Chris Armstrong | May 31, 2017

Getting to Know the Big 4: FamilySearch

This is the second of a four-part series analyzing the strengths and limitations of FamilySearch, Ancestry, Findmypast, and MyHeritage to help you use them more effectively.

In last week’s article, we examined the strengths and limitations of Ancestry and how to effectively use this tool in your family history research. In this article, we’ll look at FamilySearch, another giant in the genealogical industry’s big 4. Much of the content in this article comes from Sunny Morton’s 2017 RootsTech presentation. Morton is a professional genealogist, contributing editor at and author of “Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.”

FamilySearch Is Totally Free


Family Search is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a nonprofit organization.

“FamilySearch is wonderful because it’s free and because there’s so much there that anyone can access with or without a password and with or without paying,” explained Morton.

FamilySearch is free to everyone. If you don’t already have an account, you can create one by navigating to and clicking Free Account in the upper right corner.

FamilySearch Emphasizes Collaboration

Unlike other websites, where users store their own private trees, the goal of FamilySearch is to build one accurate, sourced, global family tree for all humankind. To do this, FamilySearch gathers, preserves, and provides easy access to historical records and allows people to work together to document their shared family histories.

“Their goal is to build a database that represents every single person who has ever lived and to honor their existence and their identity by having one single profile for every single person,” said Morton.

FamilySearch Prioritizes Core Genealogical Records

“They really care most about [civil and church] vital records, censuses, immigration and naturalization documents, [probate]—things that will help us to build or construct those relationships from generation to generation and add another person to our family trees,” said Morton. “And boy, when I’m trying to get back to the next generation, you better believe I’m at FamilySearch looking to see what they have.”

FamilySearch currently has roughly 5.6 billion names searchable in records, 1.2 billion browse-only records, 300,000 digital books, and 1.1 billion records in the global tree.

Geographic Diversity

True to its goal of being globally focused, FamilySearch is available in English, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.

“You really get global here in a way that you don’t at the commercial partners, just because they are reaching into less developed areas of the world … [without] a strong genealogy market there yet, as identified by the other three partners,” stated Morton.

While the record content is strongest for the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, FamilySearch includes records from 96 countries.

The FamilySearch Wiki

The FamilySearch Wiki contains vast educational content of more than 80,000 how-to and where-to-find articles about records from 244 countries and is unique to FamilySearch.

Morton explained, “The FamilySearch Wiki has a search box. … You’re going to find … what kinds of records are out there. … You’ll find webinars. You’ll find language translation tools, word lists of [foreign] vocabulary so … you’ll understand the words you’re seeing. [You can] learn from others how to research in a new place, in a new language, in a new time period, or in a new record type that you’ve never really looked at before.”

You can also explore current geographic content (location, time period, record type) by going to FamilySearch and selecting Search > Records and then clicking on Browse all published collections.

Mobile Apps

FamilySearch apps such as Family Tree and Memories are great for building your family branches and preserving memories, stories, photos, and documents on the go.

FamilySearch Limitations

FamilySearch has no digitized newspaper records or DNA matching program.

Some may view the collaborative global tree as a downside because others can change information in your branch of the tree.

How do you use FamilySearch? Tweet us @RootsTechConf to share your experience. Join us next week for part three of this series, which will explore the strengths and limitations of Findmypast.

Chris Armstrong

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