Online Search Tips for Researching Your Past

Double Check Your Work

It's a common mistake to enter incorrect or misspelled search terms.  If you're having trouble finding a particular record, go back to the Search area being sure to enter the correct name, location, and record type.  


Use Precise Match

Use Precise Match to narrow your search and get more accurate results.  This is especially helpful if you are searching for common names that return more than 10 records.  To use Precise Match: go to the Search area, enter a first name and last name, then check the Precise Match box. 


Widen Your Search

If your search returns no results, try widening your search criteria.  Delete some of the non-required information you entered, or select a more general category like "United States" for location or "All Vital Records" for Record Type. 


Advanced Search Options

The Advanced Search option allows you to specify additional search criteria which will help the database pinpoint your ancestor.  Fields in Advanced Search include: City, County, Middle Name, Maiden Name, Birth Year, Death Year, Marriage Year or Divorce Year.  To use Advanced Search go to the Search area and click the Advanced Search link.  Using both Advanced Search and Precise Match at once can be an effective combination.


Soundex and Double Metaphone Database

Find common surname variants in the Soundex and Double Metaphone database.  Due to poor transcription or immigration, the spelling of surnames can change over time.  To search common misspellings or variations: click the Surname History tab in the Search area, enter an ancestor's surname, then click Search to see a list of possible surnames determined by the Soundex and Double Metaphone indexes. 


How To Search For Incomplete Names

If you don't know your ancestor's first name, enter the information you do know in the Search area first including birth, death, marriage year, location, and surname if you have it.  Make your best guess about the first letter of the ancestor's first name, and click Search.  The search results will return records on matching individuals with the same surname and first initial. 


Searching Errors

If you saw an "Oops" page while searching.  Our database undergoes regular updates and maintenance and sometimes this inadvertently interrupts service.  If you saw one of these pages instead of the search results you were expecting, please retry your search in several hours.  The "Oops" page usually signifies a temporary problem that we are working diligently to fix.  Re-try your search now by going to the Search area.


Utilize The Community Forum

If you're running into a brick wall, go to the Community Forum and see if anyone has posted information about your ancestor.   Pose questions to the community--you may just meet someone researching the same family branches!


Free Genealogy Resources

Links to free resources and helpful content can be found in Genealogy Resources.  Use these general resources to inform your research.  These critically acclaimed resource pages include information on: Genealogy Help and Guides, World-Wide Genealogy, Religious Genealogy, and more.


Supplemental Databases

Take advantage of our supplemental databases, including Surname Histories and Historical Events.  Link this information to what you already know about your ancestors, and transcribe what you learn in saved records.  Go to the Search area to run a Surname History or Historical Event search.

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