You’ve Mastered the Census and Basic Searches—What Next?

February 25, 2015  - by 

In a Thursday afternoon session of RootsTech 2015, titled You’ve Mastered the Census and Basic Searches- What Next?, Karen Auman, PhD and Brigham Young University professor, outlined a process for genealogists and family historians to move beyond basic searches and census records when seeking their family history and relatives. The key, according to Auman, is focusing your discovery efforts through the 4 steps of directed research.

Have a plan.
Create a specific, written goal, ensuring it is manageable and has boundaries of completion. Instead of “Trace my ancestors back to Adam and Eve,” try something like “Find the biological family of my grandmother, including her parents and siblings” or “Detail the family life of my grandfather.” Write it down and refer back to it to ensure you’re staying on track.

Know the history and customs of your ancestor’s geographical location.
Learning about the area and understanding the regional history can open new avenues of research and ensure you don’t waste time or money on irrelevant sources. For example, maps might indicate a large mountain range preventing migration in one direction or rivers facilitating migration toward a nearby city, understanding the jurisdictions of the location will help you to know where to seek potential records, or you may discover the region was settled by certain types of people from specific locales. For example, a jurisdiction may not have granted parental rights to women, so children were officially considered orphaned once the father, but not the mother, had died, and be listed in Orphan Court records. You can find geographical information on the Wiki or Wikipedia by typing in place names or topics. The GenWeb page for the county you’re working in or local historical societies are also good sources.

Discover what records are available to search.
Some records were never created, have been lost or burned or are not available; eliminating these focuses your search in productive areas.

  • Know the record jurisdictions. For example, divorce records might be kept somewhere separate from marriage and birth records.
  • FamilySearch Wiki includes links to online records. Scroll all the way down as additional resources are added to the bottom.
  • Search the FamilySearch Catalog. This includes books and other materials that you can search by surname or location. A useful tip is to include multiple geographic levels (e.g., search the state and not just county or city).
  • Search the Wiki. This is includes The Red Book, which looks at location and The Source, which is by source-type.
  • Search the Card Catalog. Filter by location and look at many jurisdictions.
  • Look at local libraries, genealogical and historical societies. Check State and University Archives as well.


Some search strategies are more productive than others. Focusing on the most effective methods of searching will save you time and a lot of effort.

  • Search methodically, based on the written goal. Keep excellent notes on alternate sources such as wills, probates, church records, marriage records, and land records.
  • Outsmart the record makers and indexers. The people who make the records are not your ancestors, names are frequently spelled incorrectly and dates can be inaccurate. Always try a variety of spellings and date ranges.
  • Unindexed records may actually have an index so check them. Unindexed records have been digitized but not yet transcribed, however the original scanned image may include indexes from the original records. For example, land records and wills needed to be frequently searched by county governments and county clerks, so indexes were created. Click on the records and review them. Look through the images to understand the particular indexing system that jurisdiction used and be certain to check both the beginning and end of the records, as the index may be an addendum or in another volume.
  • Google with specifics. For example, google a name with a date range and a regional location, as opposed to “Young, United States.”

Now you’re ready to discover your ancestors beyond the census!

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  1. Does anyone know how to contact these folks when you get locked out of your account? I just had to reset my password, which went fine, but I still couldn’t sign in. I even confirmed my user name through the “forgot user name” process (I had to correct user name) , then went back and tried again with my new password. I used two different browsers, Firefox and Chrome. Now I can’t find anyone to call. Very frustrating…

    1. Did you get it resolved? If not, then sign in again with your user name, and click on “forgot password”. It then will send to your email or cell phone (which ever you have it set up to send to) a temporary password so you can log in. Then you can go and change your password to the one you want.

  2. I think you all are doing great work. You have helped me immensely and would not be where I am in ancestors if not for you.
    Thank you so much.