Home arrow Site Reviews arrow FamilySearch

Who's Online



I was recommended this site by a fellow researcher and in all honesty, I wish I had known about it much earlier. It is my favourite free site (as created and maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City) It is incredibly useful and very simple to use.

Launched in May 1999, it contains 1 billion names in a searchable database. The site claims to have had over 15 billion hits with 150 billion visitors since its launch almost 6 years ago. With over 50,000 visitors a day - they must be doing something right! The search engine looks at a variety of resources including the IGI (International Genealogy Index).

The part of this site I use the most is the search facility. It has one slight ‘down side’ and that is I have found this database is heavily weighted towards those ancestors born many hundreds of years ago. I am not sure what the earliest year of birth is that they have in their database, but when I did my usual ‘John Smith’ experiment, I pulled out lots of John’s born as early as 1480. The quality of information was to a high standard. The John Smith I picked at random listed his year and place of birth, year of death, maiden name of his wife and even a previous Alias name he had once used. This particular record had a ‘pedigree resource file’ attached. Basically, that means that there was a whole lot more snippets of information about John Smith that I could order on CD-Rom if I so desired.

I just had to give John another shot, so this time I put in the ridiculously early year of birth as 1300 (give or take 20 years on either side). I pulled out John Smith born 1288 in Berkshire England. Unbelievable!

Unfortunately, ‘Family Search’ does not perform as well with more recent ancestors, which is a pity because it is such a pleasant site to use. However, if you mix and match 2 differing web sites - you could use something such as ‘Ancestry’ to look up your 19th to 20th century connections, and then dive into ‘Family Search’ once you get into the 18th century or earlier.

Like all searchable databases, there is a knack as to how it is best used. Never ever tick the ‘exact spelling’ option on the search page. I suspect that the records from so far back were not the easiest to read - let alone transcribe. It is not unusual to find numerous records relating to the same person, all with a multitude of differing spellings.

What I adore about this site is that as well as searching on ‘John Smith’ it is slightly more intelligent in the way it locates ancestors and acts almost like a relationship database. If you knew that ‘John Smith’s’ wife was called ‘Mary’ and his father was called ‘Thomas’, you could search for all the John Smiths that fell into this criteria. That is a powerful bit of functionality and I only wish that more genealogical databases where so clever.

The family relationships that aren’t matched via a search are those of siblings, but I am probably expecting too much of the system and I should probably be happy with it the way it is. However, I fail to understand why they can’t build a tiny bit more sophistication into the search facility. As long as the data is in there, you should be able to report on it. The number of times that I have known that I was searching for example - for 3 brothers. I know the names and years of birth for the brothers and now I just need the names of their parents.

I have often had to go through countless individual records only to eventually find the boys have the identical parental data. I may be expecting too much and I shouldn’t complain, but I should be able to search on any Robert, James and Michael that are connected to the same John and Mary Jones?

The other knack to using this site is how to manipulate the event, year range and year facility.

If you put in a year of 1800 (lets say give or take 10 years) and ask to search for a person by their birth and christening date - it will find people by the name you entered - born between 1790 and 1810. That’s simple enough.

However if you do not specify and you search on all events (Birth-Baptism- Marriage- Death- burial or other), and enter what you believe to be your ancestors year of birth as 1800. it will not find your ancestors marriage on the 3rd September 1821. This is because the year you enter on the search is not actually the year of birth of your ancestor, it’s the year and year range by which you are requesting to search the database. I made these mistake lots of times before I finally realised what I was doing wrong. So rule of thumb, do not search by ‘all’, do pick out what you want to look up. If you give the maximum year range as plus or minus 20 years you will cast a wide net. However most importantly - if you are searching for the marriage of someone who you think was probably married about their 21st birthday, search on 1821 (+ or -) and not 1800 as year of birth. Stick to these rules and this is a very exciting, professional and simple site to use.

Next >