One of the first sites you may want to use is FamilySearch.org. This is the site for the LDS Church, or the Mormons. You might think that this site won’t be of any value to you if your ancestors weren’t Mormon...wrong! Mormons have a very strong belief in family and have sacraments within their church that allow them to bind their families together for eternity. Since the Mormon religion is relatively new (1830) many individuals are converts so they collect genealogy records around the world and make them available to everyone free of charge. If you have an opportunity to visit Salt Lake City and the Family History Library, you will find a warm, welcoming community of people who will help you find your ancestors no matter what your religious beliefs. They have millions of rolls of microfilm at the library, with the originals stored in what’s known as the Granite Vault in the mountains outside of Salt Lake. If you can’t visit the library, most Mormon churches around the world have a Family History Center, usually just a small room or two with computers and microfilm readers, and for a nominal fee, you can order a copy of the microfilm sent to your local center for research. You can check their site for the location of your closest Family History Center.
FamilySearch was the name of the original indexes that the LDS put together on microfiche to assist patrons in finding their ancestors. This system later went to CD and in 1999 to the Internet. FamilySearch is currently undergoing major changes as they work on a project to digitize and index all of their microfilms. The original search function on FamilySearch searches through six major databases.
The International Genealogical Index (IGI) is one of the world’s largest collections of genealogical records containing over 600 million names. Information comes from individual research and original records. The majority of the names are from records of people who lived between 1500 and 1900. Many of the records in this database have been submitted by members of LDS church for Temple Ordinances and may not include any source information. Original records, such as English parish records and early Irish birth records, have also been indexed and if the reference is from an original record, the source will lead you to the original microfilm number. If no source information is provided, use the information only as a hint and try to find an original source record to corroborate the information.
Ancestral File contains over 35 million names organized into families and pedigrees. This information has been submitted by multiple people and does not include sources or notes. You may find the name and address of the submitter and you should try to contact them, but these records go back many years and the chances are the information is out of date. The information in Ancestral File should be used as a clue to further research.
Pedigree Resource File is a database of records that have been submitted through FamilySearch.org and currently consists of 145 volumes and over 200 million names. The online index contains references to individual records and includes submitter’s names. You can order the CD with the additional information or view it at your local Family History Center. You can also contact the submitter for further information. Again, without sources, this is only a hint.
The Census includes the index to the 1880 US Census, the 1881 Canadian Census and the 1881 British Census (including Scotland and Wales). These are indexes only and not digital images of the originals. You need to view the digital or microfilm original for additional information. Through a joint agreement with Ancestry.com, the 1880 US Census Index is linked with images on Ancestry.com however access to the images requires a subscription to Ancestry.com unless you are accessing the records at an LDS site. Additional cooperative efforts are ongoing to improve both the images and indexes for all US Census Records.
At the present time, the online Vital Records Index only includes Mexico (approximately 2 million birth, christening and marriage records from selected localities covering the period from 1500 – 1905) and Scandinavia (approximately 4.6 million birth, christening and marriage records from selected localities in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland).
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) includes the names of deceased persons who possessed a Social Security Card and whose death was reported to the Social Security Administration (typically in an application for death benefits). The computerized database began in 1962 and 98% of the individuals on file died after that date.
FamilySearch has excellent resources for your research which you should use to understand more about the locality and time in which your ancestors lived. The site also has excellent tutorials you should check out. For details you can check out my blog from September of 2008 titled “FamilySearch.org.”
You should also be aware of the new FamilySearch Pilot site. This is where the new material that is being digitized and indexed can be found (both index and digital images). This site can be reached through a drop down menu under the search tab and is the result of the Indexing Project, contains well over 250 million new records. New records from all over the world appear here regularly and are not yet integrated into overall FamilySearch. You can browse all of the new records groups, or select a specific region of the world. You should check this site frequently additional databases.
Family History Archives (listed as Historical Books under the search tab) links you to the Brigham Young Library. The archive includes digitized histories of families, county and local histories, how-to books on genealogy, genealogy magazines and periodicals (including some international), medieval books (including histories and pedigrees), and gazetteers. It also includes some specialized collections. You may find your ancestors mentioned in a book of a different surname through a marriage (very helpful for identifying lost females).
Finally the Family History Library Catalog is a great resource for discovering what records have been microfilmed for the location where your ancestors lived.
Put in the locality (town, county, state or country) and determine which records you want to have sent to your local Family History Center for viewing.
Remember, you likely won’t find living people on this site but it offers tremendous resources for all genealogists.