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)
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

The Best Way to Find Old Maps for Genealogy at the David Rumsey Website

Old maps are vitally important for genealogy because the characteristics of a location can change in many ways over time. Historic maps help us understand the world as it was at the time our ancestors lived. 

Here is a short list of just a few of the things that may have changed:

  • Street addresses
  • roads 
  • town names
  • county boundaries
  • waterways that may have been filled in or opened up
  • railway lines 

In fact, the country itself where they lived may be a completely different country. For example, my German ancestors lived in Prussia in the 19th century. Today, that area is part of Poland. Therefore, all of the village names have been changed to Polish names. 

The David Rumsey Map Collection is an excellent place to go to find maps of your ancestors homeland for free.

Best way to find old maps at David Rumsey

Watch the Map Search Video

I’m going to explain the 7 steps to finding the maps you need for your genealogy research at this wonderful website! I highly recommend that you watch the short video below to see it in action as you read. The player will stay with you as you scroll down the page. 

Step 1: Go to the David Rumsey Map Collection Website

The first thing you need to do is go to the David Rumsey website here. You’ll be greeted on the home page with glorious historic maps. (Stay focused because it’s easy to get distracted by all the fascinating maps!)

Old maps for genealogy at David Rumsey website

Scroll down on the David Rumsey website home page.

Step 2: Scroll Down to the Bottom of the David Rumsey Home Page

While you can search for a place name in the search box at the top of the page, there’s a better way to search. Scroll down the page until you get to Featured App: MapRank Search (it’s almost at the bottom.)

Step 3: Launch Map Rank Search

The Featured App – MapRank Search is the best place to search the website, but it’s easy to miss because it’s not at the top. So go ahead and click the Launch MapRank button in the upper corner of this section. 

launch map rank search at David Rumsey website

In the Featured App: MaprRank Search section click the Launch MapRank button

When you click the button it will open a new tab in your web browser which will take you to the Geographical Searching with MapRank Search page.

Quick Tip: The Fastest Way to MapRank Search

You can get there faster by going directly to https://rumsey.mapranksearch.com. I didn’t take you straight there from the beginning because I think it’s important to be aware of the home page and everything else it offers. However, today our focus is conducting the optimal search for old maps for you family history. 

Step 4 Selecting the Map Time Frame

Here’s what the search page looks like. 

David Rumsey MapRank Search Page

The DavidRumsey.com search page

There are two very important features on this app page that will help you get the best results possible: the time slider and the location search box.

The time slider is located beneath the map:

Timeslider for map search

Time Slider for searching maps by time frame

It’s important to first select the time frame that you are searching because that will dictate the results you get when you search on the location name. (We’ll get to that in just a moment.) 

There is a slider on each end of the timeline. Slide them to specify the desired time frame. In my example below, I’m looking for maps between 1800 and 1900. 

time slider for map search

Searching for maps between 1800 and 1900

As you move the sliders, you’ll notice that the maps in the right hand column will change. This is because only maps that fall within the range you select will be offered in the Instant Search Results column. But before we look at those, we need to type in a location in the next step.

Step 5: Selecting the Location

With your time frame selected, now you’re ready to type the location in the search box.

As you type, the app will make suggestions. But wait! Before you click the Find a Place button to run the search, look carefully at the list of suggested locations that may appear. Many locations names can be found in different areas. That is certainly the case with the name of the tiny village where my great grandfather was born: Kotten.

searching a location for maps

Type the location name to search the maps

In fact, the list doesn’t even include the Kotten I am looking for.

In cases like this, it is best to search a little more broadly. When Kotten was part of Prussia, it was located in Kreis Johannisburg so I could try searching for that. Even better might be to search for the largest city in the area since Kotten was such a tiny village. Arys was the largest city in the area. 

Once you type in the name (and select from the suggestions if needed) click the Find a Place button just to the right of the search box. 

Step 6: Analyze the Map Results

In my example of searching for the city of Arys (which is the name it was known by in the 19th century when it was part of East Prussia) the modern-day map displayed is actually Poland.

Poland map

My search resulted in a map showing Orzysz, Poland

However, the David Rumsey website does a good job of cross-referencing the older German names (Arys) with the new Polish names (Orzysz). This is another reason why searching for a larger city works well. Larger cities are more likely to be in the David Rumsey system for cross-referencing, and of course they are easier to spot on the map. Generally speaking, the location you searched will be in the center of the display map. 

Quick Tip: Verifying Location Names

Another quick way to cross-reference location names (or verify your findings in David Rumsey) is by searching for the name in Google Earth. In the example below, I typed in the Prussian city of Arys. Google Earth will offer options if more than one matching result exists.

I was a bit surprised to see “Arys” as one of the three listed results since it is not called that today. When I clicked Arys it took me to the city of Arys in the Turkistan Region of Kazakhstan, far away from Poland! Clicking Orzysz in the results list took me to the area of Poland that was once East Prussia. This confirms the results I received at the David Rumsey website. 

Finding a map location in Google Earth

Learn more about using Google Earth for Genealogy by watching my free class here

Now it’s time to review the map results listed in the Instant Search Results column on the right. Isn’t it fantastic that David Rumsey’s website not only presented me with the correct Polish location, but also maps published between 1800 and 1900 that include Arys? I think so! 

Finding the city on the David Rumsey map

Map results appear in the column on the right side of the page.

Click the map you think best suits your needs. The map will open in in a new tab in your web browser. (These browsers tabs provide a nice bread crumb trail for your searching activities.) 

All of the source information about the historic map that you chose will appear in the column on the left. (See the image in Step 7.) If you decide to use this map you’ll definitely want to accurately cite the source. Learn more about the importance of source citations here.

Step 7: Export the Map

I was delighted to find the village of Kotten on this map of Arys published by Reichsamt fur Landesaufnahme in 1893!

When you find a map that you would like to use for your family history research, export it to your computer. To do this, click Export in the upper right corner of the map and select the desired size. You can select a size ranging from Small Thumbnail to Extra Extra Large. Keep in mind that the larger the size, the more clarity you will have as you zoom in closer and closer. This is very important if you plan on using the map in an overlay in Google Earth. You can learn how to create your own map overlays in my video tutorial series on using Google Earth for genealogy available here, and in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

how to export an old map

Click “Export” to save the map to your computer.

Be patient while downloading to your computer because it can take several moments to export a large map. The saved file will probably be zipped. To unzip it, on a PC right-click and select Extract All from the pop-up menu. This creates an open version of the folder containing the map. 

Get Started Finding Your Ancestral Locations in Old Maps

With this step-by-step process you are now ready to explore any given ancestor’s world through the rich details of historic maps. I can’t wait to hear what you discover! Please be sure to leave a comment below. And if you found this tutorial helpful, will you please share it with your friends on social media so we can help even more people find the homes of their ancestors? Thank you!

Browse-Only Databases at FamilySearch are Easy to Use

Browse-only databases at FamilySearch are easy to use and may hold the key to the genealogy brick wall you have been working on.

Don’t be scared off because the records haven’t been indexed. Guest blogger Amie Tennant Bowser show you how to take advantage of these great records!

browse only databases

New Genealogy Records Come Online Every Week

Each week, we report on the latest genealogy records to have come online.

Sometimes in our weekly record update articles we include databases from the free FamilySearch website that are not yet indexed. These collections are referred to as browse-only. Have you ever been disappointed when you realized the database you are most interested in is only able to be browsed?

Browse Only Databases at FamilySearch are Easy to Use

The highlighted genealogy records in these collections are browse-only

You may be thinking, “Good grief! I can’t possibly browse thousands of records!” and we don’t expect you to. In this article we are going to share strategies that you can use to zero in on the genealogy records you want to browse. 

Browse Only Records Versus Indexed Records

Most folks search for genealogy records at FamilySearch by typing in some key information at the home page. It might be just the first and last name, and the place where that ancestor lived. Here’s an example:

How to Browse Database

When you use this method, you are only searching for records that have been indexed. 

Indexed records are great because they have already been reviewed by one of the thousands of FamilySearch volunteers. They use online software on the FamilySearch website to download images of historical documents. Then, they read the information on the image and transcribe the information.

A second, more experienced volunteer then reviews the transcribed information to ensure accuracy before it is submitted to the website where they can be searched. It’s a huge effort to help genealogists more easily search the online records. 

So, it’s important to understand that not all digitized record images that are on the FamilySearch website have been indexed. This means there may be countless records that will not be retrieved by a name search. 

Unindexed records can only be browsed until they are indexed. So as you can see, there is a very good chance that there are records on the site that apply to your family, but you won’t find them through the search engine.

Instead, you need to go in the virtual “back door” to locate these records. Follow along with me and I’ll show you how. 

How to Find Browse-Only Records at FamilySearch

Let’s imagine you want to search probate records in Auglaize County, Ohio.

You would click the little map in the vicinity of the United States and choose “Ohio” from the pop-up box.

How to Browse Database

At the Ohio research page, you could do a general search of the Ohio collections. Again, this is only searching records that have been indexed.

Instead of using this method, scroll down until you see “Ohio Image Only Historical Records.” Look at all these databases you might have missed!

For our example, continue to scroll down until you see the database titled “Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996” near the bottom. Click on it.

Browse_Only_Database_4

You will notice right away that there is no way to “search” this database.

Many people give up at this point, after all, who has time to search nearly 7,000,000 records. Click on it anyway!

Browse_Only_Database_5

The next screen has been broken down by county name. Choose the desired county name. In this case, I’m selecting “Auglaize.”

You are then directed to a page listing the volumes of records for Auglaize county that have been digitized.

In this example, we are seeing bonds, settlements, wills, estates, and so much more:

Browse_Only_Database_6

It is as if you are standing in the courthouse probate office surrounded by volumes and volumes of the records you need.

Select the volume you want to search by clicking the title.

“Open” the pages of the book and search like you would as if you were flipping the pages of a book or scrolling through a roll of microfilm.

Browse_Only_Database_7

Click the arrow at the top of the screen to scroll through the pages.

Friends, we want you to get excited about all the new records that are coming online, even if they are browse only databases. If you like this tutorial, share this tip with your genie friends so they can do it too. 

More Genealogy Gems on Records and Databases at FamilySearch

For more tips and tricks to help you in your genealogy journey, sign-up for our newsletter by entering your email address on this page.

If you’re looking for more genealogy records to mine, here are some of our articles. These will help you not only find new records, but also use other valuable genealogy indexes:

Can Google Help Me Search Digitized Newspaper Pages?

my ancestor in the newspaper newsCan Google help you search digitized newspapers you find online? Recently I heard from Garth in Ontario, Canada with a question like that. Here’s what he asked and here’s what I told him:

“A friend found a digitized newspaper article by clicking on this link and going through various years–very time consuming! I’m thinking there has to be a better way with Google, but no luck. I think I have used most of your techniques from Genealogy Gems. Would appreciate any hints.”

genealogy gems podcast mailboxFirst of all, thanks to Garth for alerting us to an online local archive of Canadian newspapers, The Clarington Local Newspapers collection. I like making people aware of collections like this. Here’s what I told him:

If the website had text transcriptions of articles then Google would have easily been able to grab the phrase “Arthur Levi Brunt” off any page. The search would be “Arthur Levi Brunt”  or, even better, would be a site search, which would be formatted like this: site:http://vitacollections.ca/claringtonnews “Arthur Levi Brunt.” In Google site searches, you start with the word “site” with a colon, followed by the home page in which to search, followed by the exact phrase you want to search in quotes.

However, the Clarington Digital News website relies on its own built-in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to spot and retrieve search terms on the digitized newspaper images. Google doesn’t have access to their OCR, and can’t apply OCR itself to images on the web (the pages on this site are images, not pdfs). So in this case, Google would not be able to locate the same article.

I did notice in looking at the Clarington News site that there is a search box, so your friend didn’t need to browse through the years looking for article on Arthur. Simply entering his name in site’s search box instantly brought up the relevant list in seconds. Here’s a link to that search, so you can see for yourself. Perhaps a few of the other newspaper articles found in that search will be of interest to your friend as well!

Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition coverLearn more about Google search strategies (Google site search is just one!) in my newly-revised, hot off the press 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition. So many genealogy gems like these news articles are buried online: you just need to know how to harness the power of Google’s FREE tools to find them!

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