Lesson 5

Workshop 5 - Small Databases and Vital Records Case Study

One of the important things to remember is that the large databases discussed in earlier workshops are not the only places you can find records. There are hundreds of different websites that can provide the records you are may be looking for. When looking for these, be creative in your thought process and searches. To help give you some guidance, we’ve compiled a few websites we find are particularly useful.


BYU Family History Library Website https://sites.lib.byu.edu/familyhistory/

There are many resources found on this website, but what we want to emphasize is the Alphabetical List. (https://sites.lib.byu.edu/familyhistory/alphabetical-list/ ). Here you will find a list of resources including:

  • Research outlines for countries and states

  • Links to subscription websites you can access for free at the library

  • Various family history websites

  • Video research guides



These are similar to the FamilySearch WIKI in that you will use these to start gathering information about the locality of your research. Note that these are all volunteer run so each page will look slightly different. If you contact the volunteers who maintain the site, they may be able to better guide you in where to find local records or put you in contact with local genealogists.


Cemetery Records

    Using a headstone can be a good substitute to a death certificate. Just recognize that these websites are volunteer run, which means anyone can change the information. It may or may not be accurate. Use your knowledge of what a primary source is to help you determine what information found on these websites will be useful to your research.

  • Find A Grave (www.findagrave.com)

    • Continuously being updated, if the cemetery you are looking for has not been photographed yet does not mean it will not be done. You also have the opportunity to request a specific photo.

    • Searching the site can allow you to find an image of the deceased individual’s tombstone as well as the possibility of a picture, obituary, birth date, death date, burial location and/or relatives.

    • The search fields include searching by first, middle or last name as well as searching by cemetery location, death years and birth years. Keep in mind while searching that Find A Grave automatically does exact searches so try to keep your searches as broad as possible.

    • Primarily for United States graves, but occasionally also can be used for international graves as well.

    • A collaborative website with volunteers adding pictures, memorials, obituaries and other information to the records. To help with this endeavor, you can make your account by clicking register on the top right-hand side of the screen.

  • Billion Graves (billiongraves.com)

    • Newer than Find A Grave and has fewer records, but they are rapidly expanding their database.

    • More international than Find A Grave.

    • You will need to create an account to access the images on BillionGraves, though the basic version is free.. You can do this by clicking register in the top right-hand corner of the screen. BillionGraves will also allow you to register through Facebook as well. Some aspects, such as seeing who is buried near your ancestor, require a paid subscription; you will not need this for your class or basic research.

    • Results you find on BillionGraves will be similar to Find A Grave in format, but content may be different because it is a volunteer run site.

    • BillionGraves has an app which allows you to upload or research on the go.

    • Also allows you to look at GPS coordinates of the graves which is a great tool to find graves in larger cemeteries.


Immigration Records

    Immigration records are helpful for obvious reasons. One thing to pay attention to is if the record you are looking at is an Immigration (coming into a country) or an Emigration (leaving a country) record. They will have different information depending on which you are looking at. It should be noted that all of the large databases (FamilySearch, Ancestry, Findmypast, etc.) have immigration collections; below are some specific website you may find useful.

  • Immigrant Ancestors Project (http://immigrants.byu.edu)

    • Project put on by the Center for Family History and Genealogy at BYU

    • Has a searchable database of immigration and emigration records. You will not find original images here, but the index is extremely reliable.

  • Ellis Island (https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/passenger)

    • Almost 40% of Americans can trace at least one ancestor back to Ellis Island.

    • Records are from 1892-1954.

    • You will need to create an account to view the information, but it is free to create one.

    • There are multiple opportunities to pay for certain certificates, but you do not need to do so to access the necessary information.

  • Castle Garden (http://www.castlegarden.org)

    • Another port in New York, primarily in use 1820-1913.

    • Many early LDS immigrants came through Castle Garden.

    • This is an index only website, but once you find the information you are looking for you can see if Ancestry has the corresponding images


Don’t forget other databases such as the Family History Library microfilms or Ancestry.com!



    Newspapers can be a great way to find additional information about your family and the area they lived in. There are numerous websites you can search these, all of which are subscription based. BYU has subscriptions to these you can access for free while on campus. Some of these include:


Fold3 (www.fold3.com)

  • Fold 3 is a paid subscription website. However, you can access it for free as long as you are either on BYU campus.

  • Best place to find U.S. Military records although they do have many other good collections, such as Native American records, census records, newspapers, etc.)

  • On the top of the screen you can also search for names, and browse through collections. There is also a help page, clicking on this takes you to a Fold3 basics page that will walk you through how to use the site.


Family History Tech Lab (fhtl.byu.edu)

    Part of the BYU computer science department (not us) is working on a variety of websites that use your family history information, but are not necessarily helpful in your research. Remember each of these use your FamilySearch information so if it is wrong on FamilySearch it will be wrong on each of these websites! You will see programs like Relative Finder and Pedigree Pie. The website your instructors want you to be aware of here is Virtual Pedigree.

  • Virtual Pedigree (virtual-pedigree.fhtl.byu.edu)

    • Created to simplify the process of navigating your family tree and finding names to take to the temple.

    • You can set an ancestor as the root person and search their descendants, or cousins, or you can search your ancestors faster than you can on FamilySearch. The information rapidly loads as you click and drag to navigate.

    • A great resource for finding areas of your tree that might need more research.

    • For help using the site you can click help on the right side of the screen which will walk you through how to use the site effectively.