Five Tips to Finding New Ancestors & Cousins


One of the most satisfying aspects of Family History work is finding new family members through research efforts. Researching has become significantly easier with the help of multiple search services, "Record Hints", and such. So many different types of records are on-line now, such as Census Records, Military Draft Records, City Directories, Probates & Wills, birth, marriage, and death certificates, obituaries, and more.

Doing research is like putting a puzzle together. Try collaborating with other family members. Feel free to explore the tips below.

Explore the Different Ways to View Descendancy Lines

It is said that if you pick an ancestor back ten generations, there would be close to one million descendants. Many of us probably have those "Aunt Marys" in our family that traced our ancestral lines back to "Noah", or at least back into the 1500-1600s. These will be our "ANCESTRAL" lines.

Around 2012 or so, an emphasis on finding all the collateral line
descendants, our cousins, was introduced. This is called "Descendancy Research". If you were to pick an ancestor just four generations back (a great-great grandparent), there will SIXTEEN collateral descendant lines to research. Sorry…just when you thought that your family history was done! Actually, it is quite exciting to think that we can work on finding new people in these lines, AND during a time period when records are more easily found. Don't forget that your collateral line living cousins may often have photos, histories, or other information about your family members just waiting to be shared with you.

You will find that doing research on descendant lines is much easier now with all the records coming on line. It is certainly much easier than trying to find your ancestry lines before the 1800s.

Quickest Way to Add New Family Members

US census records started listing the names of individuals in 1850, and by 1880 the relationships of the household as well. Every 10 years a new census was completed, showing the composition of the family. New children will be added to the next census. Don't forget that there were children that were born and died between census decades and so their names wouldn't be noted on census records.

The first time you look at a census record with the names of your ancestors, perhaps your grandmother as a young girl, it is an exhilarating experience. The occupations of the head of household or older family members are listed. The birth places of their parents are also listed. This can help where there are two families with very similar names to identify which one is really your family. Did you know that the census record even shows the street address and name of where they lived? Take some time and search using Google Maps for the house, and see what you can find.


Add Additional Records For Your Family

  • The easiest way to begin finding ancestors is to just look for the little blue "Record Hint" icons. These are found associated with an individual on the pedigree, or when on that person's "Person Page", they can be found in the upper right column. In addition, when you first log into FamilySearch, the "dashboard" page has a section that lists record hints available.
  • Record hints may point to birth, marriage, or death information, but can also include census records, military records, and even some outside sources like Find-a-Grave.
  • They are correct "most" of the time, but still, be sure that the record hint actually belongs to your relative. There are a lot men with names like "William Smith" in the world!
  • Explore what the hint is about. It could be a US Census record showing where your ancestor lived and who was in the household. It could be a Draft Registration record that shows the physical description of your ancestor. Birth, marriage, death, and other records are given to you to look at and then determine if they indeed belong to your relative. Take time to explore everything in the record. You are seeing a bit of history about your ancestor.
  • Try attaching a Record Hint to your ancestor. These hints become "sources" that will add additional "story" about your ancestor's life events. If you need some help with this, be sure to contact us.

Record Sources Are SO Important

Record sources are the birth, marriage, death, census, and other records that we find. They document basic facts about that individual, like what day they were born on, when they were married, etc. It is important to "attach" these sources to the individual(s) to document the specifically entered facts. The following statement is often quoted.

"Genealogy Without Sources is Mythology"

Sources document that the individual actually lived. Just because Aunt Mabel told us that the information is true, doesn't mean it is, unless there are sources for the facts.

FamilySearch is now doing a lot of the searching for you, even while you are asleep. Just how cool is that? They will show you a record source as a "hint". Just look at it, and determine if it belongs to your ancestor or not and then attach it through their "Source Linker" if it is.

Sources not only have dates and places, but also may have information describing your ancestor's physical characteristics, like having red hair, being tall & slender, and having blue eyes. World War 1 Draft Registration cards are great for this kind of information. Census records will tell you where they lived and often what they did as an occupation and much more.


Not All Source Information is Actually Reviewed

Let's say that I have an ancestor with 11 attached sources. It's interesting how many times I have just gone back to review each of the already attached sources, from top down, and found additional information to record from the source. Often other family members that have not yet been added to Family Tree are found. People that are attaching the record hints to FamilySearch, are just not gleaning all the information from the record source they are presented with.

The process of using the FamilySearch "Source Linker" can be a bit confusing at first. It is typical to not know how to use this tool and so some family members may have incomplete sources attached. We can show you how to use this great tool!

Another common problem we see, is that the person attaching the source record,
doesn't even look at the actual document. They only look at the index of the document. Always look at the document image to see for yourself what is in it. Remember that dates or other information can be mis-indexed.

By actually looking at the document image, gleaning all the information from it, and correctly attaching the source, you will be amazed at how much more information will be available for them, including additional family members.

Traditional "Hourglass" Pedigree View

In this view, an "ancestor" is in the "center position" with ancestors to the right and descendants to the left. In this case, John McBride is the "ancestor" with his ancestral line to the right, and his descendants to the left. Use the left "carats" or angles to expand the children's lines out further.

It is a helpful view to give you an idea which children don't have spouses or where there are no/minimal number of children. These children would be ones to begin to explore for more information about, such as a spouse or children. Census records are a great way of finding spouses and children.


BYU Virtual Pedigree

This view is very similar to the "Hourglass" view, in that you can set your ancestor in the "Home" position with ancestors to the right and descendants to the left. The nice feature though with this Virtual Pedigree, is that as you move around on the pedigree, it will collapse and open up different areas to more easily see the descendants. There is also a "Legend" on the left that will direct you to things such as missing spouse or children, etc.

You will need to log into FamilySearch to use this website as it uses FamilySearch data.


Family Tree Descendancy View

In this view, the "ancestor" is in the top left position. The spouse shows just below the man and the children of that spouse will show in the layers beneath. If there is a 2nd or more spouse, then they would show below the first spouse layers.

The icons to the right of the individuals represent things such Record Hints being available, or Research Suggestions, etc.



Puzzilla is an interesting website. After logging into FamilySearch, it will create a diagram of your ancestors. Hovering over the different blue (male) or red (female) dots allows you to select a particular ancestor. Puzzilla then recreates another diagram like that seen above.

In this diagram, the circled blue dot at the center is my 2nd great grandfather, John McBride. The first layer of dots circling him are his children. The next layer would be his grandchildren, and so on. One of the lines shows a yellow descendancy line out to the outer layer of dots. This is my direct line of ancestors out to John McBride.

Notice that not all the lines come out to present day time. Those are dead end lines, where those individuals (red or blue) either died, didn't have a spouse, were married but never had children OR there is no further FamilySearch information on them. These are descendant lines just waiting to be explored.

There is a great online tutorial as to how to use this site on the website.