5 Overlooked Things on FamilySearch

FamilySearch has billions of records for us to use in our genealogy. But there are 5 often-overlooked sections of the website that can be beneficial to our genealogy research.


Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 10

You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below. (You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and most other podcast apps.)
Length: 18 minutes.

1. FamilySearch Research Wiki

The first thing that you might be overlooking on FamilySearch is the Research Wiki.

FamilySearch Research Wiki

Don't let the word "wiki" freak you out. I know a lot of people have kind of a negative feeling toward wikis. A wiki is something that is collaborative; people can change it, add to it, and correct it. While we've all heard horror stories about things being edited on Wikipedia, the collaboration on the FamilySearch Research Wiki makes things better.

You can get into the research wiki when you're on familysearch.org and you hover your mouse over where it says Search and then just click on "Research Wiki." That will take you to the main page where you can find more than 88,000 different research articles about a variety of topics. I use the research wiki on almost a weekly basis.

Has your research moved to a new county or a new country? Look up that location on the Wiki. You'll get dates that major record groups began in that location, links to resources, information about societies and libraries, and all kinds of valuable information.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to these location pages in the family search research Wiki is that it isn't just the United States. You can find information for locations around the world.

Be sure to check out the Genealogical Word Lists on the Wiki. Let's say that you are doing research in Swedish records. Chances are if those records were created in Sweden, there were probably written in Swedish, and if you're like most of my friends, you probably don't read Swedish. You can look up a Swedish genealogical word list right there on the Research Wiki.

The research Wiki also includes articles about general research topics. If you are doing any native American genealogy research, you want to take a look at the page called "American Indian Genealogy." There are so many resources that it points you to information on how to get started, how to continue the research. It's just a phenomenal resource.

Literally, no matter where your genealogy research takes you, you can get something out of the FamilySearch Research Wiki.

2. FamilySearch Family Tree

Have you used the FamilySearch Family Tree? Some people shy away because it is all one big tree. If an ancestor that I'm uploading seems to match somebody who's already in the tree, I should merge them into one person into one entry. The ideal is to have one profile per person.

Because the tree is collaborative, anybody who has a free account on FamilySearch can make changes. The drawback is that people can make changes which might be wrong. But there are benefits to having data in the FamilySearch Family Tree. [Note: I don't recommend having the FamilySearch Family Tree be the main/only place where you keep your online family tree.]  

The first benefit is that it can act as cousin bait. Each profile has a link to the person who created it. Also, anytime that a change is made to a profile, such as adding a photo or a source, their profile is attached to it. I've had numerous instances of people contacting me because of profiles I've created or edited.

The second benefit is the collaborative nature. As I was preparing to record this podcast and I happened to look at the profile of my third great grandmother, Mary King Murnahan and I noticed an exact date of death. However, the only death date that I had for her in my "main" tree was "After 1900," based on finding her in the 1900 census. But on the FamilySearch Family Tree, someone added not only her exact date and place of death, they also added a link to her death record, allowing me to confirm that it was the right person.

Mary King Murnahan

3. Genealogies

The "Genealogies" section is similar to the Family Tree, but with some important differences. (You can find this section by hovering over "Search" and then clicking "Genealogies" from the drop down menu.) The data that's in the Genealogies section has come from a variety of sources, such as the Guild of One-Name Studies, the old Ancestral File, and the old IGI (the International Genealogical Index). Some of the data has also come from oral genealogy projects that FamilySearch is working on. The data in Genealogies is not editable.

4. The FamilySearch Catalog

Why explore the catalog if you're not going to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City? Because there are digitized collections that aren't linked on the search page. You can only find them through the catalog.

To find the catalog, hover over "Search," then click "Catalog."

I like to explore by place first.

FamilySearch catalog

When you find an item of interest, click on the title. If it has been digitized, it will have one of two icons. A camera icon means that it's viewable by anyone. If it has a camera with a key over it, it means that it is viewable only at a Family History Center or at an affiliate library. 

More and more public libraries are becoming FamilySearch affiliates. To find an affiliate library or Family History Center near you, go to the Contact Us page on FamilySearch and enter your zip code or town in the locator box.

5. Family History Books

FamilySearch has partnered with several institutions, such as the Allen County Public Library, the Houston Public Library, and the University of Florida to digitize genealogies, family histories, local histories, gazetteers – basically, anything that would be of benefit to genealogists. To date, they have digitized more than 350,000 books.

To find this collection, hover over "Search" and click on "Books."

Two good ways to discover materials is to search for a location or by a surname (with the word family after it).

Some of these titles are restricted to Family History Centers and affiliate libraries, but many are available from anywhere.

Your Turn

Have you used any of these sections before? What did you find? What do you want to try next?

5 Overlooked Things on FamilySearch
Posted: November 14, 2018.

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  • Hi Amy, as always amazing tips and instructions that help so much! Thank you so much for sharing with us some of your vast knowledge of genealogical resources and where they are and how to make the best use of them.

  • Very practical tips, and you’re so clear about how to find those pages! I love using the catalogue, and searching first by place is my favourite way to begin – helps me see what’s in the vaults that I can actually use!!

  • I have used all those features and especially love the wiki. You are right about the “cousin bait.” I have had such great experiences with cousins who have added to my family history knowledge and visa versa. I knew the IDs of a turn of the century family photograph and she had access to a specialized state book with biographies. We are meeting at RootsTech. Another cousin and I are trying to figure out why a birth certificate says January 1, when everyone in the family knows it was January 2nd. Hum. I do use FamilyTree as my tree. I didn’t at first, but my experiences have been great with it.

    • My mother thought her birthday was in March and could not find her birth certificate. Social Security found it, but her birthday was shown as February. By this time, her parents had passed. It was a home birth. So no way to tell which was correct.

    • We have a family member who died on a particular date in a rural area. Her husband called us that day. It was the next day before she had been declared dead by an authority, so that the death certificate declares her death to have been on the next day. There can always be glitches similar to this in any set of records.

  • Re the digitized images–there is an additional restriction not mentioned. Some records are viewable only to members of LDS–you can’t view them at affiliated libraries. I have run into this for records which I had previously been able to view on microfilm and now cannot view due to this restriction.

    • Yes, but that is a very, very small number of collections. What you are seeing is more likely that they have to be viewed in a Family History Center. (Unfortunately, not every record agency is agreeable to having their images viewed to a wider audience.)

      • Well that “very, very small number” might be a very big number, depending on the location you’re researching. For Example, in Germany many church books are only viewable by LDS members. As these are one of the main catalogue elements in germany (with Zivilstandsregister), the proportion of this kind of restricted sources is not lower than 30% there, I guess.

        • Could you give me an example? I’m quite curious about the ones that are restricted to only LDS members. Thanks!

    • that’s because of the privacy issues.. nothing to do w/lds members.. some owners of records didn’t want to renew the contract.. it’s 2022 and the story still hasn’t been resolved…

  • Wow, this was a big help! I have done little on Family Search, but following your instructions I found a bunch of stuff immediately. I found one thing in particular: Sometimes Ancestry has the document, but a search wouldn’t bring it up. Searching for the same thing on Family Search yielded several documents. Having the item in hand, I could then go back and find it on Ancestry and take note of why it didn’t come up on a search. I also spent a little time digging around the Family Tree feature and added the parents of a distant collateral first husband. With time I might actually learn how to be proficient and help with adding documents and merging people, but that is for another day. Thanks, Amy! ~Paula in Worthington

  • One nice feature that I have found under catalog is the link to worldcat. If the item isn’t digitized I use this world at search to see if the item is found at another location closer to me.

  • LOVE the Catalog!
    I’ve been able to find actual records using just the information from the index of the records that I find on Ancestry. By using the FHL film number that is given for where the information came from for the index I can search the catalog with just number.
    Bonus is many of my ancestors lived in the same area and I’m finding them also in those records, so huge win!

  • Yes, again, as always, your provide GREAT tips and information. Even though it may be something I’ve been using – you provide a great refresher. I’m always looking forward to your posts.

  • This is an excellent presentation regarding the use of FamilySearch. I am a Pinellas Genealogy Society volunteer at Largo Library in Largo, Florida. I am asking if I can have permission to distribute and display your presentation at my Monthly Canadian Discussion Group meetings. Full credit will be given to Amy Johnson Crow and the Ontario Genealogy Society.
    ChasG: (chasgene@aol.com)

    • Yes, you may distribute this to your society as long as you leave my byline (“by Amy Johnson Crow”) and include a link back to AmyJohnsonCrow.com. Thanks!

  • Hi Amy,
    I wanted to congratulate you on your 10th episode of your podcast. I am new to the genealogy hobby and am so glad I found your podcast. I listen to a number of genealogy podcasts but yours is by far my favorite.

    Keep up the great work and professional grade podcast. I hope to congratulate you on your 100th episode.


    • Thanks, Terry! I’m so glad you enjoy the podcast. Made it to double-digits — looking forward to triple-digits 🙂

  • Thank you, Amy, for this excellent podcast highlighting so many excellent ways to use FamilySearch. Their site isn’t always intuitive, and people miss a lot of things as a result. Great job!

  • I LOVE the catalog!
    Over the last year or so, since FS has digitized so much of their collection, I’ve been going back through my research and finding the actual images for BMD records that I was only able to get an Index for on Ancestry.
    What’s nice is Ancestry is searchable, but quite often they only have the index, which they generated from the actual image that is probably held by FS. And Ancestry has the FHL film number given in the index. So using that, I look in the catalog and boom, find my image with very little muss or fuss!

  • I am an old researcher and have used Family Search from its beginning. To me, the one area most people don’t use enough is for original research. And yes, the AMAZING digital libraries that are included. I needed a photo of the Petersburg mine assault during the Civil War, and I found it on Family Search, due to their collaboration with the National Archives. Really, people, poke around. There is so much more than you think.! Thanks for your work, Amy.

  • Thank you so much for that podcast, Amy. I have been wary about using Familysearch, and unsure how to. Having llistened to your helpful podcast I shall get on and do some hunting.

  • I just finished listening to this podcast and while I was listening I found a book with my family in it. What a hoot. Thanks for the info

  • Amy. I was at the FHL all day today and will be again tomorrow. I learned a couple of new tricks in the catalog, which I use frequently. I will admit that I rarely use the wiki and I know I should take better advantage of it. Thanks for this post.

  • Hi Amy, I enjoyed your article especially about the Wiki. Of course, there are over 93,000 articles now, so you must have written the article some time back. My wife and I have been senior service missionaries on the Wiki for years and promote it all the time. I’m working on English Parish Tables and she has a long-term project in Mexico. Best wishes, Ben (and Eileen)

  • This was a helpful reminder for me to dip into some of the FamilySearch features that I haven’t tried. I have had great success using the catalog to find records, and have discovered lots of great clues in the FamilySearch family tree — for example, a death date for my 2nd great-grandmother, posted by another researcher along with the source. I have used the wiki a bit, but I know I need to do much more exploring there! I haven’t looked at the genealogies or family history books but will keep them in mind. Thanks for these tips!

  • I’m really glad you also provide text!!

    I still have major issues with their “new and **improved** [NOT]” search facility. Used to be a dream! And every time I try and use the site, they get feedback.

    Last time I was there, I wasted like 4 hours, and the only thing I accomplished … they finally (after 2 weeks) listed my parents as living.

    And that was apparently enough for them to construct a tree for me that I did NOT ask for!!

    I will try your tricks. I keep hoping I will figure out some painless way to use their site. It really is a very useful resource. Unfortunately, just thinking about logging into the site just makes me twitch.