of results. In the example here, we entered information for Charles Mulford. Results look like this (only the top match is shown here):
How to View Historical Records on FamilySearch

If you think one of the items on the list is a match, select anywhere in the row to see the record details. A transcription of the document opens on the left, with a link to the document image on the right. Choosing View the original document below the thumbnail of the document image in this example brings up the 1910 census with Charles and his family.

Find your ancestors in the 1910 census, which can be found at FamilySearch

Another Quick Way to Search

Sidebar for searching records on person page so you can find your ancestors

There’s also another way to search for individuals. If you are using Family Tree, go to the person’s page. On the right side of the page, in the Search Records box, select FamilySearch. The details of this person will automatically be used to fill in the search fields.

Once you find the individual you’re searching for, you can add the information to Family Tree so you can expand your family tree and find the record easily in the future.

Keep in mind that only indexed collections are searchable in this way. FamilySearch has many online records that aren’t yet accessible from this kind of search.

The Sad Case of Unsuccessful Searches

Not every search will yield the results you are looking for—but have no fear! A record with information about your family might still be out there. Learn how to refine your searches, or try different search methods, so that you can find your ancestors.

Books looks through binoculars

All about the FamilySearch Family Tree

Leslie Albrecht Huber

Leslie Albrecht Huber has written for dozens of magazines and journals on genealogy and other topics. She currently does communications consulting and contract work for nonprofit organizations. Leslie received a bachelor's degree in history from Brigham Young University and a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked as a professional genealogist, helpingothers trace their families, and has spoken on genealogy and history topics to groups across the United States.

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  1. I need to search my ancestral background on very limited knowledge I need help… search will be in the Sub Continent India Pakistan

  2. Whilst setting up my family tree for the first time, I linked to another family tree, that extended mine with data I could confirm. However as part of this linking one of my ancestors has linked to an incorrect father & mother connection.
    Can I alter the incorrect link. if so how

    1. Hi John! Thank you for your question regarding the shared FamilySearch Family Tree. You can click here to find the instructions on how to correct relationships in the Family Tree. Hope this helps!

    1. Hi Tom! Thank you for your question. There is no longer an adjudicator (we called it arbitration) role within indexing. The closest thing we have to that is the ability to become a reviewer. Anyone who has indexed 1000 batches or more is eligible to start reviewing. More information can be found here. Thank you for your interest and for reading the blog!

  3. I cannot find my parents marriage certifcate. They were Clarence Albert Sandell and Eleanor Elvira Peterson and they were married in Bethany, Missouri on 7 July 1942. The Des Moines Register had write on them as they were Iowa resends married in Missouri

  4. I have joined Ancestry.com in the pass and I also joined Familysearch, I have been searching for 6 years now and I can not find a grave or a death record for my great grandmother , no one in my family knows anything about her death her birth name was Jennie Murphy est dob April 1888, Beat 5 Carroll, Ms her parents were James and Cary Ann Murphy , she married a A.J Herring and census of 1910 shows she lived with her husband and his mother and their children but the spelled her name Ginnie , next census in 1920 shows she was now Jennie Williams
    Married to David , after this Census I have been stuck for 6 years trying to figure out when ? And what year she died , if any one could help me complete this I would be so ever grateful

  5. Hola estoy buscando a una persona de nombre Maria, el nombre de su padre es Ramón Álvarez Jáuregui, yo creo que ella debe haber nacido entre 19XX y 19XX, yo tengo conocimiento de que el padre de ella, que es mi padre ( ella es mi hermana, apenas supe hace poco tiempo que tengo esta hermana), estuvo viviendo en Watsonville California y en Van Nuys California,en los registros yo he encontrado varias personas posibles pero no puedo ir a las actas de nacimiento en imágenes porque cuando pido ver actas de esas fechas el sistema me arroja actas de años mucho muy atrás, como puedo hacer para ir a las imágenes de actas de esos años.

    Google Translate – Spanish to English: Hello, I am looking for a person named Maria, her father’s name is Ramón Álvarez Jáuregui, I believe that she must have been born between 19XX and 19XX, I have knowledge that her father, who is my father (she is my sister, I just knew a short time ago that I have this sister), she was living in Watsonville California and Van Nuys California, in the records I have found several possible people but I cannot go to the birth certificates in images because when I ask to see certificates of On those dates, the system throws me minutes from years long ago, how can I go to the images of minutes from those years.

  6. bonjour, Depuis quelques temps je n ‘arrive plus à ouvrir les registres des mariages de Alguazas province de Murcie en Espagne pour la période 1800/1900. Merci de m’indiquer la procédure pour avoir accès à ces registres. Cordialement

    Google Translate – French to English: hello, For some time now I have not been able to open the marriage registers of Alguazas province of Murcia in Spain for the period 1800/1900. Please tell me the procedure to access these registers. cordially

    1. Hi Jack! Thank you for your question. The FamilySearch Family Tree is one tree. If the people are already in FamilySearch and you need to connect them to your relative, you can just create the connection (parent, spouse, child).

  7. I need help in locating any jury duty documents for Ignatius Chisley (b. 1822) or Egnatious Chisley (b. 1844 or 1847) (father and son) in Richland, Louisiana between 1860 – 1880. I thought I made a discovery on Ancestry, but I didn’t make a copy. Thank you very much.

  8. Looking for delcarme family history especially members with a history of having been born gifted. Clairvoyance ect. Need too find important information please.

    1. I have used this many times when searching records on my family over the years. I love when things come up when searching things in my families