12 Powerful “Search” Features in FamilySearch


Phil Dunn

FamilySearch International©

used with permission

The ‘search’ features or filters in the FamilySearch search engine now provide researchers with powerful functionality for running their “searches”. Whether you are a novice or professional genealogist, the current system upgrades now make the FamilySearch search engine one of the most powerful, functional ones on the world wide web. Users/researchers may now customize their own “search” parameters in order to maximize their chances of finding correct data. Rarely do other search engines allow some of the filtering techniques now available, in your searches!

In the old version of FamilySearch, how many times have you or others—knowing critical data on an ancestor was in FamilySearch’s databases, yet the limited functionality in its “search” engine prevented you from being able to obtain that data? You simply could not perform or set the kind of “search” parameters necessary to successfully obtain or glean that data! And a huge frustration it was!

Not anymore!

Here are 12 important “search engine” features available to users in the current FamilySearch which help you find more accurate data in the FamilySearch system. Each feature and filter can be important in making your search experience effective and more successful. Few users, researchers, professional genealogists know about these critical and helpful search features—that they are even offered or that “searches” can even be run in such ways. Note:  Not yet all of these “search” parameters/strategies presented here, are mentioned in the FamilySearch.org “Help” tutorials; but should be, shortly.

The twelve key features (and there may be more than these) are worthy of disseminating and sharing as they will help more users/researchers have more successful “search” experiences. These features apply not just with conducting England searches, but for many countries with extensive data in the FamilySearch system.

The Twelve “Search” Features & Filters

The current FamilySearch search engine now allows users to–

  1. Search given-names only: You may search a specific or very localized area, and/or by date-range (even with no surname) if desired, or by a unique first name.  Great for 1) performing a marriage search when the surname of a spouse isn’t known at all; 2) when you don’t find an ancestor by spelling variants; this feature also is crucial for 3) effective searches i.e. in all patronymic countries, such as in Scandinavia, Icelandic, Welsh, Southern (United States), and in Jewish research, etc. For example:  Try searching for “Elidad Davis” born in London 1611. Then try searching just under the given-name only—“Elidad”. Note:  Of 2 London entries, one is “Elidad Dauis”[sic]. (for this time period, the letters “u” and “v” are used interchangeably. It should have been indexed under and or as the surname “Davis”.)
  2. Search surnames only (if correct spelling is known)! Great for performing 1) a marriage search when the given-name of a spouse isn’t known at all or if the given name used is not known precisely, i.e. Mary vs Mary Ann or Marian[n]e, Marie or Maria, etc.; or 2) when you’re researching a person with 2-3 or more given names.
  3. Search by Place only—for a birth, marriage or burial/death—i.e. in a smaller town, or parish or chapel–i.e. type a year, i.e. “1833” and the place, i.e. “Brierley Hill, Staffordshire, England”—without typing in ANY names—given or surname. The system calls up every entry!  I found an ancestor’s brother in that year, in this manner. The system now provides users the ability to bring up ALL entries pertaining to a specific place-name/parish, and for a short range of years! If you want to filter down the results, merely click “Collections” in left margin and then click “Birth, marriages and deaths”. [Note:  This works most effectively for the pre-census time period or when searching in a specific record source (see “All Records Collections” on the Main Page of FamilySearch.org—scroll towards the bottom of page), after recent changes].
  4. Wildcards! (i.e.  an “*” substitutes for several letters; or “?” subs for one letter) in searches: You may now run searches using a wildcard(*). For example, type: “Sm*th”, then type in “St Gregory by St Paul, London” for the year 1625. Unlike the former familysearch.org search engine, as long as the search parameters are set at a specific level. Note:  Scroll several times and Smyth[e] with Smith and even Smeth all appear under London. Note:  To use wildcard symbol when running a search, you must use at least 3 letters of the surname or given name, in most cases.
  5. Wildcards for finding difficult, variant-spelled surnames:  i.e. Thibou–T[h][i/e]b[a/eau/ou etc., is much less a problem to locate in the system:  Users can now perform searches with the wild card characters (asterisks—“*” or “?”), up to at least three times for any names—surnames or given names!  For example, the French surname Thibou can be spelled hundreds of variant ways. To capture as many possible spellings, type thus:  Th*b*, or, T*b*u*. (See also no. 6 below).  This is a great way to locate as many possible spellings for difficult, variantly-spelled surnames, such as in cases of Polynesian, old French, Native American, Huguenot, and Slavic (especially) etc., surnames. Note: The search “results” or “hits” may now be filtered by specific locality, time period, gender, residence, record collection etc.
  6. Wildcard[s] for searching without a surname’s prefix:  You may use the wild card feature when you don’t know or are unsure of the spelling of the prefix (the beginning of) a surname! No problem—users can use the wildcard (*) in front of the surname, then merely type the last portion of the surname as it is known. For example, as in the above surname of Thibou, type it thus:  *bou. Or, visa versa, at the end of the name—Thi*!!  Rare is the family history search engine which allows users to search on a i.e. surname without the first two or three letters (prefix) on it.
  7. Parent searches: To conduct a Parent search (to find all the siblings of an ancestor in the FamilySearch system)–can be performed by typing in the given and surname, then go down to “Search by Relationship” and select “Parents”:  two boxes appear so type in just the given and surname of the father; type no given names of any children at all.  In pre-1660 searches, use the father’s given and surname only; often mothers’ given-names are not recorded in baptism registers prior to 1650.
  8. Determine the number of illegitimate children born to a single parent:  Run a search on just the mother’s name—her given and maiden surname (similar to no. 7 above): click “parent” under the ”Search by Relationship” and type in her name and, if desired, the name of a parish or township.
  9. Batch Number searches:  Back—by popular demand—“Batch Number” searches, while redundant of no. 3 above, the ‘old’ batch number “search” feature nevertheless has been restored. Now, you can view all names in a Batch by name, or not typing any name[s] or, run searches with wild card on any name, or perform a parent search, a spouse[s] search (also see no. 3 above).
  10. Learn immediately if a Parish has been indexed in FamilySearch or not:  Similar to no. 3. Search to determine if a parish’s registers of i.e. marriage or baptisms or burial data content is  (indexed) and in FamilySearch’s database[s]:  Merely type in the accurate spelling of the parish place in either the “Birth” box, or “Marriage” text box or “Death”—without typing anything else! (See the FS Catalog for correct place-name spellings.) This search results in the system retrieving every single entry from an indexed/extracted township chapel or parish!
  11. “Exact Match” only. This little box, sits on the right-side of each given name, surname, place-name, parent and spouse name[s] boxes as well. Check-off this box if you are completely certain of the spelling. Even if you believe you are certain of the correct spelling, use only with keen discretion and caution! If used prudently, it tends to return “hits” which are more accurate, clean and relevant to each search. And instead of returning i.e. 5,678 “hits”, most of which are irrelevant,  ‘fluff’ or otherwise unwanted “hits”, it will instead return to you only i.e. 17 “hits” or that is—merely a handful of very relevant “hits”!
  12. Search by Film Number. Did you know that you may now call up all data (names) found (indexed) from a whole microfilm roll within the FamilySearch system. When you enter in a film number, the system pulls up all of names found on the roll of microfilm!


These new “search” features render the FamilySearch search engine as one of the most powerful available. The tools facilitate users’ success in retrieving the most correct data on ancestors found in the FamilySearch system. Moreover, these new “search” standards establish FamilySearch as a trendsetter with benchmark “search” capabilities! The customized “search” capabilities are almost second to none, and now reflect more accurate, specific, and relevant hits based on any combinations of these features. When used in connection with valid, sound [re-]search strategies, it makes for amazing “search” results nearly every time (where data exists within the FamilySearch database system).

Remember:  You may now Customize each search to obtain the results you need! Also note:  Due to the on-going updating and upgrading of the (whole) FamilySearch system software, at times the search engine’s “results” may not always precisely mirror one or more of the “search” scenarios listed above.

We are grateful to Phil Dunn for giving us permission to share this article.

This entry was posted in FamilySearch.org, Historical Records and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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