When I am searching Historical Records, what are the best practices and tips?

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

 

Best practices

  • 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 do not have to enter information in all search parameter fields. In fact, you often get better results when you leave most of them blank.
  • Expect records and indexes to contain errors, spelling variations, and estimations.
  • 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.
  • Use the filters on the search results page.
  • Always look at the image, if possible. It often has more information than the index alone.

 

Field-specific search tips

OptionInstructionsTips
First Names

Enter the first and middle names of the individual.

Search results ignore the order of first names.

  • 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.

Search results preserve the name order of last names.

  • 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.
Check boxes by name and place fieldsClick the check box next to each field for which you want only exact matches.If you use the exact search option and do not find what you need, clear the check boxes, and try your search again, even if you are confident that you know exact names and places.
Search with a life event
  • Birth
  • Marriage
  • Residence
  • Death
  • Any
  1. Click the type of life event you want to include in your search.
  2. Enter the place and year range.
  • Try your search with different events.
  • Try your search with no events.
  • 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 not the same as residence places.
  • Use the Any event if you know a date and place for an event other than birth, marriage, death, or residence. For example, a search with an Any event can find dates of 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.
  • In the year fields, try the options below:
    • Increase or decrease the year range.
    • Try searching with no years. Instead, use the filters on the left side of 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 do not contain death information.
Search with a relationship:
  • Spouse
  • Parents
  • Other person
  1. Click the type of relationship you want to include in your search.
  2. Enter the first, middle, and last names of the father, mother, spouse, or other person.
  • 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.
Match all terms exactlyClick to find only records that match everything you entered exactly.If you do not find what you need, clear the check box, and try your search again, even if you are confident that you know exact names and places.
Restrict records by:
  • Location
  • Type
  • Batch number
  • Film number
Click the type of restriction you want to apply to your search. Enter the requested information.You can use more than one restriction. For example, you can restrict your results to marriage records from Canada.
ResetClick to remove everything from search fields. 

 

Advanced tips and tricks

  • To search for a child's birth records, enter the child's name, then click Parents. Enter the parents' names. If needed, try variations such as these:
    • Both of the parents' full names.
    • The father's full name only.
    • The mother's full married name only; then her full married name only.
    • The father's full name with the mother's first name.
    • The mother's full maiden name with the father's first name.
  • To find all of the children in a family, leave the first and last name fields blank. Then click Parents, and conduct your search using only parents' names. Use the variations listed above.
  • Try variations such as these:
    • Search for a person's name and an exact place.
    • Search for residence with a year.
  • To search for a marriage, try these tips:
    • Enter the name of one person in the first and last name fields. Click Spouses, and then enter the name of the spouse. Try variations, such as the spouse's first name and the wife's maiden name.
    • To limit your search results to marriage records only, click Type, and click the Marriage checkbox.
  • You might find a woman's maiden name on her children's or spouse's death records.
  • If the search results contain too many people from the wrong place, you can search just the records from a specific place.
  • Search a specific collection.


What to do if you still cannot find a record

  • Use the FamilySearch Catalog.
  • Search for images by browsing the images in collections that are not yet 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.

 

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