Lesson 3

FamilySearch.org: Records, Wiki, Catalog, and Books

What is FamilySearch.org?

FamilySearch.org is the name of a website where you can search for records, discover how to be a better researcher, and learn about record collections and jurisdictions to help you find more records. It was created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is available free of cost to users around the world.

You will find two main types of records while searching FamilySearch.org online: compiled sources and primary sources.

1. Compiled Sources

  • Compiled sources are combined from various sources of data including private research and databases. These include Ancestral File, the International Genealogical Index, Vital Records Index, Social Security Death Index, and Pedigree Resource File.
  • These may be inaccurate or incomplete. They may also be very good. It depends on who brought the information together and what sources the information is based on.
  • Carefully evaluate the compiled information you find, and then use it to find primary sources.

2. Primary Sources

  • Primary sources are actual records created at the times of important events in your ancestor’s life.
  • These include actual birth certificates, census records, land records, etc.
  • These can still contain mistakes or misspellings, but are more likely to be correct because they are actual records created during the person’s life.


Where does FamilySearch fit into the Five-Step Research Process?

After you have identified what you know about your family and decided what you want to learn about your family, you can then select records to search. This is Step 3 of the Five-Step Research Process. You then will be able to obtain and search those records. This is Step 4 of the Five-Step Research Process.



Go to http://www.familysearch.org/. We are going to explore the resources that are available one at a time. First, log in by clicking on the “Sign in” button on the top right-hand corner. Signing in allows us to access more record images as opposed to just indexes. Then click on “Search” at the top of the screen. This tab allows you to search through the historical records and collections FamilySearch has on their website. There are four different places on the Search tab where you can search for records: Records, Genealogies, Catalog, and Books. We’re going to start with the Records tab.



Name Search

A name search is what you are performing when you type information into the search screen on the FamilySearch.org homepage. This searches all the records that have been indexed for records that match the information you entered. Not all records on FamilySearch.org have indexes. Those records can be accessed through a location search (see below).

When possible, always look at the original record—it may contain more information than the transcription copies and you can determine if mistakes in the index are contained in the record or were introduced by the indexer. If there is no link to the original image, look for information about the original record, the record the index was made from. You may find a microfilm number, another database to search, or a library/archive to visit. This information may be a field in the index or may be in the source citation given at the bottom of the document.

Search Tip: Try starting with a broad search for an ancestor by only putting in his or her name and possibly a place or date associated with his or her life. Notice the number of records that show up. You may want to use the various filters on the left side panel to narrow the results you accrued (add more of the ancestor’s information or, farther down on the left hand side, limit the records by collection, date, place, etc.).

You can also try starting your search by pouring all of the information you know about the ancestor into the search form. Then, if you didn’t find the record you were looking for, take a piece of information out of your search (on the left hand menu). Search using different combinations of information to get different results.

Location Search

A collection search can verify that FamilySearch.org has the record collection you need and will help narrow your results from the beginning by eliminating any records that are from other collections.

  • Back on the main search screen, scroll down to see a map of the world. Click on an area and you will be able to search by a specific locality or record collections. Filters are then available on the left hand side of the screen.
  • New record collections constantly being added to this historical records database.



  • Most of the family trees in this section come from the Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File.
  • These trees are a compiled record, and even though they can give you information, there are no sources to prove their validity. They are best used as a starting point to give you information for further research. They do, however, often preserve living memory much older than we are.


  • Searching in the catalog searches for records available in the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City. We recommend researchers to search the catalog for their ancestors or relating records because there are many records not online. And while FamilySearch is working to get their record collection published online, the FamilySearch Library currently has many more records available to be searched in person. No fee is required to access them.
  • You may search the catalog in a number of ways: place search, keyword search, surname search, title search, etc. The place search is important because records were recorded in specific localities and are organized in the same manner.
  • Record types: online images, books, microfilm and microfiche. Microfilm and microfiche are film negatives organized into a reel or flat pages, respectively. These allow smaller storage space per each article.

NOTE: The BYU library may have the microfilm or microfiche in their collection. Check here to find out: http://web.lib.byu.edu/cgi-bin/FHL/FamilyHistoryFilms.pl


  • Family History Books is a collection of more than 40,000 digitized genealogy and family history publications from the archives of some of the most important family history libraries in the world.
  • The collection includes family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, gazetteers, and medieval histories and pedigrees. (Information from FamilySearch Books page, http://books.familysearch.org)


Learning Resources

  • Research WIki (fifth option on the Search Tab)

o   The most important part of the learn tab is the research wiki. This is similar to Wikipedia and allows users from across the world to post and share information with regards to performing research for specific localities and topics.

o   The wiki is not a place to post or find ancestors names or personal information. Instead, it provides information regarding resources for research in given areas, help with specific types of research, or other information which can help with the research process.

  • Research Courses (a.k.a. Learning Center, under “Live Help” on the FamilySearch homepage)
    • FamilySearch has compiled a wealth of training videos and interactive powerpoint presentations to teach everyone—beginner and expert—how to start or better continue researching their families.
    • These videos are created by family history professionals from the Family History department and are a great resource for both teaching family history and learning it yourself.

o    For more information, visit the Learning Center at https://familysearch.org/learningcenter/home.html