How to Find Your Ancestors for Free in the Shared Family Tree

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Are you trying to find an ancestor or deceased family member? If so, you should search our Family Tree—the largest shared family tree in the world. The Tree contains more than a billion names. It’s free and open to the public, and the ancestor you’re looking for might already be in it.

Gather what you know about your deceased relative—such as his or her name, birth or death information, and perhaps the name of a parent, spouse, or child—and follow the steps below to see if he or she is in the Family Tree. Or click the button below and go directly to our Find page. 

Searching Family Tree—A Quick Way to Start or Add to Your Genealogy

If you want to find a relative who may be in the Tree, go to FamilySearch, and under the Family Tree tab, choose Find. Be prepared to log in or create a free FamilySearch account. (You can also get to this same page by going to the Search tab, and choosing Family Tree.)

Screenshot of FamilySearch.org, showing how to find the Family Tree in the main menu.

Once onto the Tree Find, enter what you know about your deceased relative. The page opens with a simplified search panel, which works for early searches. To get better results, however, it’s a good idea to open the full search experience by clicking More Options.

A screenshot of the search box from the Family Tree Find on FamilySearch.org.

The full search box from the FamilySearch Family Tree Find.

The Tree Find looks and functions almost exactly like FamilySearch’s Search Historical Records tool. We did this on purpose, of course. Any search strategies you learned for that page will be equally useful here. Let’s go through the filters one at a time, though, and examine some best practices. 

Screenshot showing where to put an alternate name in a Family Tree Find search.

1. Names

Consider some best practices for filling out the name fields:

  • Enter the person's first and middle names into the First Names field.
  • Enter the person’s family name or surname into the Last Names field.
  • Use the Alternate Names tab for maiden names, nicknames, aliases, other spellings, second last names, and any name changes that may have occurred during a person’s lifetime.

2. Sex

Choosing Male or Female, if known, can help narrow your search results.

Screenshot showing how to add life event information into a search box.

3. Life Events

Under Add Life Event, enter what you know about where the person was located during their life. Be sure to change the filter from Any to Birth, Marriage, Residence, or Death. Doing so is likely to make your search more accurate.

4. Family Members

Under Add Family Members, enter what you know about the person’s spouse, father, mother, or other relationship. You can use the same guidelines and strategies for entering names here as you did earlier.

Directly below the Family Member section is a toggle for Show Exact Search. Be careful using this option, and only use it when you are getting back more search results than you can reasonably consider. The actual data in Family Tree may be slightly different than the names, dates, and places you are entering, so being flexible with your search criteria is usually a good idea.

It's important to note that turning on the toggle for Show Exact Search doesn’t immediately engage an exact search. Instead, it opens a box next to all of the screen’s search filters, which you can then select or leave empty. It’s highly recommended that you only select the fields you’re sure you want to be exact, and that you start with a few. In other words, you could do an exact search for a particular birth date but not for your other fields.

Once you have entered the information you know, click Find to search for your ancestor’s profile in Family Tree. When the search results appear, click a name to see a summary of that person’s information. Then click on the name in the pop-up window to navigate to the person’s full person page.

Advanced Tips for Finding the Right Person

Too Many Results

Use the gray button filters at the top of the page to quickly fine-tune your search results:

Gray filter options showing possibility to filter results by sex, birth, marriage, death, residence, or other information.

In the search shown in these screenshots, I initially entered my great-grandfather’s name. As you can see, this broad search brought back lots of results—too many to search through. If I click the Birth filter, however, and select a specific area of the world, I can immediately make that number much lower.

Screenshot showing a search filtered by birth country.
Screenshot showing ways to narrow search results.

No Results or No Matches

If your initial search came up empty, use the search panel on the right side of the screen to modify your search terms. Note: Depending on your screen size, the search panel might not be open at first. If that’s the case, click Search in the right corner to open it.

To broaden your search then, consider modifying anything that might have been too specific, such as an exact year. Increasing the date range for a particular life event can help. You also can try changing the Life Event menu to Birth or Residence instead of Any. If applicable, use the Alternate Names field to enter a maiden name, alias, or different spelling. Then click Search.

If after editing your search, you still can’t find the person you’re looking for, it may be that the person hasn’t been added to Family Tree yet. In that case, you could go ahead and add the person yourself.

In order to add a person to the Tree, you will need his or her name, and then you can enter as much additional information as you can about them, such as where they may have been born or where they lived.

Hint: If you’re missing information about your ancestor, try finding him or her in a historical record, such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, draft card, or death certificate.

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Video Companion
How to Use the FamilySearch Family Tree to Find Your Family

Using Preferences to Customize Your Search Results

Experienced researchers will likely appreciate the functionality that comes with the Preference button that appears at the top of your search results page. With Preferences, you can make important choices regarding the formatting and exporting of your search results.

For example, the first option under Preferences is the choice to present your search results in either Data Sheet or Fixed Table:

Screenshot of search preferences tab showing how to choose between Fixed Table and Data Sheets view options.

If I was looking for a search result that matched one specific piece of information—a particular birth date, for example—I’d use Data Sheet. The format makes it easy to scroll and find results that match.

Search results showing data sheet view where all the information is easily compared from row to row.

I’d use Fixed Table, by contrast, when I wanted to take a closer look at a handful of search results that all seemed promising, and see how well they matched everything I knew about the person.

Search results showing fixed table view where the information for one result is grouped closer together and more easily skimmable.

Further down the Preferences pane is a section titled Language Options. Here you can choose to view information how it was originally entered into FamilySearch, or to view it with slight edits—what we call “translations”—that make it easier to read. A simple example would be an entry for “Jan 1855,” which, when clarified or translated, would appear as “January 1855.”

Last but not least, in the Preferences pane is an option for downloading your search results to your own computer. Perhaps you have your own method for charting and filtering information. If so, you can download the information into any of the following file formats: XLS, XLSX, CSV, ODS, TSV, and ODS.

Find Your Ancestors in the FamilySearch Family Tree!

 
Ready to learn something about one of your ancestors? Our shared Family Tree has a place in it for everyone in the world—and we want everyone’s help building it!

Pick a deceased relative, and see whether he or she is among the 1.2 billion names in the FamilySearch Family Tree! Find the person’s profile, and enjoy the stories, photos, time lines, and other items that have been attached to it. Then consider what you know about them and could add to their profile. Other relatives may thank you in the future!


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About the Author
Sunny Jane Morton teaches family history to global audiences as a speaker and writer. She is a contributing editor at Family Tree Magazine (U.S.) and content manager for Your DNA Guide. She is co-author of How to Find Your FamilyHistory in U.S. Church Records and author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy. Find her at www.sunnymorton.com.
About the Author