Finding Success at a Family History Center

Finding Success at a Family History Center

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  1. The road to finding resources to document an ancestor may be long and filled with much frustration even though many resources are available over the internet, but a visit to the local family history center can help.  Locate the closest family history center here:  Find a Family History Center.

    Before the first visit

    It will help to be prepared before your first visit to the family history center so that the staff will be able to help suggest resources that may document an ancestor.  If you have any difficulty with the following steps, make an appointment for a demonstration:

    1.  Download the free PAF family history software.  Save the file you create to a flash drive.  Most centers have PAF installed on their computers, and you can work on your database there until you are comfortable using it without assistance.  You can create a GEDCOM file with PAF that can be exported to most other types of family history software.  There is an online tutorial for learning how to use PAF at

    2.  Choose the ancestor that you want to learn more about, and add all the information you have on that person to the PAF database.

    3.  Print a Pedigree Chart and a Family Group Record from PAF to take to the center.  These visuals are very helpful to the center staff who will assist you.

    4.   Visit to learn more about the geographical area where your ancestor lived, and locate genealogical resources linked to the site.  Visit the Family History Library Catalog links within FamilySearch Wiki to find any available resources on microfilm.  Record catalog information in case you will need to order the microfilm for viewing at the family history center.

    5.  Be sure to ask if family history center patrons have access to any free online internet databases.  Many centers provide free access on-site to Footnote and HeritageQuest.

    6.  A family history center is a great place to learn about the newest FamilySearch products which can be accessed at home without a fee such as FamilySearch Record Search.

    Getting past a "brick wall"

    Even with the extra assistance, some ancestors are simply hard to find.  Perhaps the following tips will help if you have run into a "brick wall" in your research: 

    • Check for boundary changes on FamilySearch Wiki.  Sometimes ancestors never moved but lived in more than one county because of boundary changes.
    • Keep the PAF database up-to-date and provide source information for all data that you enter.  This will help if you need to go back to a previous resource.
    • Generate an end-of-the-line individual list and an individual summary from PAF to get a clear picture of what information you have gleaned. This will help you identify further resources.  Locate resources to document events throughout your ancestor’s lifetime (birth, marriage, death, etc.).
    • If you are unable to find documentation on an ancestor, research a sibling or cousin.
    • Collect everything you can find on each family member.  Document each source, then move to the previous generation.  Search for more than one source to document an event.  You will then have enough information to know where to look next.

    Remember that sometimes success is often found when you look at what you already know in a different way.  Taking a more structured approach to family history research will save time and frustration.   With the help of volunteer staff at your local family history center, you can receive a little guidance in locating resources and learn about the latest free online databases to document your ancestors.

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