Getting the Most from Your Search: Understanding the Search Records Page
Finding a historical record with my ancestor’s name on it can sometimes be a challenge. Either my search terms bring back more results than I know what to do with, or I get only a handful of results, none of which is my ancestor. If you’ve ever had a similar experience, you’ll be excited to know that FamilySearch is working hard to improve the search experience—making it more intuitive and straightforward—for beginners as well as experts. All the tools you may have used in your research before are still there. But the search boxes, filters, and design have all been simplified to help people like myself find that first record and experience the joy that comes from connecting with ancestors.
Using Filters to Narrow Your Results
Let’s start with the search box—the primary reason people come to the Search Historical Records page in the first place. To begin searching for your ancestor, all you need is a name. You can enter a place and year if you have them, but this information isn’t necessary.
Say, for example, I want to find a historical record about one of my great-grandfathers. I enter his name into the appropriate fields and click Search. The results page tells me there are at least 263,386 possible records with my great-grandfather’s name on them! Too many to examine or even browse, to be sure. But I can quickly narrow my search results by applying one or more of the search filters available to me near the top of the screen.
The Residence filter seems like a good way to reduce the results list. Maybe it’s because I’m not very good with dates, though I do know where my great-grandfather lived. The onscreen prompts help me choose the most specific, appropriate residence filter possible. First, I click United States of America, then Utah, and last but not least, the county where I know my great-grandfather lived for most of his life.
It won’t always be this easy, but in this case my great-grandfather is suddenly the first result on the page! He’s mentioned in the 1940 United States Census along with my grandmother, whose name I immediately recognize. I can access this record by clicking my great-grandfather’s name and following the links. When I do, I discover that my grandfather’s name was spelled differently in the census record, and I was off by one letter. No wonder I’ve been having trouble finding his records! (Good thing I didn’t have Exact Search turned on just then, or I might not have found this record. More on that feature later.)
Search by Collection
The other filters on the records search page work the same as the residence filter, and more than one filter can be applied at a time. If there’s a specific type of historical record that you want to find—a birth certificate, perhaps, or a marriage certificate—try filtering by Collection. Then limit your search to a collection that contains the type of record you want to find.
We’ll use my great-grandfather as an example again. Let’s say I want to find his birth certificate. First, I’ll enter his name. When I get my search results back, I’ll set the Birth filter to United States and then Utah. After that, I’ll click the Collection filter. To the right of the screen, a menu opens with a list of all the different collections I can search. I can click as many as interest me, several of which are focused on births. Once I have the collections I am interested in checked, I click on the Apply Collection Filter button.
But wait—further down, I see a group of military collections. Did my great-grandfather serve in World War I? I’m not sure, but I could look for his draft card in United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918, if I wanted to.
Tips and Tricks for Experienced Researchers
So far, we’ve talked about starting with a simple name search and applying filters to narrow your results. But if you have more information, you can enter it at the very beginning of your search and find the historical records even faster. At the bottom of the search box, next to the Search button, click the button labeled More Options. This will open the complete search template, where you can enter more concrete information about life events, spouses, parents, and even alternate names. You can also filter your records by country or state, so only records that were published in that location appear in your results. Just look under Records Options, and click the filter labeled Location.
You can also access this complete search template after you have started your search by clicking on the More Options button at the top of the results page and applying the filters in the pop-up on the right side of the results page. This option allows you to filter your results after the results for your search are shown.
Another way to limit your search results is to use Show Exact Search, which you’ll see near the bottom of the expanded search box. If you perform an exact search, only historical records that match your search terms exactly will appear in your results. This can be an important filtering tool when you know exactly what you’re looking for. If, on the other hand, you’re not sure, it’s probably best to leave this option turned off. In the case of my great-grandfather’s record, an exact search might have prevented me from finding information about him, since for much of my search I was spelling his last name incorrectly.
Also, keep in mind that clicking Show Exact Search doesn’t actually turn the feature on; rather, it opens up an Exact Search option for each individual search item, which you would then have to select. This means that you can do an exact search for your ancestor’s last name, while still being open to multiple versions of his or her first name. This tremendous functionality allows you to be both precise and flexible with your searches.
One last feature to help you organize and make sense of your results is the Preferences tab, located near the top of the screen on the results page. Hint: You may need to click More Options after you search, if you don’t see it. From the Preferences tab, you can choose whether to format your search results in a fixed table or data sheet. You can also control how much information the table or sheet controls. Too much information, after all, can be overwhelming and hard to decipher. Finally, you can choose to view records no matter their language, or only those that have been translated into the language specified in your account settings.
An Easy-to-Use Search Tool
Discovering a historical record with information about your ancestor can be a thrilling experience. At FamilySearch, we want this experience to be available to everyone who comes to our website—from experts and amateur historians to beginners and even first-time visitors to our website. Our simple yet robust search page has been designed with this very audience in mind. If you have questions or feedback to give on this updated search experience, we offer multiple ways for you to give us feedback. We’d love to know what you think and are grateful for your suggestions!