From the Editors: The In-Depth Genealogist team would like to thank James L. Tanner, for his guest post. You can find James at Genealogy's Star.
The FamilySearch Research Wiki is quickly becoming the go-to place for genealogical research. With over 67,000 articles with links and explanations of where to find genealogical resources, it is both a good place for beginning genealogists as well as those who are more advanced. But the Wiki is more than a list or catalog, it is organized in way that requires a completely unique method of searching to successfully find helpful information.
When you begin a search in a search engine, such as Google, you are essentially trying to guess where pertinent information may be located. You have to start by thinking of words that might appear on a relevant page, somewhere on the Internet. For example, if I were searching using Google, I might want to start by looking for my ancestor’s name and then add a location. When you begin using the Research Wiki, you will quickly find out that searching for specific information, such as the name of a relative, will not lead you to anything helpful.
The Research Wiki does not contain the names of your ancestors, neither does it contain the content of the records. It is a finding tool and purposely does not contain the content of the records described.
Wikis can be searched using any word included in any article but if your search is too specific, the search may not return any results. In the Research Wiki, information is organized primarily by subject or category of records and the geographic location of records, so searches need be done from the “top-down” so to speak. A top-down search involves searching for records that may have been created at the time your ancestors lived in a specific area of the world from the top or more general records, down to the very specific times and places.
In searching in the Research Wiki it is also important to realize that records about your ancestors may have been kept at every jurisdictional level of record keeping in the country you are searching. For example, in the United States, there may be military records at the national level, birth and death records at the state level and marriage records at the county level. There may also be records that are only found at the city or town level also. The Research Wiki will give you suggestions of records to search at each level, but you have to do a search at each level to find the pages in the Research Wiki.
So let’s say you are searching for your ancestor in New York. Instead of searching for your ancestor’s name, you begin your search for pertinent records by searching in a more general U.S. jurisdiction such as searching for “New York” and looking at the articles on New York records. You may even wish to start by reviewing U.S. records in general. Then you move to looking at what records are available at the state, county and city levels. The Research Wiki will have links to all of these levels of records, but it is up to you to determine if your ancestor could have been found in any particular type or level of records.
You can also search the Research Wiki by category of record. For example, you can look for cemetery records as a category. But remember, that cemetery record information may be found at all jurisdictional levels. There are articles in the Research Wiki on cemeteries in the United States, in a particular State and again, in a particular county and even, in some instances, in a particular city. For instance, if you search only in the county, then you will miss the listings on the city, state and national levels.
Remember, you are not looking for individuals in the Research Wiki, instead, you are looking for categories of sources that might contain information about your ancestors. Once you have the geographic area or subject matter of the records, you focus on when and where your ancestors lived and search all of the records for that geographic area and time. You cannot determine before hand, whether or not a particular record about your ancestors will be found in any specific record collection.
If all this seems too confusing, you simply need to jump in and start searching. As you work with the Wiki, you will begin to see the huge number of links to resources listed in its pages. In addition, you will find that all of the instructions for using the Research Wiki are contained in the Wiki itself. Here are several pages in the Research Wiki you might find helpful to get started:
James L. Tanner James has a B.A. Degree in Spanish, an M.A. Degree in Linguistics from the University of Utah and a J.D. Degree in Law from Arizona State University. He has 37 years experience as a trial attorney in Arizona. He also has over 30 years experience in genealogical research and is the author of The Guide to FamilySearch Online. He is an avid Blogger and his genealogy blog, Genealogy’s Star is one of the top genealogy blogs. He has been a presenter at a number of Expos and Conferences. He is the former owner of a retail computer business and an Apple Macintosh software company.