Two Hidden Secrets to Find a Ton More Results from the FamilySearch Catalog

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Source: Logo from familysearch.org

Full disclosure:  I love the FamilySearch Catalog! For those collections that are available online, and the books that have been digitized, there are tens of thousands to choose from. For the online collections and books, I can use my PC at home to scroll through digitized page after digitized page, just as if I had my own microfilm reader, only without the hassle.

But, there are a couple of hidden secrets that you need to know if you wish to maximize your results. And they are not easy to discover, which is why I am relating them to you now.

Secret 1 – Use Keyword Searches

The first secret relates to searching through the catalog for records. Let’s first look at the catalog’s search box.

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What I want to search for are Funeral Home records from Los Angeles County, California that are available only online. I am not interested in knowing where the microfilm is located or those that are only available at a Family History Center (FHC).

The logical place to start is to enter the place for which the collections have been digitized.

The first two screens are where I enter the Place, and the Online catalog will show me which collections are available. 

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For entering the place, I click in that box, enter Los Angeles, and then select from the drop downs that are presented, “United States, California, Los Angeles”, which signifies Los Angeles County.. 

As you can see, it presents me with (1) Funeral Home collection. Only 1. This is what is presented when I click on that line – a collection for Pierce Brothers Mortuary.

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Now for the Secret Trick that will optimize the number of collections returned to you

This time I am going to go back to the main search screen and click on Keywords, ignoring the Place for now. 
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First, I make sure that the Online button is clicked, and I will enter “los angeles funeral home” in the keyword box and hit “Search”.  I will show you that screen before I hit Search and then the results screen after I hit Search.
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Holy mackerel! Now there are 30 online funeral home collections for Los Angeles County. The one we found in the very first search appears as the fifth hit in the second search using just keywords. So, entering the place in the Place box doesn’t retrieve the optimal number of collections.

Secret 1 – Always use keyword searching when looking for online collections from the FS Catalog, and make sure that you click the Online button before clicking on Search. You will receive way more pertinent results.


Secret 2 – Make sure you are always logged in.

​When searching in FamilySearch, however you are doing it, you need to first have a free account and be logged in (or signed in).  It is really easy to sign up.

But here is the kicker – FamilySearch logs me out all the time when I am using the site, unbeknownst to me. I am going to show you the results of a FamilySearch Catalog search, and one of the collections that is in the results list.

The first image example is when I am logged in, and the second image example when I have been logged out, and I will show you the differences.

​The differences are stark when you are looking for online collections, which I will discuss.

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Sorry, I had to minimize these to fit on this page. They look exactly the same, right?

​Nope. See at the bottom under “Format”? The logged in image has a camera icon, and the logged out image has a camera with a key.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Near the bottom of each collection page under Film/Digital Notes is the name of each sub-collection. If there is a camera icon at the right of the name (in the Format column) then the collections’ images are browsable online. If there is a camera with a key icon, it is only available at a Family History Center or affiliated library. If there is a film reel icon, then it is only available in microfilm format, not digital. Finally, if there is a magnifying glass icon, the collection is searchable.


Secret 1 – Always stay logged in. And regularly check if you are on the site for a long time, because FamilySearch will log you out regularly if you are on a long time, and you won’t even know it unless you look at the top right of each page where it tells you if you are signed in or not.


The Moral of the Story is easy to remember: When searching the FS Catalog, always use keyword searches, and always stay signed in. 

That’s all there is to optimizing your results that you can browse through – online – at home – in your PJs if you are so inclined!

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Thank you for visiting The Ancestor Hunt!

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13 Comments

    1. I may not have worded that sentence artfully. If the collection is available online then the icon could be different whether you are signed in or not.
      But it is more likely that if the camera and key are there, that is accurate – it is only available at a FHC

  1. Great tips! As a general rule I have only searched by Place when using the FS Catalog. I’m excited to try some keyword searches and see what I can discover!

  2. Wow thanks isn’t it interesting how complicated life on the internet can gggget? Well presented. Actually maybe its like that in real too.

  3. I didn’t even realize Family Search had a Catalog Search. Thanks for the info, this will be a big help to me.

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