How to Search Records in the newly organized FamilySearch
--now with filters


Lessons I've gleaned from working with it so far...
As with anything complex, the more you work with it, the less complex it becomes.

Collections -- Search -- Filters


It is important to understand that the body of information that comprises the newly organized's RECORDS search is broken down into collections. Collections are of three types -- Images (indexed) -- Images (not indexed) --and Indexes (no images)

  • Images (indexed)
    • A picture of a camera is beside the title and there is a specific number of records.
    • Indexing has been done by volunteers.
      • Want to volunteer? Go here! It's fun and will get records indexed faster.
    • Evidently in earlier versions some images appeared that were later withdrawn due to contractual agreements, so something you found earlier may no longer be there. You will have to use the film to see the original image.
  • Images (not indexed) -- browse images
    • A picture of a camera beside the title, but rather than list a number of records it says "browse images" .
    • See above re volunteering!
    • Searching will not find records in this group (I know --I'm stating the obvious!)
    • Don't assume the collection won't be useful.
      • It is the same as ordering a film, only instead of putting it on a reader, you browse the images on your computer. And save some money, as well as time waiting for the film to come.
      • That's how we used to do everything, pre internet days!
      • Here is an example of a collection that is browsable. San Mateo County Records. Notice the first grouping of records is grantor/grantee indexes. You can use that volume to narrow down our search. "Browsing records" is what you do when you order the film... you look for an index and use that to find the page or you go through the volume page by page (many of us have done that!) Usually there is some order to the volume that helps you jump to a spot you want to browse.
      • Video: Browsing Image Collections
  • Indexed information (no images)
    • These collections will have no camera by the name of the collections but will have a specific number of issues.
    • Often will inculde abstracted data from the record
      • -- but you can't count on the abstract to incude all inforamtion.
      • Indexed databases; the Social Security Death Index is an example
      • The extracted IGI records are going into these collections.
        • submitted IGI information is going into a separate database, not yet readily available.
  • To find our more about the source of information in a given collection, click the Learn More link at the bottom of the description.
  • To find which collections have been recently added, browse all collections, then click on the LAST UPDATED header to sort them by date.

Some of the collections were in the old and are now moved over to the Records collection; these include:

  • IGI (extracted records)
    • You will often see two collections that appear to be similar, e.g. Statename Marriages 1805-1889 and Statename Marriages 1745-1901. Usually one will have images and one will not
      • The one with no images will be the old IGI extracted records.
      • The one with images will be the filmed records, scanned and indexed.
    • This blog entry explains how to find extracted records by batch number (and what a batch number is and how they can be useful)
  • 1880, 1881 census indexes
  • Social Security Death Index

Some of the collections from the old FamilySearch are not in the Records collection; these include:

  • IGI (submitted records) will go to a new file called "conclusionary records" Until they are available in the new family search you will "Go to Previous Site" to find them.
  • Ancestral File records must be searched in the TREES heading (between Records and Catalog)

Here is a blog that explains it the switchover in some detail. as of January 11, 2011.

To see what record collections are available, you can browse. You will do this often as new collections are added almost every day.

  • "browse by location" (next to the map) They are in large chunks, eg. USA, Canada and Mexico list all the collections in this area. I often use this because I concentrate on U.S. research. Other large georgraphic areas include Africa; Asia and the Middle East;Australia and New Zealand; Caribbean, Central and South America; Europe and Pacific Islands.
  • " See all record collections"--at the bottom. (here is a quick link to all record collections)
  • Viewing browse results:
    • When browsing collections, they are in alphabetic order by jurisdiction, so it is fairly easy to see what has been included for a given country or state, especially so if you have browsed by location, so excluding collections you would not be interested in.
    • By clicking the blue header you can sort by
      • Records (to see collections in order biggest to smallest)
      • Last updated (to see the most recently added collections)
      • Title (to get back to the default sort -- alphabetically by title)
    • Notice on the left...
      • you can limit the collections that appear by
        • place (broad geographic area, e.g. country)
        • date (in half centuryincrements)
        • collection topic (census, birth, marriage&death, etc.)
        • You can also click a box to see only those collections that have images.

Search or Advanced Search?

You can search any individual collection but you can't search a specified group of collections. For example, you can't select all the Michigan collections and search them as a group. You can, however, search them individually. (I hope the ability to group collections is an enhancement we might see someday.)

Search: Your choices are first name, last name, place and year range. If you have search criteria that the system can easily narrow, you will get nice results.

Advanced Search: (link at bottom, beside the blue search button allows you to start with the Advanced Search instead of the default simple search.) You can then associate the place and date range with a specific event: marriage, birth, residence, death and other. Boxes appear which allow you to limit your search to exact information.

New Search -- the box that appears, upper left corner, of your results screen, allowing you to revise the search you just made or start a new search. The "new search" box will offer boxes for the data from advanced search.

  • For example: name: Sophia Allmendinger place Washtenaw (which has the distinction of being the only county with this name) dates 1850-1950 pulls up 14 results, all showing the right name in the right place. That is a sweet result.
  • Let's try James Withey Pennsylvania 1750-1950. 38 results, which isn't bad, but look at them --
    • all have some variation of the surname Withey, some of which are appropriate for my search, some of which don't interest me.
    • Many of them don't have James in the name, but only the initial J. so it will find a Henrietta J. Withey -- which just isn't going to be James.
      • Note, however, on the left, we can filter by gender and take the women out.
    • Sometimes the Pennsylvania connection isn't there. It finds a Bertrand J. Withey living in New York and born. in the U.S. -- included probably because he may have been born in Pennsylvania.
      • A brown bar will separate out these "why the heck does this show up?" hits as being unlikely, but possibilities.
  • But let's try a search with more common names. How about a James Rice that lives in Pennsylvania. If I know where in Pennsylvania, I can put that in. Well, I know he married and lived in Erie County for awhile.
    • Here is my search then: James Rice Erie Pennsylvania 800-1900. -- 4,459 hits! too much to go through!!!
      This is when filters become useful.


Once you have the hits from your search, filters help you arrive at a reasonable number of hits to review. Filters may seem a little complicated, at first, but the more you practice using them, the better you will become and the more successful your searches will be.

To understand how filters work, keep this in mind:

  • your search LIMITS the number of hits you find -- advanced search allows you to limit by event and exact information.
  • Use FILTERS to further narrow down the hits that appear from your search.
  • They are two different functions. Sometimes you don't need to use filters -- a simple or advanced search is enough to find what you need. But when you need them, filters are a life saver.

Here is a description on the Family Search site The New Search Filters in
It's a MUST READ -- I'm sorry, guys... but you gotta read this kind of information to be successful!

Taking my example, James Rice Erie Pennsylvania 1800-1900 in Erie Pennsylvania. I want any information I can find about a James Rice who lived, married and probably died in Erie County Pennsylvania sometime before 1900. My simple search (above) brought up 4, 459 hits and that's too many to go through.

  • I can filter by one of 9 filters -- you did read the description I referred to above, didn't you??
    In case you overlooked it, it is a description on the Family Search site The New Search Filters in
    • If you read it, you know two essential pieces of information.
      • Turn a filter off by clicking the X
      • Filtering is a multiple step process. After the results have been filtered by the main filter, place your curser on that filter again to create a list of sub-filters.
        • Sometimes you have to sub-filter more than twice. Here is an example:
        • Birthplace: USA, CANADA, MEXICO filter USA filter MICHIGAN
        • This is not intuitive and I think over time they will do something to make this second step more user friendly.
  • I decide to use the Filter: Collections: Birth, Marriage & Death:
    • but filter past Birth Marriage and Death the only choice I have is Pennsylvania Philadelphia Death Records, which won't give me what I want because my James was in Erie County Pennsylvania. I'm not going to find his death record in this collection.
      • So why are the Philadelphia City Death Records in the results? Because it is matching on the fact that James Rice was in Pennsylvania. I can also find the death of a James Rice in Ohio -- there only because he was born in Pennsylvania. This is not out of the realm of possibility. My James Rice may have moved to Ohio or Philadelphia and died there, so family search includes the hits and leaves it up to me to either look through them and check them one by one or filter them out further (for example by using death place).
  • So let's use another filter: census collections. Only the first three are in Erie County. The remaining 4,000 have some connection to Pennsylvania. But notice it did place the Erie County ones at the top.
  • You can combine filters. For example, you can filter by Birthplace (Michgian) and residence (Tennessee) and place of death (North Dakota) to find just the right person... but be careful.Too many filters and you may eliminate a useful result.