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

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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)
Save 15% on Snagit with our exclusive discount coupon code: GENEALOGY15

Have you been using Snagit? Leave a comment

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

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

Genealogy at the State Library of Pennsylvania

One thing that many genealogists have in common is a connection to Pennsylvania. Perhaps one of your family tree branches extends back to the early founding of the Pennsylvania colony. Or it may be that one of your ancestors was one of the hundreds of thousands who arrived through the port of Philadelphia. Even if you don’ t have Pennsylvania ancestors the State Library of Pennsylvania has a lot to offer.

State library of Pennsylvania Genealogy

Genealogy at the State library of Pennsylvania 

In this episode I’ll be sharing with you a video of my interview with two librarians from the State Library of Pennsylvania. We’ll discuss their collections and specifically what’s available through their website. After the interview I’ll show you some specific search techniques that you can use at the State Library of Pennsylvania website, including a trick that you can use with any state library website.

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 46 Show Notes

My special Guests from the State Library of Pennsylvania:
Kathy Hale, Government Documents Librarian
Amy Woytovich, Genealogy Librarian

State Library of Pennsylvania Website
Genealogy at the State Library of Pennsylvania

 State Library of Pennsylvania Update

This interview was recorded in December 2020. Here’s the latest update (as of this writing) on the library closure and access:

  • The State Library is currently closed to all visitors. However, staff is teleworking. People may send inquiries to ra-reflib@pa.govand staff will answer questions as best they can. 
  • Renovations have begun on our library in the Forum Building. There may be times we cannot get to the materials requested because of the construction. 
  • Interlibrary loan services are available, but patrons must check if their home library has the equipment and are open for patrons to use that equipment. The Library still ships all over the U.S.
  • Watch their website for instructions on how to access the State Library of Pennsylvania when it does reopen to the public.

The State Library of Pennsylvania Background

The library has been a federal repository library since 1858, and is one of the oldest in the country. The government printing office deposits materials here.

The State Library of Pennsylvania Collection

The State Library of Pennsylvania physical collection includes:

  • 30,000 volumes
  • 100,000 reels of microfilm
  • A million pieces of microfiche

 The State Library of Pennsylvania digitized items include:

  • County and family histories
  • Local histories
  • Small church histories from rural areas
  • City directories
  • Passenger lists
  • Regimental histories (Revolution to Spanish-American War)
  • Pension Lists
  • Pennsylvania Published Archives (collection of military, government, marriage, immigration records from colonial times)
  • The 1940 U.S. Federal Census

Pennsylvania Documents
Example: a report for Pennsylvania of the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg. Includes information gathered at reunions including names, pictures, and more.

U.S. Government Documents – Serial Set
This collection includes reports to the legislature from agencies and institutions. Example: The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were compelled to provide to Congress a yearly report of the names of people approved by DAR. These can be accessed through many libraries, the federal government or by contacting the State Library of Pennsylvania via email: Ra-reflib@pa.gov

State Library of Pennsylvania Research Guides

Amy discusses research guides available on the website. However, here is the link to the topics she specifically mentions such as Cemeteries and Zeamer collection – recorded information about Cumberland County PA cemeteries. General Research Guides page. These research guide pages include links to additional helpful websites.

State Library of Pennsylvania website’s Genealogy Page

At the top of the page look at the For General Public tab which will take you to all of the genealogy research guides. Visit the Genealogy page at the State Library of Pennsylvania.

Newspapers at the State Library of Pennsylvania

The library’s collection of newspapers includes papers from all 67 Pennsylvania counties on microfilm. They do have a lot of digitized newspapers at the Pennsylvania Photos and Documents Collection at the Power Library.

Newspapers at the Power Library

Newspapers at the Power Library

The Power Library

You can find the Power Library by going to the libraries home page, and under the For General Public tab go to Our Collections > Power Library. Or visit the Power Library website at Powerlibrary.org.

  • Electronic Databases: you have to be a resident with a library card.
  • Digital Documents: you don’t have to be a Pennsylvanian to access this collection.

At the top of the Power Library home page on the right you’ll find Digital Docs and Photos:

Power Library genealogy

Pennsylvania Photos and Documents Collection at the Power Library.

There you will find many materials from Pennsylvania colleges including yearbooks. You can browse by subject area, with Genealogy being one of those areas.

Interlibrary Loan and Lookups

At the time of the interview the library was not open for interlibrary loan and lookups. Check the website for the latest updates.

The library does loan its newspaper microfilm. Up to 5 reels of microfilm per request. Kathy says that if you find a newspaper article at Newspapers.com and you see the title, date and the page that an article is on, you can provide the information to the interlibrary load reference librarian at your local library and place a request for a scan of the article from the State Library of PA microfilm. The article can then be returned to you digitally through interlibrary loan. The digitized scan is yours to keep.

The Librarians Favorite Collections

Amy’s Pick: Historic maps found at the library’s website Home > For General Public > Genealogy and Local History > Maps and Geographic Information. This includes Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Note: log in with a library card may be required. Contact the library with questions.

Kathy’s favorite collections include:

  • Map Collection consisting of over 35,000 maps.
  • The 5 generations from the Mayflower collection.

Usage of Materials

Usage rights and copyright are important considerations when utilizing library materials. Usage depends on the individual item’s copyright. It should be researched as much as possible. Check the meta data of digital images for copyright information.

How to Get Research Help from the State Library of Pennsylvania

“Think of Amy and I as your personal librarians.”  Kathy Hale, Librarian

Contact State Library staff by phone at 717-787-2324 or by email at:

Lisa’s Tips for Using the State Library of Pennsylvania Website

Maps for Genealogy

At the website go to Home page > General Public Tab > Our Collections > Search our Resources.

  1. Type in a location and the word map
  2. Use the filters on the right side of the page > Library > State Library
  3. Click to select a map
  4. Try filtering to Full Text Online
  5. Look for the Online Access link, just above Text Item Call Number.

On the map viewer page, click the thumbnail button (looks like a checkerboard) to see multiple pages at a time. You’ll find the Download button in the bottom right-hand corner. The Print button is in the upper right corner.

Cite your source: Go back to the result page, and scroll down. Click the red button called Cite This. This allows you to copy the source citation which you can then paste into other documents and programs.

Newspapers for Genealogy

The Library of Congress Chronicling America website has many Pennsylvania old newspapers, but it doesn’t include all of the newspaper that the library has in its collection. Here’s how to find old Pennsylvania newspapers at the State Library website:

  1. On the State Library website go to General Public > Research Guides > Newspapers
  2. Click the link to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive
  3. Browse by title or date, or use the drop-down menus
  4. On the viewer page, zoom into the desired article. Then click Clip/Print Image
  5. Right-click on the clipped image to save it to your hard drive.
  6. The Persistent link is the URL address to your clipping.

Google Site Search Tip 

This tip comes from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox and my Premium Membership video The Genealogist’s Google Search Methodology.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available at the Genealogy Gems store.

Many websites have their own search engine. However, each search engine is only as good as it was programmed. If you can’t find what you want on a website like the State Library PA website, try using a Google site search. Site search tells Google to search for your search terms only on the website you specify. 

In my example in the video, you can see that Google found the one page mentioning the surname in a listing of microfilms much faster than I would have found it digging around and navigating the website itself. This page was not a card catalog entry so it would not have come up in a search of the catalog on the website.

Learn More About the State Library of PA Collections

In episode 43 of Elevenses with Lisa we discussed genealogy records available for free at the Internet Archive. The State Library of Pennsylvania has been partnering with he Internet Archive to digitize many additional items from their collection. You can access these items for free at the State Library Internet Archive Collection. This collection includes a large number of World War I materials as well as a growing number of 19th and 20th century pamphlet volumes.

How to Use the Internet Archive

Resources

 

 

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