Help! Records for My Ancestors Aren't Online

Online Genealogy Research #genealogy #begininggenealogy #familyhistoryfanatics

Question: I have looked everywhere for records about my ancestor, but they just aren't online at FamilySearch. How am I supposed to track them down? Help! - Discouraged Genealogist in Henderson, Nevada

Thanks Discouraged,

When we're climbing our family tree, it's tough when we aren't finding records for them where we want them and when we want them.

Rather than repeat the wisened genealogist matra, "Not everything is online" and shaking my head (which I promise I'm not doing but some readers might be), let me cover a few reasons why you aren't finding your ancestor's information.
  1. Change Your Search Methodology

    If you aren't using larger date ranges for the events in your ancestor's life, you might be missing the records that are on FamilySearch. If you are not changing the spelling of your ancestors, you are overlooking potential records on FamilySearch.

    You might also want to look for your ancestor's extended family members, neighbors, or associates to find records for your relations. There are additional methodical tweaks you can make, but that's enough to get you started.

  2. Are You Browsing on FamilySearch?

    There are numerous record collections on FamilySearch that you can't access through the search forms. You can access them by keying in your ancestor's location on the FamilySearch Card Catalog. If you haven't used this before, you're probably overlooking online records.

  3. Do you know if records exist for that ancestor's time and place?

    If you're researching Laos before 1940, you will likely not find anything because the communist destroyed records of genealogical significance for the country. Additionally, some documents do not exist for your ancestor who was born in America because 
    1. They were never created in the first place. 
    2. The records were damaged or destroyed.

      Use the FamilySearch Wiki and find the relevant location pages to determine what might have been available for your ancestor's neck of the planet.

  4. Search other genealogy sites:

    FamilySearch is excellent because it's free and folks like free. However, there are more genealogy websites that you should check out:  
    1. Ancestry 
    2. FindMyPast 
    3. MyHeritage

      These three family trees and record collections sites immediately come to mind. There are others, but that's a good start.

  5. Try genealogically related sites:

    Some websites focus on particular aspects of genealogy such as gravestones, newspaper, and military records. Consider the following: 
    1. Find A Grave 
    2. Billion Graves 
    3. Newspapers Archive 
    5. GenealogyBank 
    6. Fold3

  6. Online record collections are in societies, archives, and libraries: You want to investigate the digital collections of 
    1. American Ancestors
    2. Seeking Michigan
    3. Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System
    4. Digital Public Library of America
    5. National Archives

Once you have altered your online research strategies and moved beyond FamilySearch, and you still don't find your ancestor's records online you have two options:
  • Go to an offline repository of documents 
  • Wait and Pray.

I applied the "wait and pray" strategy and within the last few years, the Kentucky Marriages and Ohio Wills & Probate have not only become accessible online, but they are also searchable!

Readers: Do you have any additional tips or strategies for searching online resources that I haven't mentioned? Please let me know below.

Online Genealogy Research #genealogy #begininggenealogy #familyhistoryfanatics

Do you have any questions about researching your ancestors?  Use the comment section or the contact us form and let us know. We may feature inquiry in a future blog post or video.    


  1. I've been researching for years but these gems of suggestions are timeless! Thank you!

    1. Thanks so much. Even I have to follow them and I've been researching for 20 years. It pays to remember, and for those who are new, we're all in the same boat.


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