A Beginner’s Guide to Genealogy: FamilySearch

If I were to begin my genealogy search again I would hope to start exactly how I did 2.5 years ago, by signing up for FamilySearch.

FamilySearch Screen Shot

Why FamilySearch?

First and foremost, it’s free!  When you have no idea how committed you are going to be for a project, free is one of the best words you can hear. And though the one huge all-encompassing tree on FamilySearch can be both pro and con, the millions of records it provides is outstanding.

One Tree: The Positives

When you are new and you put in a name and find it already on the FamilySearch tree, it’s exciting. You attach it and sometimes a whole new world is open up for you.  Even if you are unable to verify all the people right away when you are starting out, it’s EXCITING to see names that could be your relatives.

Another plus of one big tree is that if you’re stuck, it can give you a clue about who to look for in your next tier of ancestors.  We all hit that brick wall in our research, but it’s nice to get a hint of who to look for next.

Other perks of the one big tree include research that isn’t duplicated, and that a person’s research lives on after they pass.

One Tree: The Negatives

I have had my own negative experience with the “one tree”.  Someone put their relative in the middle of my family tree and I was amazed at how upset I became.  Every day when I logged into FamilySearch, there he would be, staring back at me, Andrew Sloan Blair (he really did as someone posted a photo of him that would come up on my homepage).  But Andrew wasn’t my relative, my relative is Andrew Jackson Blair who was born about 2 years before or after him (funny how this part I’ve forgotten), and I seriously doubted that my Great-Great-Grandmother, Susan Jane Foster named two of her sons Andrew in two years time.  So I was nice, I contacted the person who had inserted him onto my branch of the family tree, I even did a little research and told them who his father and mother were so the appropriate changes could be made.  They were thankful and told me it would be corrected.  A year later he was still there, so finally I deleted him from my portion of the big tree and attached him to who I had recommended the previous year.

So in not so many words, sometimes the one big tree is not the most reliable when it comes to information.  For every person who spends a great deal of time getting all their I’s dotted and T’s crossed to make sure they have the facts and nothing but the facts, you have someone who just attaches their person to whomever.

Another drawback is that people can change your correct information and replace it with something incorrect. One way to keep up with this is to put a watch on your people so that whenever anyone makes a change you are notified (there is a little star on each person to implement this feature).

Why I Like FamilySearch

No online software is going to be perfect.  Whether you use FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Ancestry, or FindMyPast (I’m sure there are some I am unaware of at this time), each of them has flaws.

FamilySearch is a non-profit organization sponsored by the Church of Latter Day Saints because they believe that family can be together in the after-life, so completing one’s genealogy is very important to the Mormons (more people to meet with when you pass on), which is why censuses, birth, and death records are posted on FamilySearch for free.

If you’re a beginner and you are just looking for basic information on a specific relative, like your grandparent, go to the search page.  By filling in the blanks with the first and last name, a state, a year (I love how with FamilySearch you can control the years you search between instead of +/- on so many of the others) and you are more than likely to get a hit (assuming the person is deceased, FamilySearch does not provide information for those who are still alive).

FamilySearch Search Screen Shot

Once you get more proficient you can start using the bottom right where it states “Find a Collection” and browse all their published collections.  Many files have not been indexed yet, so you can still find the information that has been digitized, but you have a dig a little more to find what you are looking for.

I have used most of the online genealogy sites at one time or another because I will often go to my library and utilize them for free.  If you are seeking a specific record, go to the FamilySearch Wiki and it will tell you where to find the information – even if the best place is a different site.

FamilySearch Screen Shot of Wiki

FamilySearch Wiki Screen Shot

For beginning your genealogical journey, FamilySearch is a great place to start.  You do have to sign up for a free account but it’s well worth it.  I don’t receive very many emails, and when I do it’s “here’s what’s new” which is nice if something added is what you are researching.

Some files (I don’t think I’ve come across any yet) can’t be opened unless you are at a Family History Center or a satellite location (often your library would be a branch).

The website also has a Help Center that can provide you with free tutorials to aid you in your genealogical adventure.

FamilySearch Help Center Screen Shot

I hope my brief overview of FamilySearch has helped you (I’m sure I could do a specific part of FamilySearch once a week for weeks).  It’s just one of many valuable tools you can use to find your ancestors. Genealogy is such a great and rewarding hobby, and with each discovered ancestor a piece of your own personal puzzle is found.