Search tips for historical records

Understanding the way search options work helps you find the historical records you need.

Basics

  • Have a goal. Know what you are trying to find. 
  • Search for deceased people who were alive around 1940 or earlier.
  • Start with a broad search. You often get better results when you leave some search fields blank.
  • Expect records and indexes to contain errors, spelling variations, and estimations.
  • To search with different information, click More Options.
  • Try your search several times with variations:
    • Increase or decrease the date range.
    • Add or remove information. For example, if you searched with a birth city and county, try searching only with the county.
    • Search for a family member instead.
    • Search for women using their maiden and married names. You can also search with just the first name of a woman and the names of her spouse or parents.
    • Estimate dates and places.
    • Add a spouse, father, mother, or other person to your search criteria. To add fields, click More Options.
  • Use the filters at the top of the search results page.
  • Always look at the image, if possible. Images often have more information than the index.

Field-specific search tips

First Names

Enter the first and middle names of the individual. Your search results ignore the order of the names.

Tips:

  • Try adding or omitting middle names.
  • Try nicknames.
  • Try spelling variations.
  • If the individual moved to a new country, try spelling the name as it is spelled in the old country and in the new one.
  • Try using wildcards. (Enter * to replace zero or more characters. Enter ? to replace one character.)
  • Try searching with only a first name and relationships. (Leave the Last Name field blank, and complete the Spouse or Parents fields).

Last Names

Enter the last name of the individual. Your search results preserve the order of the names.

Tips:

  • Try spelling and language variations.
  • Try searching for women with their maiden names and married names.
  • Try using wildcards. (Enter * to replace zero or more characters. Enter ? to replace one character.)
  • Leave the field blank, especially when searching for records for a woman. Enter other information, such as the names of the spouse or parents.

Life events

  1. Click More Options.
  2. Click the type of life event you want to include in your search.
    • Birth
    • Marriage
    • Residence
    • Death
    • Any
  3. Enter the place and year range.

Tips:

  • Try your search with different events.
  • Try your search with no events.
  • Sometimes you have information about an event other than birth, marriage, death, or residence. Use Any to enter information for events such as military enlistment or immigration.
  • In the place field, do the following:
    • Try searching at a more or less specific place level. For example, if you searched for a town, try the county, state, or district instead. Try entering just the country name.
    • Try using wildcards in place-names. (Enter * to replace zero or more characters. Enter ? to replace one character.)
    • Remove the place from your search. Instead, use the filters on the left side of the search results to narrow your search by place.
  • Try these options for the year fields:
    • Increase or decrease the year range.
    • Try searching with no years. Instead, use the filters on the search results to narrow your search by year.
  • You can include multiple events in your search when you are looking for a specific type of record containing all the events. For example:
    • To find a death record, you can search with both birth and death events. Death records often include both birth and death information.
    • To find a birth record, include only a birth event. Birth records usually lack death information.

Family members

  1. Click More Options.
  2. Click the type of family member you want to include in your search.
    • Spouse
    • Father
    • Mother
    • Other person
  3. Enter the names of the father, mother, spouse, or other person.

Tips:

  • Use the same tips as for the first and last names of the primary individual.
  • When entering the names of mothers or wives, try searching by married name and maiden name. You can also try leaving the Last Name field blank.

Other Options

  1. Click More Options.
  2. Click Location, Type, Batch Number, or Film Number.
  3. Enter the requested information.

  1. Next to the search button, click More Options.
  2. Click the toggle next to Show Exact Search.
  3. Click the Exact checkbox beneath the fields for which you want exact results.

Advanced tips and tricks

Find a child's birth record

  1. Enter the child's name, place, and year range.
  2. Click More Options.
  3. Click the Father and Mother buttons.
  4. Enter the parents' names.
  5. As needed, try variations such as these:
    • Both of the parents' full names.
    • The father's full name without the mother's name.
    • The mother's full married name without the father's name.
    • The mother's full maiden name without the father's name.
    • The father's full name with the mother's first name.
    • The mother's full maiden name with the father's first name.

Find all children in a family

  1. Leave the first and last name fields blank.
  2. Enter a place and year range if known.
  3. Click More Options.
  4. Click the Father and Mother buttons.
  5. Enter the parents' names.
  6. As needed, try the variations for parents' names listed for finding a child's birth record.

Find marriage records

  1. Enter one person's name, place, and year range.
  2. Click More Options.
  3. Click Spouse.
  4. Enter the name of the spouse.
  5. As needed, try variations, such as the spouse's first name and the wife's maiden name.
  6. To limit your search results to marriage records only, click Type, and click Marriage.

Search for a place where a person lived

Use the Residence option to find records identifying where a person was living. Some records contain an address or last place of residence. Birthplaces, marriage places, and death places are different from residence places.

  1. Enter the person's name, place, and year range.
  2. Click More Options.
  3. Click Residence.
  4. Enter a place where the person lived.

Find a woman's maiden name

Try to find a woman's maiden name on her children's or spouse's death records:

  1. Enter the name, place, and year range for the woman's spouse or child.
  2. Click More Options.
  3. Click Type.
  4. Click Death.

Search the records from a specific country, state, or province

  1. Look or scroll down beneath the search fields.
  2. Under Search by Place, enter the country, state, or province in the field.
  3. Select the place from the list.
  4. Conduct your search on the page that appears.

Search a specific collection

  1. Look or scroll down beneath the search fields.
  2. Under Find a Collection, enter words that key words, such as the place and event.
  3. Select the collection from the list.
  4. Conduct your search on the page that appears.

What to do if you still cannot find a record

  • Try searching the FamilySearch Catalog. The catalog includes books, online materials, microfilm, microfiche, and other publications.
  • Try Explore Images, which allows you to browse images of historical records that have not yet been indexed.
  • Learn more about searching in a specific location from the FamilySearch Wiki.
  • Look in the FamilySearch Digital Library
  • Look in the as online book collections of other libraries.
  • Take advantage of record hints in Family Tree.
  • If you receive the error: Too many requests, try removing the wildcards from your search and try again.

How do I view a list of all record collections in Historical Records?
How do I search all historical record collections at once?
How do I search historical records by place or by using the world map?
How do I find an image in an unindexed collection in Historical Records?
What are record hints in Family Tree?
Getting the Most from Your Search: Understanding the Search Records Page
Advanced Strategies for Searching Historical Records

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