How to Search the FamilySearch Site

March 6, 2017  - by 

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 FamilySearchLooking 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 FamilySearchThere’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 FamilySearchInstead 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 FamilySearchThe 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


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  1. While researching Probate Records in Cleveland, Ohio the record I wanted to research was marked “missing case”. What does this mean? Did they lose it? Is there a special collections file I can check. I was very disappointed as I spent several hours going through the docket file.

  2. Thank you for this information. I was away from my computer a few weeks ago and was unable to log on and a lot of my early
    information is not available to me now, that is the info’about my mother Grace Chadwick. When I get that sorted out, with some help, I will be able to continue with my search on both sides of the family. I am 87 yrs old now and my relationship with computers is not really very friendly. I did have quite a lot of help from your lovely missionary girls until I was away some weeks ago.
    Thanks again for all the info’ from Brenda,born Chadwick, adopted Russell and married Cross and I am reasonably sure my fathers’ family name is Ellis.

  3. I am trying to find the marriage license for my 5xgreat grandparents(Abraham Nations and Rebecca Moytoy). Moytoy is her maiden name. I have put the info in, but it said there was no results found. Help!

  4. Love Familysearch but there’s nothing worse than seeing that key above the camera. It’s so disappointing. I do my best research from 9 PM to midnight and no center would be open that night.

  5. 1. Do you recommend a strategy for finding lost adoptions in Australia?
    2. Where is Miscellanous list? Britain introduced a tax on BDM’s in 1700’s for about a decade?. Apparently there is a miscellaneous list of BDM’s after the tax was stopped so people could register BDM’s-the miscellaneous list?

  6. My Grandmother Rose Barbara and Grandfather John Christopher Rasp eloped Feb. 2 or 19 in 1907. I have searched census records but they don’t give the marriage place. I also have their death certificates and there are no marriage places noted. Where should I go from here. Thanks

  7. I am looking for my paternal Grandmother Mary Jane Wilson born 1894 she emigrated for work to Joanesburgh South Africa in 1925 on The Gloucestershire Castle steam ship Union Castle Mainstream there was 312 passengers shegaveher age as 29 1896 two year s younger than what I Son her birth certificate and her job as Machinist.The job she was going forwas Manager of Apartment Block. I have search many times but found nothing not even a grave can anyone please help me EAManning