User:Nolaneclark/Sandbox/How to Search by Name

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Have you come to the ResearchWiki to search for a particular ancestor by name? The Wiki, used in conjuction with other FamilySearch resources, can help you search for indivduals by name.

Search FamilySearch Historical Records[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch provides online indexes and images of historical records that contain millions of names.

If you can identify an ancestor who was born before 1 April 1940, the odds are good that you will be able to use FamilySearch to locate an historical record that contains the name of that ancestor.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

For an introduction on searching for an ancestor from FamilySearch historical records, watch the five minute video: Find a Record in Five Minutes. [Note: The introductory five-minute video is followed by other videos. You can stop at the end of (or during) any segment.]

Now get started. Go to and search for an online record of one of your ancestors.

Search Tips[edit | edit source]

Tips to remember:

  • Look for someone who was born before 1 April 1940.
  • For your initial search, just enter the first and last names of the person.
  • If your search yields too many names, narrow the search by:
  • adding a life event (such as birth, marriage, residence or death) with a location and/or a time period to your search criteria; or
  • using filters to narrow your search.

For guidance in using FamilySearch to locate digitized, online records see FamilySearch Tips

Search Existing Genealogy Collections[edit | edit source]

Introduction[edit | edit source]

To avoid duplication of effort, determine what compiled recordsalready exist.
For general information on compiled records, see genealogy collections; Major Databases for Beginning United States Research.

Search Specialized Data Sets within Historical Records [edit | edit source]

Within the FamilySearch Historical Records are two specialized data sets: 

Search online family trees[edit | edit source]

Online family trees can found at:

Search online card catalogs[edit | edit source]

Limited edition family histories can be found online. Try surname searches at the following sites:
In addition, identify local libraries and archives where your ancestor lived and see if their card catalogs are online.

Cautions regarding compiled records[edit | edit source]

Be cautious in using compiled records, particularly records that do not cite sources. Compiled records contain many errors. They should not be accepted as fact unless supported by reliable sources, but may point you in the right direction.
Do not be discouraged if you find many compiled records without source citations. Remember:

Search Census Records[edit | edit source]

1800 United States Census.jpg

The next major step in searching for an ancestor by name is to search census records.  Many indexed census records are now available online.  Well-indexed census records are valuable because they can be used to:

Links for Census Records[edit | edit source]

Through, one can obtain free access to indexed census records and images of census records. Historical records include both federal and state census records.

Click for tips in searching census indexes.

For other countries, one can go to FamilySearch and browse by location to ascertain whether census records are available.

Indexes are merely the starting point.  For accurate and complete information, you need to examine the actual census records.  Fortunately, United States census record images are available online.

Guidance in the Use of Census Records[edit | edit source]

For a useful 45 minute online lesson on the use of census records, see Tiff's Census Class.

For articles providing guidance, see United States Census and United States, How to Use Census Records.

Extracting Information from Census Records[edit | edit source]

  • To extract information from census records, you can download census worksheets.
  • Remember to check out every census on which you expect to find an ancestor.
  • For useful guidance in evaluating information on census records, click for tips on analyzing census data.

Obtain Vital Records [edit | edit source]

As you seek to identify and document your ancestors, you always want to look for primary sources. The most critical events in the lives an individual are birth, marriage and death. Thus, whenever possible, rely on birth, marriage and death records (otherwise known as vital records).  

Consult Research Wiki articles that discuss the history and use of United States Vital Records and the means to locate United States Vital Records

Increasingly, states are digitizing their vital records and making them available online.  Many such records are available on the FamilySearch Record Collection.  For indexes and, in some cases, digitized records, go to Historical Records Collection and check the index by state

Use ResearchWiki to Find Other Records[edit | edit source]

Once you have completed your search for and examination of census and vital records, you will find that the Wiki can be a useful tool for additional research.  Although the Wiki itself will not contain the names of your ancestor, it contains articles and links that can lead you to the needed information.

Links to Helpful Articles[edit | edit source]

Excellent advice for this process and information for a researcher can be found on:

Steps to Follow[edit | edit source]

To use the Wiki in searching for an ancestor, 

  • Think about what you want to know about the ancestor
  • Consider the location where that event may have happened
  • Think about other records that may possibly contain the information you need
  • Work backward, rather than forward (look for a death record before searching for a marriage record)
  • Think about the record trail that we all leave behind
  • It is helpful to know:
  • A time period
  • A possible location

Deciding Where to Look First[edit | edit source]

One of the following articles can help you decide where to look first for a puzzling:

Search Examples[edit | edit source]

The following case studies show how researchers used the Wiki to lead them to further information about their ancestors. Click on the case you would like to view.

Example using vital records
Example Finding Information about a locality
Example Finding a person

Each of these cases involved different research needs, methods of searching, and results.  They are good examples of how the Wiki can be used to help find information that would lead to the desired results.

Connect with Other Researchers[edit | edit source]

There are several ways that you can communicate with others who may be doing research in the same areas that you are: