What’s New: FamilySearch Places

December 21, 2017  - by 

Anyone who has tried to uncover his or her family history knows that place is an integral part of every family’s story. The places our ancestors lived shaped their lives and experiences. They also determined what records were created about them. It makes sense, then, that to find our ancestors and understand their lives, we need to learn about the places they came from.

FamilySearch has a new tool called FamilySearch Places, which makes learning about places easier. Although the development of this tool is ongoing, some great features are already available, so you can start using it now.

Getting Started in Your Search

How to search for your ancestors by location.
When you open the FamilySearch Places page, you’ll see a large map, with the FamilySearch main tabs across the top and a small search box near the upper left corner. Getting started is as easy as typing a place-name in the box. The place can be a town, parish, county, state, or any other kind of place. If you aren’t sure of the spelling, use wildcards in the place-name, such as “Neubrandenb*rg,” or use a tilde (~) to search for similar spellings (the tilde is usually found just left of the 1 key on a keyboard). With this flexibility, a search for “Providance~, Utah,” would also find “Providence, Utah,” and any similar place-names worldwide. The search results show possible place-name matches and identify the types of places they are. You may notice that the places in this database are the same ones used in FamilySearch when “standardizing” place information (such as birthplace or marriage place) about your ancestors.

If any historical constraints exist for a place, those will be included in the search results. For example, a search for “Wisconsin” will list the current state of Wisconsin as well as Wisconsin Territory, which lasted from 1836 to 1848. Such information may help you understand how your ancestor’s home has changed through the years and how record-keeping may have changed for that location.

Discover your ancestors by location
Consider how the following examples could help you research the place-names of your ancestors. Suppose that you searched for the place-name “Neukloster.” From the results, you would see that this was the name of a town, a commune, and a Lutheran church. Next, suppose that you searched for a town named “Neustadt.” You would see dozens of possible matches from many different countries. These broad search results can ensure that you have considered all possibilities in your research. Perhaps while researching your family, you come across a town name but do not have the full context of where that town was. Seeing a full list of places with this name would help you find all possible matches. (The corresponding map is interactive, allowing you to zoom in or out and move around.)

After you have searched for a place-name and narrowed the results to one that you are interested in, click it to view further details about the place. The details are organized into sections, starting with Basic Information and History. Some places will have­­ a short and rather simple history. Other places, such as those that changed jurisdictions, will have a more complicated history. The History section ­­­­will show which jurisdictions the place was under during different time periods and will direct you where to look for records in each period. Knowing where to find records is a key benefit of using the History section.

Using Research Links

How to search for your ancestors by location.
Below the History section of a selected place, you will find the Research Links section. Several of these connect to outside websites with place-focused information. For example, TheClio.com provides information about historical sites and museums near the place-name you searched, and WhatWasThere.com pins historical photos of the selected place to Google Maps. The amount of information available on these outside resources will vary greatly. For some places, you’ll find little, while for others, you’ll find a rich collection of photos, histories, and facts.

Another research link you should use is the “Search for Records for This Place on FamilySearch.” Clicking that link will search the historical records of FamilySearch. Under the Records tab, you can see people in Family Tree who are associated with the place. Under the Collections tab, you can see records associated with the place. Keep in mind, though, that you are not searching the entire catalog, only the historical records. This means that the results will not include a list of possible records for that place. For example, if you searched for “Neukloster” and then clicked to search the historical records on FamilySearch, you would see the Mecklenburg-Schwerin censuses listed. However, you would not see the all-important (but unindexed) church records that were kept in Neukloster. You would need to search the catalog to find those.

The other research links can provide a list of nearby places or other places found within that jurisdiction.

Finding Alternate Names

How to search for your ancestors by location.
Below the Research Links section, you will find the Alternate Names section. This lists other names the place was known by throughout history. Such information could be particularly important for places that have changed jurisdictions. For example, if you searched for the city of Gdansk, Poland, the results would show that Gdansk was also known as Danzig, with German listed as the language. This would give you a new lead to follow in the search for your ancestor’s hometown, as well as an understanding of how the city records may have been kept and how they may now be categorized. You may find similar information about a place in the History section.

Exploring Additional Information

How to search for your ancestors by location.
The final section of the basic search results is the Additional Information section. What you find here will vary. In this example for Wayne County, Utah, you can see a Wikipedia link and a FamilySearch Wiki link. The Wikipedia link explains a little about the geography of the place and provides links to some of the towns. The FamilySearch Wiki provides a wealth of information about records and resources. Reading through these would be a great way to jump-start your research for a location since it will familiarize you with the important records for the area and tell you how to access them.

If you’d like to explore further with place-name searches, experiment with the advanced search. Because the FamilySearch Places tool is still under construction, you should expect changes and adjustments as improvements are made. But why wait? Go ahead and explore the latest features now. With this place-centered resource, FamilySearch has made it more convenient than ever to lay the foundation you need to understand where your ancestors came from and know how to find them!


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I would like to have a places function where you could see all your family members in your line that lived in a particular location.

    1. Laurence, there is a feature for this on the app that is not on the website. You can read about it here. The map will start centered around your current location, but you can zoom in and out as well as scroll around the map to find ancestors from other locations. I hope this helps!

  2. How can users add or correct locations? An obvious example would be different churches in the same town…

    1. Hello! Locations of events can be changed by pressing the “edit” button located next to the event. I hope this helps!


  4. I was thrilled when standardized places were introduced.

    However I have not been able to figure out how to make additions and corrections. Neither this article or the page https://www.familysearch.org/research/places/ has the instruction on how to do it.

    For example, I found “Michel, British Columbia, Canada”, however it is “Provisional”. I would like to add latitude and longitude as well as dates for past names. The town ceased to exist in 1978 and became a ghost town.

  5. I searched for Welsh St Donats, I was given multiple entries for St Donats but continued to search. when I added I
    was able to see the place. Someone who did not know the history of the two locations, st donats and welsh st donats would assume wrong information and give up. why can’t the search engine discriminate the two without the county being added?

  6. Is there any way to get the latitude/longitude data for places in a gedcom export? Right now I’m using another genealogy software to import my familysearch tree and then export it to a gedcom file, but it is missing latitude/longitude data.

  7. I am sure that the ~ is not the only wild card tool in the data base functions list.
    Please make and post a list of other tools. Most of us are not data base guru’s.

  8. There is a real problem with this web page in the way it functions. For instance the first thing you do is type in the name of the place you are looking for, and if it is not found in the list of standardized names it may pull up a larger named locality. For instance Ilfracrombe, Devon, England. The next thing you do is try to find it on the map. Because the only thing the map displays is Devon the Higher level Place so even if you find it on the map any time you mouse over any of the listed places the map moves to that place. Which is great unless the place you are looking for is not in the list but yet it is on the map. instead of making the map interactive on mouse over of the list require a mouse click on the listed name. This will allow the user to look on the map and possibly find the name on the map without it constantly moving away from where you set the selected map location. Also use the map zoom to indicate the area size, country, state, county, city or country, province, jurisdiction, Lieutenancy, city.
    There also should be some guidelines on how fine a place description needs to be. What is the goal of Family Search when it comes to Place Information? Is it as much information as available or Stop at City
    Also this comment box needs to be bigger so you can review you comments easier.
    I know you can make it bigger but just make the default size at least 3 Lines.
    Its all about making this stuff easier to use, less clicks with accurate input. I find a lot of times the information is displayed and then goes away just when you need to type it. making the user open yet another window.
    I have been a Automation Engineer for 40 years and know this is not an easy job but appreciate all you guys are working on. Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Thomas! Thank you for your feedback. I’ve shared your comments with the engineering team over this product. Thank you for reading the blog!