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Monday, December 6, 2021

How do we find anything on the FamilySearch website? Digging Into the entire website, Part Nine


Even if you have a really good idea that a certain kind of oyster can make pearls, you still may have to look at a lot of oysters to find one pearl. If the record you are looking for could be considered a pearl, then searching on FamilySearch is a good analogy to oysters. We know FamilySearch has a lot of genealogically valuable records, but which ones are going to help us to find our ancestors? Here is an example of the results of a name search from the new search page on the website. I searched for Thomas Parkinson, England, 1830. By the way, this is one of my actual ancestors in the Family Tree. 

There are 47,328 responses which is quite normal for a name search on the website. None of the Thomas Parkinsons showing on the first page of twenty results are my ancestor and none of them have a birth date in 1830. Here is the summary card for Thomas Parkinson so you can see that he was born in 1830 and has 46 sources attached.

Oh, here is what I entered to do my search. 

Granted, I could have entered a lot more information, but you would think that I just might get someone born in England in 1830 from the results considering the fact that I know there are records on the website that have that specific information. So what is going on here? By the way, this new search screen does not help, all it does in create another step in the process of searching. I could click on more options, but why not give us more options to start instead of thousands of shotgun responses. 

Searching for a name, even with all the options you can muster, only searches the indexed records in the Historical Record Collections. The search engine does not search the Family Tree. searches all their family trees and gives record hints for connections. not only searches all of their family trees (millions upon millions) but also searches the entire Family Tree. Here is an example of looking for Thomas Parkinson on

Granted you still don't get the Thomas Parkinson born in 1830, but you do get results from the Family Tree. Of course, you can search for names directly on the FamilySearch Family Tree. 

Here are the results of this search. 

You can see that there are a lot of Thomas Parkinsons on the Family Tree. There has to be more here than meets the eye or we would not find anything we looked for on the FamilySearch website. So again, what is going on here? This is a chicken and an egg problem. To find a person, you need to know a lot about the person but if you can't find anything about the person then how do you start searching? The key is what every genealogist should know by heart: we start with what we know and we search for what we do not know using what we know. Genealogy starts with learning about and recording all you know about yourself. If I started searching for my own name on FamilySearch, I would probably have a difficult time finding anything because of privacy issues. But if I did a general search online first, I could probably find a lot of information that would help me. Try searching for information about yourself online to see what I mean. You might find that a name search is not a very good way to search for someone. 

Let's suppose that you begin entering information about yourself, your parents, your grandparents, etc. In genealogy, we use this information to build a search for further ancestors. If I started with myself, and looked at all the people in my family line back to Thomas Parkinson, I would find that I knew quite a bit about him from his children's records. More about this line of thought in another post.

So the key to finding someone with a name search is to start where I did with a minimum amount of information and then add information. Of course, you can only add information if you have already found the information but you can never skip over a generation without losing you way. 

Here is what happens when you provide a bit more information. 

Not much different but the search engine is finding Thomas Parkinsons born in 1830. What is the problem? This was a trick search. His birth date and place were only found on other records which we know were not indexed by FamilySearch. What if I take out the place "Farcet." Here we go. Now we have possibly found the right person or maybe not. It turns out that a lot of Thomas Parkinsons married someone named Mary Ann. Can we win this game by trying? Not really. 

What you might learn from these examples is that searching for records about your family using the search function of the various websites is not the way we really end up finding records. Indexes are great. Indexing is a great help. But unless you know more that the index, you will usually either end up with the wrong person or not find anything at all. 

I will keep writing about how we actually go about finding someone on FamilySearch (and other websites) in future posts. 

Here are the previous posts in what is going to be a very long series. 


  1. The search only searched historical records because you clicked the Records tab. "The search engine does not search the Family Tree." This is true, because to search the Family Tree you have to click the Family Tree tab. The arrow in the first search image above is pointing from Genealogies to Filter Results. The arrow should have pointed from Records to Filter Results. Click the Genealogies tab, and enter the same information. You will then find him in some other trees. Next, in the records search you were not searching for Thomas Parkinson BORN 1830 in England. You searched for Thomas Parkinson who was in England in 1830. To search for Thomas born 1830 you have to click More Options, then click Birth.

  2. You are right, but you missed my point. What I am saying is that when you are given a search field as your only option and you don't know everything you put in your comment, this is what you find. You also acknowledge that even though the information about Thomas Parkinson is in the Family Tree, you actually have to go to the Family Tree to find that information. The issue isn't about is there a possible way to find Thomas but it is that you have to know a lot more about program to find something a simple as finding a person who is well documented and already on the website.