How to Find Photos and Images in Old Newspapers with Newspaper Navigator

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 26 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: September 24, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

Newspaper Navigator is a new free online tool for finding images and photos in old newspapers at Chronicling America. It doesn’t work the way the Library of Congress website works, so in this episode I show you how to navigate the Newspaper Navigator. It’s a fun session that will have you finding new newspaper gems in no time!

About LOC Chronicling America

Chronicling America is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. It features free digitized historic newspapers spanning 1789-1963.

Newspapers Contain Imagery such as:

  • Photos
  • Drawings
  • Maps
  • Cartoons
  • Advertisements

You may not find the newspaper that you need for your research in the Chronicling America digitized collection. In those cases, turn to the US Newspaper Directory. It catalogs newspapers published 1690-present. Click the US Newspaper Directory button on the Chronicling America website to search. The catalog will tell you where known copies of the paper can be accessed.

Uses of Newspaper Images

Most of the old newspapers featured in Chronicling America include images. And because these old images are in the public domain, they are an ideal complement to family histories.

If you are very fortunate you may find photos or images of your ancestors, their homes, or other things specifically about your family.

Newspaper images are also a wonderful source when you need a photo or image to represent an important idea or item when telling your family’s story, whether in a blog post, article, book, video, PowerPoint presentation or other medium. Example of this would include a photograph of a blacksmith shop in the 1890s in the area where your ancestor worked as a blacksmith, or an advertisement for a Sears home kit just like the one your grandfather built.

Chronicling America’s Newspaper Navigator

The Newspaper Navigator dataset currently consists of 1.5 million pieces of extracted visual content from 16,358,041 historic newspaper pages in Chronicling America.

The visual content was identified using an object detection model trained on annotations of World War 1-era Chronicling America pages, made by staff and volunteers.

This “visual content recognition model” detects the following types of content:

  1.  Photograph
  2.  Illustration
  3.  Map
  4.  Comics/Cartoon
  5.  Editorial Cartoon
  6.  Headline
  7.  Advertisement

It also includes text corresponding to the imagery, identified by Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Searching the Newspaper Navigator

You can search all images with captions. The results will be returned in a Gallery view featuring up to 100 images per page. This results format makes it very easy to quicky browse the images.

You can also switch to List view which lists the images along with the text retrieved by OCR.

How to Find Images Faster in Old Newspapers

Run a search in Newspaper Navigator of the word baseball and then run the same search in Chronicling America. A comparison of the results highlights the between Chronicling America and Newspaper Navigator when it comes to finding images in old newspapers.

Word Searched: baseball
Results returned:
Newspaper Navigator: 5,427
Chronicling America: 921,534

The search results returned by the Newspaper Navigator are solely focused on photos and images. This means you have a fraction of the number results to review. Another big advantage of Newspaper Navigator over Chronicling America is the size of the image. Newspaper Navigator gives you just the large image to review, while Chronicling America shows you a thumbnail of the entire page with images so small that you must click and load the page to analyze them.

finding photos in newspapers at Chronicling America

Images appear much smaller at Chronicling America and require you to click through to the page for closer examination.

Start by running a keyword search. (example: Blacksmith). On the results you can filter the results by Location and Years. Because the search currently doesn’t support Boolean operators or other types of search operators, you may need to run a few different versions of the same search to get a complete picture of the potential results. We’ll talk more about search strategies in just a moment.

Once you find an image you want, click to open it. The pop-up box offers these four buttons:

  • Download Image – Downloads a high-resolution copy to your hard drive.
  • Cite this – Generates a source citation that is automatically copied to your computer clipboard. Then you can simply paste it as needed. You can also cite the dataset by including the image URL, plus a citation to the website such as “from the Library of Congress, Newspaper Navigatordataset: Extracted Visual Content from Chronicling America.” According to the website, all images are in the public domain and free to use. Learn more about Rights and Reproductions at https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/about/.
  • Learn about this newspaper – Takes you to the Chronicling America catalog listing for the newspaper from which the image comes.
  • View Full Issue – Takes you to the complete newspaper issue at the Chronicling America website.
Newspaper image option buttons

Click the buttons to select the options

My Collection at Newspaper Navigator

You can gather and save collections of the newspaper images you find using Newspaper Navigator. Start by running a search. On the results page click to select the desired images, then click the Save button. This will generate a URL for that collection and copy it to your clipboard. Since Newspaper Navigator doesn’t currently allow you to log in and return to your past searches during different sessions, I suggest pasting the URL into a research log for future reference.

Train My AI Navigators at Newspaper Navigator

A unique feature of the Chronicling America Newspaper Navigator is the ability to “train” the site to search for you. It does this through machine learning.

Train My AI Navigator

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 26

How to Train My AI Navigator:

  1. Run a search
  2. Click to select desired images
  3. Click Save to save the collection of images
  4. Click Train My AI Navigators
  5. Newspaper Navigator will deliver a new set of images based on your selected images. On that page, select additional images that you want by clicking toward the top (+) of the image.
  6. Click unwanted images by clicking toward the bottom (-) of the image.
    selecting unwanted images from historic newspapersClick to select the images you don’t want the AI Newspaper Navigator to find.
  7. Click Train My AI Navigator again
  8. Continue adding and subtracting images as needed to further train the system
  9. Type a name for this training session in the Name My AI Navigator The saved AI Navigator name will appear in the Select an AI Navigator column
  10. Click Save to generate a URL for this training session and paste into your research log.
  11. Click + New AI Navigator to create a new training session spring boarding from the first
  12. Click Clear & Restart to start a new search

Newspaper Navigator Search Strategies

Newspaper Navigator doesn’t, as of this writing, support Boolean Operators or offer an advanced search field. Here are some strategies that can help you have more success in searching the site:

Don’t use search operators, use variations

Even a space between initials can make a difference.

Variations in newspaper searches

Each variation has the potential to deliver a different result in newspaper images.

Search Locations

Considering how many variations there can be to a name, when searching for ancestors try searching first on the name of their town or location. If there are still quite a few results, you can then filter to only newspapers from their state. I search the town name first because an article may appear in a newspaper from a different state. In the case of my search for McMinnville, I received a small, manageable results list. Had it been large and included both McMinnville, TN and McMinnville, OR, filtering to just Oregon would be helpful.

Test your search theories

Analyze your results and try variations based on what you are learning about what Newspaper Navigator is focusing on.

Search for word strings

In testing my search theories, I learned that Newspaper Navigator did not do well with multiple words that do not appear right next to each other. Therefore, I tried to find word strings that pertained to my family that I could search for such as the name of a business: Consolidation Coal Company.

Search for Photos

Another interesting search you can run is the word Photo. On the results page filter to the state and years that apply to your research.

Use List View to Find on Page

When dealing with a large number of results, List View can help speed up the review process. List View also displays the text generated by OCR. While not perfect, it can be helpful. Use your computer’s Find on Page feature (control + F on a PC, Command + F on Mac) and type in a keyword such as a surname. This will take you instantly to all occurrences of that word in the text on the page. Click the next page and run it again.

Use Control + F to find OCR text in the results list at Newspaper Navigator

Find images quickly by word search in the List View

Learn More About Machine Learning

In the menu click Data Archaeology to learn more about machine learning and the Newspaper Navigator project.

Resources

How to Find Your Family History in NewspapersPremium Video & Handout: Getting the Scoop from Old Newspapers. (Not a Premium member yet? Learn more here.)
Book: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers
Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout

Please Support this Free Show

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Answers to Your Live Chat Questions

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions. 

Bert asks: Are some newspapers only available for a fee on websites such as Ancestry
Lisa’s Answer: Yes, several genealogy websites have exclusive collections of digitized old newspapers. You can usually search or browse the site for free to determine if they have newspapers from the location and time frame that you need before you make a purchase. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve had good success with:

Genealogy Bank
MyHeritage
Ancestry
British Newspaper Archive (a goldmine for anyone with British ancestors!) 

We are compensated if you make a purchase after using our links above (at no additional cost to you.) Thank you for supporting this free show by doing so!

Christine asks: (What is the ) newspaper navigator date range? 
Lisa’s answer: Here’s a break down of the dates:

Chronicling America covers 1789 – 1963 (digitized newspapers)
Newspaper Navigator covers 1900 – 1963 (photos in digitized newspapers)
U.S. Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America covers 1690 – present (catalog, only some are digitized and those are part of Chronicling America.)

Rachel asks: I have an ancestor that was in the social pages all the time in our local newspaper in the 1800’s. I thought it would make a great book or video, any ideas on how to showcase them the best?
Lisa’s answer: I love both of those ideas and I cover many more in my Premium Membership video Inspiring Ways to Captivate the Non-Genealogists in Your Life. Personally I have found that short photo books and short videos that tell one story are received the best by family members. They both offer opportunities to share and highlight items from newspapers. Learn more about quickly and easily making family history videos by watching Elevenses with Lisa episode 16. And I strongly encourage Premium Members to watch these two videos:

Video Magic: Creating Brilliant Videos Quickly & Easily with Lisa Louise Cooke (creating videos)
Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully with Sunny Morton. (writing books)

lagomcurt asks: ​Are local small-town papers included in the collection?
Lisa’s answer: Yes.  

June asks: ​When you download it ask what to save as. What is your suggestion?
Lisa’s answer: I think you’ll find that JPEG is currently the only option in the Save as Type drop-down menu.

Sharon asks: ​Does Chronicling America have foreign language newspapers in America?
Lisa’s answer: Absolutely! Searching in the language will help retrieve items. 

Ohio Waisenfreund newspaper at Chronicling America

Ohio Waisenfreund newspaper at Chronicling America

Pat asks: ​Does it have Irish American newspapers?
Lisa’s answer:  Chronicling America does have Irish American newspapers. If they were published between 1900-1963 then they will be searchable by Newspaper Navigator. I would also recommend searching all newspapers (online and offline) by clicking the U.S. Newspaper Director button at Chronicling America. Then search by ethnicity (Irish) and Material Type (online.) You will find that some are linked to other websites where they can be found online. If you see an image of a newspaper on the catalog page, then you know it is available on Chronicling America in a digital format. 

how to search for irish newspapers online at US Newspaper Directory

Search for Irish newspapers online at US Newspaper Directory

 

 

Mark asks: Can the wash out pictures be enhance with the new MyHeritage Photo with the sharping feature and colorization to make it a better final experience with images?
Lisa’s answer: Yes indeed. Because the original quality will be poor and with low dots per inch (dpi) it likely won’t improve the way an original photo would. However enhancing and coloring just takes a few seconds and definitely improves the image. Even better, it often makes the print much more readable. I use it on documents too. Click here to try MyHeritage.

newspaper photo enhanced and colorized with Myheritage

Newspaper photo enhanced and colorized with MyHeritage

 

Kathy asks: ​If you do a search in English, will it find the search term(s) in newspapers that were written in German?
Lisa’s answer: No. You will need to search in German to pick up on any German text. However, if the image itself is similar, My AI Navigator should pick it up.

Lucinda asks: Who is in your necklace and the photo behind you, Lisa?
Lisa’s Answer: It’s my maternal grandmother’s high school graduation photo. 

Please Leave a Comment or Question Below

I really want to hear from you. Did you enjoy this episode? Do you have a question? Please leave it below.  You can also call and leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021 and I just may answer it on the show!

 

Solutions for Broken Website Links

Every genealogist has experienced the frustration of clicking on a link and discovering that the page is gone or the resource is now defunct. Things change rapidly as technology evolves, so it’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.

Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners often ask what to do when they run across a broken or defunct website in the show notes of older episodes of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. I’ve got answers for you today that can help you get back on track whenever this happens to you. 

broken genealogy website links solutions

I received this email from a listener of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and it’s one I’ve received from lots of listeners and genealogists alike:

“As one of your podcast listeners who is working my way through past episodes, I am running into a bit of frustration that I am wondering if you, on someone else reading this, can help me on. I have tried to get to a couple of websites that guests of yours mentioned, with no success. (I’m listening to episodes from) 2010, where I am at now, (and that) may not be all that long ago for many, but it is an eon in internet terms.

Are you, or anybody else reading this, aware of any person or site tracking genealogy related websites that records/posts notations of name changes, buy-outs by other service providers, or just plain disappearances? You might have mentioned some in the interim, but I’m still a hundred episodes in arrears.”

That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts, you can listen when the episode is published or even a decade later. That’s because podcasts, unlike radio shows, are recordings that you can access whenever it’s convenient for you. But my listener is correct, things change quickly online, and that includes website links I refer to in the show notes web pages of older episodes.

How to Find Information When a Website has Disappeared

I love hearing that listeners are enjoying the free Genealogy Gems Podcast archive. We hear over and over that our listeners pick up something new each time they listen. However, I completely understand the frustration of encountering defunct websites and resources. What a bother they are!

Unfortunately with the speed at which online information changes, it’s just about as impossible to keep years of web content current (while still producing new content) as it is finding a genealogy record that burned in a courthouse fire!

The good news is that with a little persistence, you can probably locate where a source has moved to or find alternatives that may provide the same function. Paying attention to clues and details around the original source itself can lead you to alternatives that can accomplish the same goals or provide the same or similar information. And of course, tracking down information that’s gone missing is certainly a valuable skill in all areas of genealogy!

Here are a few great strategies to help you find information when a website has disappeared:

1. The Wayback Machine Can Find Defunct Sites

1) If you run across a link to a now defunct site, copy the website link. Next, go to the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org and paste the web address that you copied into the Wayback Machine search field. Press enter on your keyboard to run the search on that address. You may very likely be able to retrieve a screenshot of the page.

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

If you’ve been researching your family history for several years, you’ll probably recognize the screenshot of World Vital Records (below) at the Wayback Machine.

wayback-machine-result

You may not gain access to everything that was there originally, but you’ll very likely glean clues that you can use to find the information you seek on another website using a Google search.

One of the features most recently added to the Wayback Machine is the Save Page Now tool. This helps you capture web pages and add them to the Wayback Machine at the time that you find them. That way, even if the site goes away, you’ll have a copy of the web page for future reference.

This tool works on any web page that allows “crawlers”, which most sites do. Crawlers are used by sites like Google and the Wayback Machine to index information and capture the pages. 

save this page Wayback Machine

To save a web page using the Wayback Machine, copy the web page’s address and paste it into the Save Page Now field. It will bring up the page in your browser and show you that it’s being processed and will be added to the Wayback Machine.

The page will be conveniently stamped with the date that it was captured. This is helpful because even though websites may stay online for years to come, the content on their pages may be changed over time. By using the Save Page Now feature and adding the web page to the Wayback Machine, you will be able to revisit the information that was on that page on that specific date well into the future, regardless of changes that may be made to it over time.

2. Google Your Question

You’ve heard me say it many times: Just Google it! And that certainly applies here. Google is great at finding alternative sources for the same information. No question is a dumb question when it comes to Google. 

If you are running into a challenge with a defunct site or have a question, chances are someone else has had the same question! It may have been posted on a message forum, a blog post or the help section of a website. Google can help you find the question and the answers that were provided. 

Let’s say you come across a link to the World Vital Records website in the syllabus of a class you took several years ago. (If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then you probably remember this genealogy records website.) And imagine that when you type the link into your web browser, you discover that the link is broken and the website no longer exists.   

Here’s an example of what you could ask Google in order to find out what has happened to the World Vital Records website:

  • When did world vital records close?
  • Sunset notice for World Vital Records  
  • Who acquired World Vital Records?

world vital records search

As you can see in the example search in the image above, the sunset notice for World Vital Records, which was acquired by MyHeritage, was issued in September of 2018. Click the link to the article to read up on all the details. 

When faced with a broken link your first impulse may be to ask another person or someone you see as an expert on the subject. That can work too, but chances are they may just ask you “did you Google it?” That’s because, like it or not, Googling at the moment you have the question is much faster and provides you with the latest information.

Think of Google as asking your question to every single web page in the world – all at once. If the answer is out there, Google can probably find it.

3. Google the Content 

As I said, the internet is growing and changing every day and it is very possible you may find the content is now available elsewhere.

Any good source that provides website URLs will usually include information about what you’ll find on that website. You can use that information to run a Google search. Your goal is to determine if the information you seek is available elsewhere from the same provider, or identify another website that references the same content.

Start by copying short phrases of key information and pasting it into the Google search box. Put quotation marks around the text. Quotation marks are a standard Google search operator and they will tell Google to search for web pages that include that exact phrase, sentence or paragraph. (Quotation marks also work on individual words such as surnames.) If you don’t get an exact search result, remove the quotation marks and place them just around the most important individual key words.

Here’s an example of how this works:

In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 62 (published back in 2009) I talked with actor Darby Hinton about a new history-themed television series he was producing called Hintons Living History. The show notes include a link to the website devoted to the show. Clicking that link leads to an error page because the website has since been taken down. (For website publishers like myself, we are often faced with the decision between creating new content, or constantly combing through old published content to fix what is out of date. I think you will agree that continuing to create new content is preferable.)

Since the link no longer works, a Google search of the name of the television show in quotation marks (“Hintons Living History”) provides a plethora of information and videos to learn more about the show.

Obvious, But Not Always 

While the solutions I’ve shared here may seem somewhat obvious, time and time again I’ve watched people get befuddled by running into broken genealogy website links. It’s totally understandable. In the excitement of the moment of finding something interesting, getting stopped in your tracks by a broken links creates frustration. Our brains tend to focus on that obstacle and frustration rather than the simple solutions that are available.

Now you have a game plan that you can use so that broken links will only be a blip on your genealogical research path.

This article was originally written in January 2019, and extensively updated August 6, 2019. Can you find the old version on the Wayback Machine?

Lisa Louise CookeAbout the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and columnist for Family Tree Magazine.

New Google Video from Genealogy Gems!

Google your family history with Genealogy Gems! Google has a great collection of free online search tools–all powered by the same Google search engine–that can help you discover your family history. In this new Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning video,...

4 Steps for Using Google Earth for Genealogy

Use Google Earth for genealogy to find long-lost family locations on modern maps. Here’s how!family history google earth tour

It can be very surprising to discover that you lived somewhere that you never knew you lived. That was the case for Professional genealogist Alvie Davidson, who recently wrote to me. He’d done some fantastic sleuthing on his own recent family history, and discovered that his family had lived in Huntsville, Alabama when he was a toddler. “This is the first I have even known they lived in Madison County, AL.” But he was not sure about how to use Google Earth to help him locate the family addresses he’d discovered.

“I have learned from the U S Government that my parents lived at (three) different addresses in Huntsville, Madison County, AL when I was a toddler in 1944….I never knew we lived in Huntsville but I learned my mother worked for munitions productions during World War II at Redstone Arsenal. She worked several months toward the end of 1944 and had to quit due to onset of pregnancy. We moved to Florida shortly after she left employment at Redstone Arsenal because we show up on the 1945 Florida State Census.”

Alvie sent me three family addresses. Then he asked for some step-by-step help instructions on how to put Google Earth to work to identify their location today.

4 Steps to Revealing More with Google Earth

1. Search each address in Google Earth. Enter the address in the search box in the upper left corner of Google Earth. If you get a hit, mark it with a placemark (clicking the button that looks like a push pin in Google Earth’s toolbar) and name it. In this case I found two of the three street addresses.

2. Locate a map of the area for the appropriate time period. With a little Google searching, I found the 1940 census enumeration map for Huntsville at the National Archives website. Here’s what that map looks like. (Image right) I then went in search of each of the three addresses on the map.

In this case, I conducted a block-by-block search of the 1940 enumeration district map for the missing address: 110 Winston Street. Unfortunately, not all the street names were clearly legible on this particular map, and I was unable to locate it.

You can learn more about locating enumeration district maps in my article How to Find Enumeration District Maps.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members: log in and watch my Premium video 5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps featuring instruction for locating and using enumeration district maps.

3. Overlay and georeference the enumeration district map in Google Earth to compare the past to the present. Georeference just means to match up known landmarks on the historic map with physical locations on the modern-day map, thereby allowing you to match the two maps up together. By so doing, I was able to locate on the enumeration district map the modern-day locations of the two addresses that I found using Google Earth.

georeference historic map overlay in Google Earth

There are businesses in both locations today. Below right is a screen shot showing the current location of one of those addresses. Clearly no longer the old family home.Alvie Google Earth for genealogy problem

4. Dig deeper for addresses that have changed. As I mentioned previously, I searched for the 110 Winston Street address in Google Earth with no result. If that happens to you, remove the house number and run a second search on the street name alone. Numbers can change, but it is important to verify whether the street still exists today.

In this case, Google Earth did not locate a Winston Street in Huntsville, AL. Knowing that errors and typos can happen to the best of us, I ran a quick Google search for Huntsville, AL city directories, and verified that indeed Winston Street did exist at that time in history. So, at some point between 1940 and today, the name appears to have been changed.

I headed back to Google and ran the following search query:

“winston street” “huntsville alabama”

The quotation marks tell Google that each exact phrase must appear in all search results. The phrases will appear in bold in the snippet descriptions of each result.

google search

The result above caught my eye because it mentions the “Winston Street Branch Library.” Even when street names change, buildings named for those streets often don’t. However, in this case, the website discusses the history of the library, and the Winston Street Elementary School.  According to the website, the library “became a part of the Huntsville Public Library (now Huntsville-Madison County Public Library) in 1943. In 1947, the branch was renamed the Dulcina DeBerry Library.” Perhaps the street was renamed at that time as well.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members: Sign in and watch the Ultimate Google Search Strategies video class to learn more.

Jumping back into Google Earth I entered “Winston Street Branch Library” in the search box, and was immediately taken to the location, which is just south of the other two known addresses! At this point I would recommend to Alvie, who is a Genealogy Gems Premium Member, to watch my video class Best Websites for Finding Historical Maps to track down additional maps from the time frame that may have Winston Street clearly marked on the map.

Once I identified this landmark, I then marked the location with a placemark. You can turn off the 1940 enumeration district map overlay by unchecking the box next to it in the Places Panel. Doing this revealed the location on the modern day map. Finally, I headed to the Layers panel and clicked the box next to the “Roads” overlay to reveal the modern day street names.

street names

You can use this technique when you have more success than I did in finding an old address on an old map. Overlay the map, position a placemark on the location, and then turn the overlay off. With one click of the Roads layer you can now see the current street name for the old location you found on the map overlay.

Further digging online did deliver additional maps from the era and area:

google earth for genealogy

 

We all have locations in our family history that have given way over time to new buildings and parking lots. By using the power of Google Earth, Google search, and historic maps, they don’t have to be lost forever.

Get Started with Google Earth for Genealogy

Learn all these Google skills–with step-by-step tutorials and video demonstrations–in Lisa’s book and Google Earth video tutorial. Click here for a special price on the bundle!

FREE video: Get Started with Google Earth for Genealogy

Google Bundle! The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Second Edition PLUS  learn how to create your own historical map overlays in my Google Earth for Genealogy 2-video CD set.

Use Google Earth to Plot Your DNA Matches

 

 

FamilySearch Search Strategy Essentials

Discover the essential search strategies that every genealogist should be using when searching for records at FamilySearch.org, the popular free genealogy website.  In Elevenses with Lisa episode 64 Lisa Louise Cooke discusses:

  • Wild cards you can use when searching FamilySearch
  • Search strategies to help you get more results
  • Advanced Search strategies 

Episode 64 Show Notes 

FamilySearch.org is a free genealogy records and family tree website. You will need to be logged into your free account in order to search for genealogy records.

In this video and show notes I will outline strategies for searching for people by name in genealogy records. You can then apply these techniques to your genealogy research plan. Knowing what you’re specifically looking for will give you a better chance at success.

Learn more about preparing for genealogy research success by watching and reading 10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Research Success.

familysearch best search strategies

Elevenses with Lisa episode 64 – Share on Pinterest

Starting Your Search at FamilySearch

  • In the menu go to Search > Records (then use the form).
  • Start with a broad search.
  • Search results ignore the order of first names but will preserve name order if there are two last names.
  • Click the Exact Match box to start narrowing in on specific names and spellings.
  • Even if you are confident that you know exact names and places try variations. For example, add or remove a name and turn on and turn off Exact Match.

Strategies for Searching Names FamilySearch:

  • Add or remove middle names.
  • Try searching for nicknames.
  • Try spelling variations. Use the Alternate Name You can search up to four alternate names at a time. Try clicking the Exact Match box for each alternate name.
example of Alternate Name search at FamilySearch

example of Alternate Name search at FamilySearch

  • Try spelling the name as it would have been spelled in the old country. (Example: Sporan / Sporowski / Sporovsky / Sporowski)
  • Use wildcards to help with search variations.
    Asterisk (*)  replaces zero or more characters.
    Question mark (?) replaces a single character.
  • Use cluster research techniques by searching on relationships.

A few words about searching on relationships: Try searching only with your ancestor’s first name and a known relationship such as a spouse, parent or other relative. In addition to specific people, try searching for a surname associated with the family.

  • Over time the spelling of a last name can change in a family. It’s important, even if you receive initial successful results, to try all variations, including language variations.
  • In the case of women, records will be under the last name they were using at the time the record was created. Therefore, try searching for them using their maiden name and then their married name (or names if they were married multiple times.)
  • Try leaving the last name field blank. This can be particularly effective when searching for female ancestors. This strategy works well in conjunction with entering additional information, such as the names of the spouse or parents.
  • Try just surnames, unique first names, and Other Person

Pro Tip: Use Snagit to easily create a search log

Learn more about Snagit: How to Use Snagit for Genealogy (episode 61)
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Here’s an example of a search log I created using Snagit. You can add custom text, symbols, highlighting and much more to create exactly the log that works for you. 

Search log created with Snagit

Search log created with Snagit

Here’s how to quickly capture and keep a research log of your FamilySearch searches:

  1. Run your search as usual.
  2. Use Snagit to clip the number of results and the terms searched at the top of the results page. (Set Snagit to “Region” to precisely clip that portion of the screen.)
  3. Continue searching and clipping. When done, go back to the Snagit Editor.
  4. Click Control (Win) or Command (Mac) and click to select each clipping you made in order. You can also select all of your clippings by clicking to select the first clipping and then hold down the shift key on your keyboard and click the last clipping.
  5. Right-click on the selected clipping to access the menu. Click Combine in Template.
  6. In the pop-up Combine in Template box, select a template. I like to use Custom Steps for a research log.
  7. Click the Next
  8. Give your combined image a Title. (You can edit this again later.)
  9. Select the font and canvas color as desired.
  10. The Number Images box will probably be selected. This will place a “step” number in front of each clipping showing the order in which you clipped. You can deselect this box if you don’t want to number your clippings.
  11. Click the Combine
  12. Edit the combined image as desired. You can click to select items to move and resize them. You may need to ensure you’re not in Text mode – click the Arrow at the top of the screen and then you’ll be able to click on items like the numbered steps and move them around. Grab the edges and drag them to crop if needed.
  13. Save your image: File > Save As.

Search Strategy: Events

Try searching on known life events such as:

  • Birth
  • Marriage
  • Residence
  • Death
  • Any

Click the type of life event you want to include in your search. Enter the place and year range.

Life Events Search Tips:

  • 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.

Search Strategies: Places

  • In the place field try searching at a more or less specific place level. If you searched for a town, try the county, state, district or country.
  • Try using wildcards in place-names. (Enter * to replace zero or more characters. Enter ? to replace one character.)

Search Strategies: Years

  • In the year fields try adding a year before and a year after.
  • In the year fields, try searching with no years first, and then filter the results to narrow your search by year.

 Advanced Search Strategies

  • Include multiple events in your search when you are looking for a record that likely contains all the events.
  • Death records – try searching with both birth and death events.
  • Birth record, include only a birth event, since birth records usually do not contain death information.
  • 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. Try all the variations.

Searching for Marriage Records

To search for a marriage enter the name of one person in the first and last name fields. Click Spouses, and enter the name of the spouse. Try variations: 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.

Search Best Practices

  • Have a specific search goal.
  • Start with a broad search. You do not have to enter information in all search fields. You often can get better results when you leave most blank, and then filter down.
  • FamilySearch doesn’t support Boolean Operators like Google does.
  • Expect records and indexes to contain errors, spelling variations, and estimations.
  • Try your search several times with variations.
  • Even if your ancestors had easy-to-spell names, expect spelling discrepancies. Anderson could be Andersen in some records. Try Anders?n in the Last Names search box.
  • Always look at the image, if possible. It often has more information than the index alone.

Resources

These show notes feature everything we cover in this episode. Premium Members: download this exclusive ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF.  Not a member yet? Learn more and join the Genealogy Gems and Elevenses with Lisa family here

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