FamilySearch is one of the biggest genealogy websites out there, but most researchers barely scratch the surface of how it can be useful. If you’re feeling a little stuck in your research (and who doesn’t from time to time?!), here’s how you can use FamilySearch to jumpstart your genealogy.
What Is FamilySearch?
FamilySearch is a non-profit organization that helps people around the world make discoveries into their family history. It is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but is open to everyone regardless of their religious affiliation.
FamilySearch provides services in a number of ways, including their website at FamilySearch.org, mobile apps, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, local FamilySearch Family History Centers around the world, partnerships with libraries and other organizations (FamilySearch affiliates), and events like RootsTech.
Let’s focus on how the FamilySearch website can help you jumpstart your family history.
Search Billions of Records on FamilySearch
FamilySearch has more than 8 billion records available from all around the world (as of August 2021). (Bonus: they’re free!) Some of the records are indexes/abstracts, while others are digitized images of the actual record. The material on FamilySearch comes from digitizing the microfilm that FamilySearch has made over the years, as well as working with archives, libraries, and government agencies around the world to digitize even more.
Get More Leads with the FamilySearch Catalog
“But, Amy, I’m not planning a trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake. Why do I need to look at the catalog?” Glad you asked! The FamilySearch catalog is valuable even if you aren’t planning a trip to Salt Lake City. First, you can find digitized collections that aren’t included from the Search Historical Records page. If you aren’t checking the catalog, you’re missing out on a lot of resources.
The FamilySearch catalog can also give you ideas of resources to explore. Sometimes seeing the subject headings and the specific collections can spark ideas for new places to look. Even if they aren’t digitized, it gives you a place to start. (Is that material available in a different library? Do you have specific enough detail to request a lookup from the Family History Library? Can you hire someone search in the material for you?)
Get Grounded with the FamilySearch Wiki
Nobody can know everything about every aspect of researching their family tree. All it takes is for that ancestor to move to a different location and you could be starting all over trying to learn about the resources you need. That’s where the FamilySearch Research Wiki comes in.
The FamilySearch Research Wiki has more than 96,000 articles about genealogy topics from around the world. Need to know the ins and outs of researching Caldwell County, Missouri, civil registration in Greece, or how to translate some Latin? The wiki has you covered for this and so much more. It is literally the first place I look when my research takes me to a new location or a new topic.
Make Connections with the FamilySearch Family Tree
Unlike online family trees on sites like Ancestry, the FamilySearch Family Tree is one big collaborative tree. Your data is presented with everyone else’s data and everyone can make changes. (It’s essentially a giant wiki.) It does have its challenges, but we shouldn’t overlook it for the possibility of finding some intriguing clues and connecting with others researching shared ancestors.
Explore More Trees in the FamilySearch Genealogies
In addition to the collaborative tree mentioned above, there is also a completely different section of FamilySearch called “Genealogies,” which features family trees submitted through various FamilySearch projects and partners such as the Guild of One-Name Studies. Individuals can also contribute to the Genealogies section. These trees aren’t editable and, of course, you do need to vet them for accuracy like any other source. However, there is a wealth of clues just waiting to be found. It’s also a way you can publish your family tree on FamilySearch without having it be edited by others.
Find Histories in FamilySearch Digital Library
FamilySearch isn’t the only organization that has collected family history resources over the years. As part of the FamilySearch Digital Library program, a dozen repositories across the US and Canada—including the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library and the Houston Public Library—have made available hundreds of thousands of family and local histories available online.
Get Others Excited with FamilySearch Activities
It can be a challenge to get some family members excited about their family history. If you’ve hit that stumbling block, check out some of the fun family activities that FamilySearch has to offer. There’s everything from building time capsules and interactive quizzes based on your tree to adding faces to “historical” photos and spotting “famous” relatives. They’re fun, interactive, and engaging activities to help you bring everyone into your family history journey.
Want to take a deeper dive into FamilySearch? Sign up for my interactive workshop “Getting Savvy with FamilySearch” on September 14, 16, 21 & 23. Click the button below for all the details!