How do you use FamilySearch to get the best hits? Volunteers to toss out a few search strategy tips?

+19 votes
;-(wasn't sure what category so I made one fit)-8

So I started on this "journey" in 2014...ok it was Nov...with nothing but a relatively good idea what my Paternal Grandmother's Maiden name was and a couple books and notes from family on my Maternal line... So I've had to depend on Census data (can I thank [[Dellinger-332|April the Great Greeter]] in a G2G post?) Birth, Marriage and Death records to piece the facts together one at a yeah FamilySearch.

I was wondering if a few of you experienced Gurus might like to volunteer to discuss strategies for getting the best results and building those results into proven undeniable steps through the generations?

*For example, I like to find the Maiden name of an ancestor, and then enter the Man's name and best guess for Birth Date with 5-25 years range depending on how good the guess actually is...and my by best guess for place of birth. Do the same for Residence, Marriage, and Death then enter the Maiden name last name only for Spouse. Then I tweak those values with each search by adding and taking away different Spouse & Birthday selected and with Match Exactly checked on Spouse (Maiden Name)...then if that gives me too many hits add in Death or Marriage. If I don't get anything uncheck Match exactly or change North Carolina to Virginia or Tennessee...

Anyway that's the project I'm proposing is building a thread of tips and tricks for using FamilySearch... (ok *blush* I just want to pick up your tricks) But seriously. The goal is with edits and feedback and collaboration (see what I did there) to create a list of well written tips for using this valuable sourcing tool to get the most "bang for your buck"! (okay so it's free but you know what I mean)

Now how is this a project and not just a G2G blog? We come up with the absolute strategies and tips for using * to indicate the start of each actual submission and edit to fine tune it and make it look good...we use the vote system to determine which ones are the best of the best, edit out the * on the ones that don't make the cut, and come up with something so spectacular they have no choice but to create a new tab on one of the 6 foot long drop downs called "Strategic Edge". (okay I can edit that later).

Then next we might do a thread on Find-a-Grave, or Google, or even the public library... and it doesn't just have to be research tools. We can strategize how to lay out a profile so that you get the most data and the best look with the least amount of effort. End result would be kind of like an advanced help section for geneology and the WikiTree-experience. So anyway, back to FamilySearch tips.
in The Tree House by Phillip Rich G2G6 Mach 4 (44.0k points)
retagged by Keith Hathaway
*When your results list comes back with 300+ hits, it can be a bit onerous to go through and load/scan through 15 pages of 20 results per page. (OK maybe it's just because I do all my research on a SmartPhone) but if you look at the adress, it looks something like this:
If you change the 20 to 90, you now only have 5 pages of 90 uninterrupted possibilities instead of 15 clicks to load your results. (Ok yeah, I'm thinking this might only apply if you're using a phone...or a 386SX with Windows 3.1)

So what do ya think? Acceptable idea for a "Project"? Any Volunteers? Or did I just waste the last 3 hours typing on a touchpad keyboard trying to get this right? (J/K it was only 2 hours) -P Rich
Thanks again Mags

...any thoughts on Why?
Found it.
-P Rich
Fixed the one huge paragraphy thingy.  Mags

5 Answers

+17 votes
Best answer
I've learnt over the years less is best.  I put in as little information as possible then narrow down using the other fields, locations dates etc.  whilst you might get too many results it is better to drill down to narrow the results than putting in too much information to start and then getting no results.  It is also useful to start narrowing down by collections first then locations, then time periods.
by Veronica Williams G2G6 Pilot (147k points)
selected by Terry Wright
+10 votes
When I search on familysearch I start with the name, location of birth and a birth range of -5 years from where I expect the date to be and + 5 years.  If I get too many results that look close I then add parents names and or spouce name. I never limit by country unless I am sure that the person spent their entire live in one country.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
edited by Dale Byers
+9 votes

I'll restrict the search to a specific country and then go by collection, tweaking the search parameters as I go. I also go the the complete list of collections, found here:, put in a place or time frame in the filter just to see what may be useful.

For more ways on using FamilySearch effectively use the wiki to discover places to look at and ways of looking at them.

by Rosemary Jones G2G6 Pilot (238k points)
edited by Rosemary Jones
+6 votes
Personally I like the search function on Family Search, one reason being that it is very tolerant of weird spelling variations for uncommon surnames.  But census takers and other record creators can still sometimes come up with spellings that it doesn't anticipate.  So if I am not finding any records where I think some should most likely exist, I sometimes search without using a surname at all, or using just a few letters of a surname and an asterisk.  Then you can add the first names of a spouse, children, or other persons, or perhaps a location or a date range to narrow down the results.  Sometimes it actually works!
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (437k points)
+4 votes
I'd have to add that you can't give up too easily. FamilySearch has a lot of collections that aren't indexed yet, so you have to "flip" through them manually, after searching them out specifically.

Also, look at the actual document. A lot of information does not get transcribed or gets transcribed poorly. Looking at the document can give little details that help you determine Joe Smith who lived on Oak Street his whole life with his mother from Joe Smith who moved around with his own family.

And, keeping flipping through those tedious pages. Sometimes something very relavant gets buried for whatever reason. So many times I thought I had found every record they had indexed, only to check out a few more pages and see that all the birth records got buried.
by Abby Glann G2G6 Pilot (478k points)
Unfortunately a lot of the document images are now being held by FMP and we use Family Search because it is free. FMP is NOT free so that defeats the purpose!!  I get very irritated that I cannot check census records for myself because FMP holds the rights to the images!!!

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