Project 4 Goals:  1: Get Organized   2: Identify a Line   3: Form a Strategy   4: Findmypast Search Menus (FMP)   5: Develop Search Skills   6: Solve Problems   7: Family History Trip        SEARCH

Project 4: Research

Learn the essential research skills.

  Tracker:   Online  or  Word  

Goal 1: Get organized for research. Vault

Taking the time to get well-organized now will save you time later, and it will help you research your ancestor lines efficiently. Here is a good overview of getting organized with your genealogy materials.


A Organize your materials.

  1. Get a research binder and add page dividers in it, by geographic place of research or family surname.
  2. Determine your own sub-categories within the dividers, such as maps, how-to's, information contacts and websites, where to order records, printed forms, brief blog posts and articles, etc.
  3. Read this article for more tips on creating a research binder.
    How a Research Notebook Can Keep You Organized
  4. Watch this Ancestry video for ideas on organizing your genealogy.
    Tips for Organizing Your Family History Records—19:29
  5. Here are tips on using filing systems for genealogy.
    Color-Coded Genealogy Research Filing System
    | My Genealogy Digital File Folder Organization

Instructor Tips

B Create and use to-do lists to keep on track with your research.

This helps you remember where to begin and how to stay on target with your goals.

  1. Study these videos for tips on writing down research learnings and keeping effective to-do lists.
    AC: Write It Down—27:00
    | AC—Genealogy ToDo Lists—19:57
  2. Decide on small, focused tasks for your to-do list. Make sure your tasks support the goals you are working on.
  3. Use an electronic to-do list (Outlook, iPhone, etc.) or a paper-based list for your to-do list.

C Keep your records organized as you research.

  1. Use these tips to help you stay organized with your research.
    FS—Organizing Your Files

    AC—Organizing Research Info—19:00
  2. Read these articles for tips on organizing your research and your findings.
    AA—Getting Organized: Tips to Help You
    | FS—Organizing Your Research
  3. Read this article for tips on taking effective notes as you do research.
    GC—Taking Notes in Genealogy
  4. Use research logs to track your progress.
    BYU—Research Logs—6:50

    FS—Research Logs—5 pgs.
  5. Store lists of records you are working on in the FamilySearch Source Box or the Ancestry Shoebox.

D Keep track of your correspondence with others and write effective request messages.

  1. Read this article for tips on tracking your correspondence with others. See also the Correspondence Record form in Choice E.
    GC—Tracking Your Correspondence
  2. Here are tips for writing to family members and organizations.
    GC—Tips for Writing to Family Members
    | GC—Tips for Writing to Institutions
  3. You can use these form letters and tips when writing to people internationally.
    GC—Form Letters for Requesting Information
  4. Make use of email or text-message folders for electronic correspondence.

E Use pre-printed charts to help you organize your research efforts.

  1. Use free genealogy research forms from Family Search and other resources. Here are some useful categories:
  2. Use free genealogy research forms from Cyndi's List.

Goal 2: Identify a line to do research on, to extend your pedigree.

Choosing one line at a time to pursue is a more efficient way to do research. Try to gather as much information about a given family unit as possible, before tracing back additional generations: work backwards in time. Here is a warmup video to get you started with research; watch 7:10 to 8:15.


A In Family Tree, find a family group sheet with some missing information for ancestors you want to find.

  1. If possible, look for someone who was born after 1700, with a recorded spouse.
  2. Make note of missing names, dates and locations in the records of recent ancestors.
  3. Here are some tips for choosing a line to research.
    BW—Choosing a Line
  4. Read this article for tips on finding missing parents in your line.
    Five Uncommon Places to Find Your Ancestors' Missing Parents
  5. Plan to search for all your ancestors, not just the direct male or female lines.
    LDS—Search for Every Ancestor

BForm questions for each selected ancestor that will help drive your research.

  1. Ask the questions you're most interested in: Why did an ancestor move? Are there missing children in a gap on a family group record? Watch this video for ideas.
    FS—Choose an Ancestor and a Question—3:20
  2. Learn how to define research questions in this article.
    BW—Define Your Research Question
  3. For a review of questions for ancestor research, watch this video.
    AC—Asking Genealogy Questions and Getting Answers—17:20
  4. Here are some questions to ask yourself before starting your research.
    9 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Researching Your Family Tree

Instructor Tips

C Use or to quickly identify "end-of-line" ancestors (those without recorded parents).

  1. See Project 1, Goal 9 for instructions on using Find-A-Record. Once logged in, clear all the check boxes in the colored categories on the left. Then open the Relationships category (purple) and check the Missing Father, Missing Mother, and Missing Parents boxes. A list of end-of-line ancestors is displayed on the right.
  2. See the Goal in Project 3 for instructions on displaying an ancestor view. Nodes without extensions are the end-of-line ancestors. To highlight these nodes so they stand out more easily, click Targets in the left pane.

Goal 3: Form solid strategies to research your selected lines. Vault

A good research strategy will help you get more research done in less time. It will also help you know when to spend more time on a line and when to move on to the next one.


ALearn principles of effective research.

  1. Use good standard practices for genealogy research.
    Society of Genealogists—Standards and Practices
  2. Read these articles for tips on getting started with your research.
    AA—Getting Started: Tips to Help You
    | RIV—Research Training Guide—27 pgs.
  3. Learn to focus your research efforts for better results.
    LDS—Focusing Your Research
  4. Use the Gather, Choose, Find, Evaluate, Share process in your research.
    LDS—The Research Process—3:53
  5. Study the strategies for research in these articles.
    FS Wiki—A Guide to Research
    | AC—5 Tips to Jumpstarting Your Research—7 pgs.

Instructor Tips

BDevise a research plan to use.

  1. Try the research planning strategies shown in these articles.
    AB—Think Like a Detective
    | BW—Create a Research Plan
  2. Here is a sample research plan template to use.
    Cyndi's Intermediate Research Plan Template
  3. Create broad goals and refine them into specific goals, as shown in this video.
    AC—Crafting a Research Plan—23:49
  4. Understand where to look for the records you need.
    LDS—Keys to Finding Relevant Genealogical Resources
    | LDS—Searching through Layers of Sources
  5. Use time-saving tips from these articles to make your research more efficient.
    GC—Time-Saving Tips for Genealogists
    | GC—What You Can Do in Two Days

Instructor Tips

C Take advantage of previous research.

The strategies in this Choice will help you when you search genealogy collections in Goal 4.

  1. Try the strategies in this FamilySearch Wiki document. Note : This document is titled as a United States article, but it applies well to research in any country.
    FS—United States Previous Research
  2. Learn more about using previous research in these articles.
    GC—Previous Research in Families
    | GC—Finding and Using Published Genealogies
  3. Learn about using genealogical documents and manuscripts in your research.
    FE—How to Find and Use Genealogical Documents

    AA—Using Manuscripts in Your Research—52:00
  4. Learn to examine inherited pedigrees carefully for possible problems.
    LDS—Examine Inherited Pedigrees Carefully

D Use the family memories you have collected as sources for research.

  1. Gather and summarize notes from interviews for clues on family research. See Goal 3 in Project 2: Memories for details.
  2. Examine photos—either those in your possession or those that have been uploaded to FamilySearch—for research clues. See Goal 6, Choice E in this Project for tips on using photos for research.
  3. Examine documents such as letters, wills, diaries, etc.—either those in your possession or those that have been uploaded to FamilySearch—for research clues. See Goal 7 in Project 2: Memories for details.
  4. Read this article about finding information in diaries, trip journals, and circular letters.
    Diaries, Trip Journals, and Circular Letters

E Learn how to use names and naming patterns to accelerate your research.

  1. Read this document for tips on names and naming patterns.
    GC—Importance of Names and Naming Patterns
  2. Learn about tracing surnames in these articles.
    AB—Last Name Meanings and Origins
    | GC—Importance of Names and Naming Patterns
  3. Read this document to learn more about surname origins. There are many sub-articles, some dealing with international names.
    AB—Surname Meanings and Origins
  4. Read the article or watch the video to learn about using maiden names to further your research.
    AB—Top Places to Find Maiden Names

    AC: Finding the Maiden Names of Women in Your Family Tree—18:01
  5. Learn about surname research in this article from the Society of Genealogists.
    Surname Searching at the SOG
  6. Learn about the Geneanet site in this video.
  7. Investigate single names at the Guild of One-Name Studies site.
  8. Search to find your surnames of interest.
  9. Explore surname research in the right column of the Linkpendium site.

Instructor Tips

FUse periodicals to find research clues.

  1. Learn how to find ancestor information in periodicals.
    FS—Welcome to the World of Periodicals
  2. Read this article for more information on magazines and journals.
    GC—Magazines and Journals
  3. Learn about using the PERSI (Periodical Source Index).
    | FS—Using PERSI for Genealogical Success
  4. Explore the PERSI catalog on Findmypast.

Goal 4: Use the Findmypast Search menus to find ancestor information.


ASearch all records.

  1. In the Search menu, select Search all records.

  2. Type the first name and last name you're searching for. If you want to include name variations in the search, check the corresponding box(es).
  3. Note : The remaining search fields are optional but may increase the chances of a successful search.

  4. In the "When" fields, type the year that the person might appear in records, the year of birth, and the year of death. To allow for a range of dates, click "Give or take" and select a value from the list..
  5. In the "Where" section, click "World" and select a place from the list; or type the location in the space provided.
  6. To narrow the search to one or more categories, a) Click "Browse Category"; b) Select categories of interest from the list; and c) Click Apply filters. The selected categories appear on the search screen and can be removed if necessary by clicking the small X in the name. To search by categories in the left panel, see Choice B below.
  7. To specify subcategories for the search, click "Browse Subcategory" and follow the rest of the previous step. You can click "More" (bottom of the dialog) to display more subcategories.
  8. To specify a record set for the search, a) Click "Browse Record set"; b) In the "Search filters" field (top of the dialog) type a keyword for the record set you want; c) Click "More" if necessary; d) Select categories of interest from the list; and e) Click Apply filters. The selected categories appear on the search screen and can be removed if necessary by clicking the small X in the name.
  9. Click Search world records.
  10. For more information on searching with Findmypast, watch this video.
    FMP—The Findmypast Search Masterclass
  11. 2018-02-18

BSearch records by category (left panel).

  1. In the left panel of the World records search screen, click a category of interest. Categories are displayed in the left panel, and new search options may appear in the center of the screen.
  2. If desired, click a subcategory of interest. Again, new search options may appear in the center of the screen.
  3. Fill in the search fields as needed.
  4. Click the blue search icon (bottom of the screen).
  5. Watch this video for expert tips on searching with Findmypast.
    FMP—Findmypast Expert Help: Search Tips—18:56
  6. For more information on searching for records in Findmypast, watch these videos.
    FMP—Searching Findmypast with James Tanner—4:56
    | FMP—Search Birth, Marriage, Death & Census Records—1:39

CUse "A-Z of Record Sets" to find records of interest.

  1. Click A-Z of record sets (upper right). All Findmypast record sets are listed alphabetically.
  2. To show records from a specific location, select it from the list on the left.
  3. To search for a record set in the list, type one or more keywords in the Search field. Results are displayed as you type.
  4. To see a different page of record sets, click one of the page numbers or advance buttons (bottom of the page).
  5. To sort the list, click the heading you want to sort by. The cuurent sort heading is indicated by a single up-arrow.

DSearch with "A-Z of Record Sets".

  1. Click the title of a record set.
  2. Fill in the names in the "Who" section. You can search for name variants by clicking the checkboxes.
  3. In the optional fields, you can type entries and select them in the lists that appear.
  4. To learn more about the record set, read the information in the bottom half of the screen.
  5. Click the blue search button.
  6. Learn how to download newspaper search results to your computer.
    FMP—How to Save Newspaper Articles to your Computer—1:51

EAnalyze search results and edit or save searches.

  1. To sort the results, click the "Order by" button and select a sort value.
  2. To see a different page of record sets, click one of the page numbers or advance buttons (bottom of the page).
  3. To edit the current search, a) Click Edit search; b) Make changes to the search fields; and c) Click the blue search button.
  4. To do a new search, click "New search"; b) Fill in the search fields; and c) Click the blue search button.
  5. To save the current search, click "Save search" and then click OK. Your search is saved in the "My Account" menu.
  6. To learn more about the record set, click "Learn more" (near the top).
  7. To print all transcriptions for the record results, click "Print transcription" and follow the Print dialog prompts.
  8. To see a transcription of the record results, click the document icon for the name. The results line for the person you searched for is indicated in bold.
  9. To see the record image (if available), click the camera icon for the name. For details on viewing and attaching images, see Choice F below.

FView and attach record images.

To find a record image to view, see the previous Choices above.

  1. Use any of these options to control the image view:
    • Arrows and home button—Click an arrow to move the view in the corresponding direction, or click the dot to reset the view. You can also drag to move the view.
    • Plus and minus—Click the plus icon to zoom in, or the minus icon to zoom out. You can also click directly on the image to zoom in, or use the mouse wheel to zoom in or out.
    • Circle arrows—Click the circle-right arrow to rotate the view 90 degrees to the right, or the circle-left icon to rotate the view 90 degrees to the left.
    • Diagonal arrows—Click them to expand the image to full-screen; click again to restore the normal view.
    • Left and right arrows (edges of the screen)—Click them to view the previous or next images in the record set.
  2. To print the record image, click "Print" (bottom of the screen) and follow the Print dialog prompts.
  3. To download the record, click "Download" (bottom of the screen) and .
  4. To attach the record to a person in your tree, a) click Attach to tree (upper right); b) Type the person's name and select it from the list (or skip the name, to attach the record to the tree but not to a specific person; c) If desired, type notes about the record; d) Click Save; and e) Click the X to close the dialog.
  5. To return to the search results, click Back to results (upper left).

Goal 5: Develop your skills in searching records. Vault

The better your search skills, the more time you are likely to spend looking in the right places, and the better the results.


AImprove your search techniques.

  1. Apply best practices in the Internet searches you do, such as searching broadly at first and then more narrowly, and searching for unusual names before common names.
    FS—Internet Search Tips
  2. Get tips on doing record searches in FamilySearch.
    RIV—Searching with FamilySearch
  3. Try the search strategies in this article when working with records in Ancestry.
    Ancestry Insider
  4. Use these tips when searching for ancestors with common (often occurring) surnames.
    LDS—Finding Ancestors with Common Names
    | 3 Tips for Researching an Ancestor With a Common Name
  5. 2018-01-01
  6. Here are four tips for searching genealogy databases.
    4 Things to Do when Using a Genealogy Database
  7. 2017-12-31

BSearch for records in Ancestry, Findmypast, and MyHeritage.

Note: You must be signed in to partner sites before accessing their records.

  1. To see search results for Ancestry, go to the Person page and click Ancestry in the Search Records box. You can click See More Like This for more person results, or click any Matching Records link.
  2. You can also see search results from historical records for the selected person by clicking Findmypast. To see details, click the Note icon; to see a record image (when available), click the Camera icon.
  3. You can also see family tree results for the selected person by clicking MyHeritage.

CUse Google ( to conduct effective searches for ancestor names, dates, places, etc.

  1. Learn how to use basic search variations in Google.
    FMP—Google Your Family Tree
    | RIV—Genealogy Toolbox (p. 3-12)
  2. Learn how to use basic search variations in Google.
    GI—Refining Google Searches
  3. Learn advanced techniques for Google searches.
    GI: Google Advanced Search, Part 1
    | GI: Google Advanced Search, Part 2

DUse variations in searches to produce better search results.

  1. Account for spelling and name variations as you search records. Read these articles for tips.
    FMP—Name Variations: Tips and Tricks
    | AC—Searching with Spelling Variations
  2. Read this article for additional tips on using name variations.—Tips for Finding Alternate Spellings
  3. Learn to recognize possible nicknames for ancestors.
    AB—Matching Nicknames with Given Names
    | AC: ABC's of Nicknames
  4. Use wildcards effectively in FamilySearch searches.
    FS—Searching with Wildcards in FamilySearch
  5. Use wildcards effectively in Ancestry searches.
    AC—Wildcards and Search Options—30:00
  6. Get the right blend of "specific" and "flexible" when doing searches with indexed records. Provide multiple search parameters to narrow the search, or use ranges to see more results. Watch this video for ideas.
    FS—Using Indexes to Find a Record—3:53

ESave search results and images from records on your computer for later use.

  1. Do a records search in FamilySearch.
  2. In the Search screen, click the Export Results button, and then click Save. Your search results will be saved in Microsoft Excel spreadsheet format.
  3. Learn about using export results in this article.
    FS—Using Export Results
      |   ES   PT  
  4. Save record images to your computer so you can study them in detail later.
    FS—Downloading Images in Historical Records
      |   ES   PT  

Goal 6: Solve problems and use effective research methods. Vault

When research challenges arise, they don't need to derail your progress. With some best practices and creative thinking, you can keep your family history work moving along.


A Learn to avoid common mistakes in research.

Examples of common mistakes include:

  • Collecting ancestors, without verification or sources
  • Incorrectly identifying ancestors
  • Trying to connect with a person in the past by going forward in time
  • Not recording what you find
  • Not looking for siblings of ancestors
  • Skipping generations, or including a generation that is too short
  1. Watch these videos for more information about common mistakes in family history research.
    AC—Common Mistakes in Genealogy, Part 1—22:46
    | AC—Common Mistakes in Genealogy, Part 2—26:54
  2. Avoid preconceived notions in research, such as: "All the information given to me must be correct;" "I don't need to ask research questions;" "All events have exact dates and places available."
  3. Learn about mistaken assumptions in genealogy research.
    AC—Preconceived Notions—29:05 (start 3:00)
  4. Understand how mistaken identities occur and how to avoid them.
    GC—Mistaken Identity

Instructor Tips

BUnderstand potential problems with terms and records.

  1. Be familiar with terms that may have confusing uses in genealogy:
  2. Read the articles to discover possible record problems and how to address them.
    GC—Potential Problems with Records
    | LDS—Dealing with Errors
  3. Learn about the art of estimating ("guessing") in your preliminary research.
    FS—How to Guess Where to Start
  4. Learn how to do critical analysis of your research findings.
    BW—Critical Analysis
  5. Learn to avoid following the wrong lines in your research.
    AB—8 Ways to Avoid Barking Up the Wrong Family Tree
  6. 2017-10-06
  7. Here are some additional tips for working with information in records.

CUse effective tools and techniques.

  1. Learn how to abstract (summarize) the important parts of research records.
    BW—Abstract a Document
  2. Use Correlation approaches to piece together records. With correlation, you can draw conclusions that are supported by the evidence, even though specific facts may be missing.
    FS—Using a Correlation Approach—45:40
  3. Use discrepancy charts to help you evaluate facts when research is inconclusive.
    GC—Discrepancy Charts
  4. Use "cluster genealogy" to research the family members of direct ancestors. This can often lead to additional clues about your direct ancestors.
    FTM—Ways to Solve Genealogy Problems with Cluster Research

    BYU—Locating Your Ancestors Using Clusters—55:29
  5. Use Inferential Genealogy techniques to work with goals, searches, records and evidences. Start with a focused goal; search broadly; understand the records; correlate the evidence; and write down the results.
    FS—Inferential Genealogy
  6. Explore practical case studies in genealogy research.
    AB—Genealogy Case Studies
  7. 2017-10-06

Instructor Tips

DUse creative approaches to solve problems in non-typical ways.

This can help you make progress when traditional methods aren't working well.

  1. Read this article to learn about proven tips and tactics that reach "out of the box" for results.
    FSTips and Tactics—8 pgs.
  2. Learn about "detective techniques" for family history.
    PBS—History Detectives
  3. Use hypotheses in your genealogy research.
    AC—Using Hypotheses in Genealogy—29:07
  4. 2018-02-16
  5. Use the "mull and ponder" approach to focus on the people you are researching.
    AC—"Mull and Ponder" in Family History Research—9:28
  6. 2018-02-16
  7. Learn how to find missing ancestors by searching for their children.
    LDS—Find Missing Ancestors by Searching for Children
  8. Learn how to find missing ancestors by researching other people.
    How to Find Your Ancestor by Researching Other People
  9. 2018-01-01
  10. Use "mind maps" as explained in this article.
    BW—Correlate with Mind Maps

Instructor Tips

EUse photographs to aid in your genealogical research.

  1. Use existing photos to further your research work. Look for photos that arouse your curiosity or that seem to have a story to tell.
    FS—Use Photos to Enhance Your Research
    | GC—Using Photos in Your Research
  2. Learn how to date photographs in their approximate times.
    GC—Dating Your Photographs
    | AC—Dating Family Photographs Using Historical Fashion Clues
  3. Explore the Photo Detective blog for ideas on how to do photographic detective work.
    Photo Detective Blog
  4. Find clues in photo captions and labels.
    AC—Bad Photos, Good Genealogy
  5. Use photos and other approaches to find out more about an ancestor's life.
    FTM—Photo Detective
    | FTM—How to Mine Family Memories for Genealogy Clues

F Know what alternatives you can try when research is slowed or stopped.

  1. Know what questions to ask before declaring a "brick wall".
    LDS—Questions to Ask Yourself Before Declaring a Brick Wall
    | BW—Have You Built Your Own Brick Wall?
  2. Here's a great list of 20 breakthrough items for research, from
    FMP—20 Things to Do when You Are Stumped
  3. Here is some helpful advice on cracking your genealogy brick walls.
    AC—Breaking through Your Genealogy Brick Wall—32:06

    AC—The Dreaded Brick Wall
  4. Learn tips in these articles for handling challenging situations.
    GC—Impossible and Improbable
    | FS—Solving Tough Research Problems—7 pgs.
  5. Read this blog article by Amy Johnson Crow to see how she brainstorms through a research wall.
    Brainstorming Through a Brick Wall
  6. 2018-01-01

Instructor Tips

Goal 7: Take a family history trip. Vault

There's nothing like being there ... You can deepen your family history experience by planning and taking trips, short or long, to places connected with your ancestors.


APlan your family history trip.

  1. Make a list of locations of interest for research or gathering memories, and then decide where you will go.
  2. Read this article for tips on planning family history trips.
    FS—Planning and Implementing a Research Trip—3 pgs.
  3. Use suggestions from this video in planning for a successful trip. See also the first part of the video in Choice C, step 1 below.
    AC—Taking a Family History Vacation—20:08

Instructor Tips

BDo effective research at the remote site.

  1. Learn the techniques of doing remote research.
    FS—Doing On-Site Research—30:01
  2. Learn about the resources available at most libraries and archives.
    For more information on accessing archive and library resources, see Goal F5 in Project 4: Discover the United States, or corresponding goals in Project 4 for other countries.
    GC—Libraries and Archives
  3. Learn what do do with your research findings.
    GC—What to Do after a Genealogy Trip

Instructor Tips