How to Search the FamilySearch Site

March 6, 2017  - by 
How to Search the FamilySearch Site

FamilySearch is bursting at the seams with great records—some of which almost certainly have new information about your family. Their digitized collections from across the world include church, vital, census, land, probate, military, and immigration records as well as many other types of records and histories that can help you uncover your family tree.

How do you unlock the door to find them? All you need is a good search. You can access FamilySearch’s main search screen at, or from the bar at the top of the screen, select Search and then Records. From here you can see that there are a few different ways to search. It’s not rocket science—anyone can manage it. But a little extra background knowledge and a few insider tips can streamline your effort and get you on the fast track to success. So that’s exactly what we’ve provided here!

A) The Basic Search: Search by Individual

How to Search Historical Records on FamilySearch
Looking for a specific person in FamilySearch’s vast collections is the staple of most people’s searching. 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. Here are two secrets to searching success:
    • Put in as little information as possible that brings up a reasonable amount of results.
    • Experiment with your search criteria. This is important even if you are convinced you have the details exactly right. Errors in the records or indexing might mean your ancestor doesn’t appear exactly as you think he or she she should. And sometimes what you know to be the absolute truth about your ancestor turns out to not be so true after all! Try different spellings of names, widen the date ranges, or delete some search criteria. Also, avoid checking the box that says “Match all terms exactly.”
  2. Push 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
  3. If you think one of the items on the list is a match, select Details or Image. Details will bring up a transcription of the record, while Image will bring up the actual record. Choosing Image in this example brings up the 1910 census with Charles and his family. Amazing!
    How to View Historical Records on FamilySearch

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

Keep in mind that only collections that are indexed are searchable. FamilySearch has many online records that aren’t yet accessible by searching this way.

B) Search by Location.

How to Search Historical Records by Location on FamilySearch
Instead of looking to see what records your particular ancestor is included in, you can search to see what records exist for a particular place. Here’s how:

  1. From the main search page, look at the map on the right side. Click on the area of the world you are interested in.
  2. From the pop-up box that appears, choose a more exact location, such as a specific US state or country in Europe.
  3. On the next page, type in your ancestor’s name to search indexed records only in that place, and follow the steps in section A to locate your ancestor in those records. OR scroll down to see a list of record groups from that area that aren’t yet searchable but are available for browsing. You may be able to find more information about your ancestor in these browseable records.

C) Search by Collection.

How to Search Historical Records by Collection on FamilySearch
The final option on the main search screen is to search by collection. This works best if you already know there is a certain type of record—such as vital records for a particular county or a specific census record—that you would like to search.

To search by collection:

  1. Type in the collection title, or browse their collections.
  2. From the collection page, search for your ancestor following the tips in section A above, if that’s an option, or browse the records if it’s not.

The Sad Case of Unsuccessful Searches

What if you search but don’t have any luck? If your ancestors don’t materialize from these searches, all is not lost! Remember that FamilySearch doesn’t have every record out there, and not all of their records are indexed. As the video below explains, try the location and collection search to find records you might need to browse. Try FamilySearch’s partner sites. And don’t forget to check back often. The holdings available at FamilySearch are constantly growing. So who knows? Maybe the record offering the key to figuring out your family tree is in the record group coming online tomorrow.


Try Another Simple Activity:

Family History Simple Start: Start Your Family Tree
Family History Simple Start: Explore Your Heritage
Family History Simple Start: Discover New Apps
Family History Simple Start: Hints: See What FamilySearch Found
Family History Simple Start: Add a Photo or Audio Story
Family History Simple Start: Search the Site
Family History Simple Start: Use FamilySearch Apps


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. On “hints” it shows my Dad, Guy Leslie Fowler, at school in Rocky, Washita, OK along with his brothers, Henry Alden & James Wesley Fowler in 1929 but I cannot locate it again to attach that to the tree for Dad & 2 brothers. Shows on hints but cannot locate it to add to tree?

  2. What’s up, after reading this amazing piece of writing i
    am as well cheerful to share my knowledge here with friends.

  3. what are the rules for searching under BOOKS? If I want to search for Walnut Theater I don’t seem to be able to use “Walnut Theater” to get the particular string.

  4. How can you locate a person who is already in your family tree? I would like to go to the place they show up in my tree. Thanks

    1. Boni, under “Family Tree” you can select “Person”, then “Find”. Here, you can find people in your tree by name or by ID. You can also select “Search” then “Family Tree” for the same result! hope this helps!

  5. Mothers !st husband. Peter Koenig in Naval Air corp.World War II. Shot Down & killed over Pacific ??? I was told.
    Married Dorothy Spiller in St Louis Mo?? Then moved to California with the Navy. Would like to know history of him

  6. have tried to find my family history, but have not had any success. my surname is the name of a language and I keep getting everything except my surname and my family history. please help me.

  7. I am very peeved with your site.
    I repeated tried to sign in even changing username and password to NO AVAIL
    If you want to offer something then make it easy to access

    1. Bud, I’m sorry for the confusion! That sounds very frustrating. We have some great representatives that you can speak to on the phone or direct message if you follow this link. They will help you figure out the issue. Good luck!

  8. Thank you for such an informative email, I found the contents very interesting and hope it will help me do better in my searches. I think Family Search is a most useful tool, I just wish I had time to do better. Thank you again for all the help and information I very much appreciate it.