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Using Family Search: Searching for Ancestors Online

The Family Search website includes 6 searchable databases with over 1 billion names.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by:
Word Count: 676 (approx.)
Labels: Census  Death Record 
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Family Search ( was launched in May 1999 to overwhelming success. Family Search, a web site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, includes online searchable databases (with over 1 billion names), research guides, the catalog of the Family History Library, and family history products including Personal Ancestral File (PAF).


The databases included on Family Search are the Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, International Genealogical Index (IGI), Census Records, Vital Records Index and the Social Security Death Index. There are two ways that you can search these databases. The first is by conducting a search from the homepage. You can also select the "Advanced Search" link found at the bottom of the search engine on the home page. From the advanced search link you can choose individual databases to search. This is a great tool, especially in cases where you are researching a common name.

The Ancestral File is a collection of genealogical data that is taken from pedigree charts and family group sheets submitted to the Family History Department since 1978. While the information submitted is not verified, you can try to contact the submitter of the information for possible sources.

The Pedigree Resource File contains information submitted through the Family Search web site. Although the information you look at online contains just names and dates, you can order the Pedigree Resource File DVD to see what additional information was submitted. Additional information can include sources and notes as well as the name and address of the submitter. You can order a copy of the Pedigree Resource File DVD (much more handy that the 100's of CD's that it use to come on) through the Family Search web site. Click on "Order/Download Products" link found at the top of the home page. The DVD is $13.00.

The Vital Records Index currently includes vital records from Mexico and Scandinavia.

The International Genealogical Index (IGI) is perhaps one of the most helpful and one of the most talked about databases. The information from the IGI comes from two sources.

  1. Records microfilmed by the LDS Church are then extracted and that information is placed into the IGI. This is the place for finding birth, death, christening, and marriage information. Information that you find here that was gathered from the extraction program can then be used to find the original source document, available on microfilm through the Family History Library.
  2. The other source for information to the IGI is patron submissions. As with any resource that includes information submitted by the public, this information should only be used as a source and you should find other primary documents to support that information. It's important to remember that the IGI is only one of many sources; it is not the only source you should be looking at.

Transcribed information from three census' are available at Family Search: the 1880 United States Federal Census, the 1881 British Census, and the 1881 Canadian Census. Information extracted from these censuses includes name, occupations, and age. These are extracted lists so it is important that once you find your ancestor, to go look at the original image on a site like Because errors can occur in anything that is transcribed or extracted, consider consulting another resource if you do not find your ancestor in this database

Finally, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is available through Family Search. The Social Security Death Index will help you find a person who was assigned a Social Security number and whose death was reported to Social Security. Most of the deaths found in the Index date from 1962 to the present.

Some tips for searching the Family Search databases:

  • If you click on "Advanced Search" from the home page ( you can then choose a database and then can click on "Tips" to learn more about searching that individual database.
  • Try a wild card search by using *.
  • If you don't find your ancestor, enlarge your scope of search, don't get too specific. Don't add a middle name, don't add a state, just enter United States. Remember your ancestor's surname might be spelled differently or misspelled.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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