How to Search Public Family Trees

Sunny Morton

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Harvest information from public family trees to help your mystery DNA matches bear fruit! Here’s how to search tree data on Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, FamilySearch and other major family tree websites.

Searching Public Family Trees DNA Matches IO.pngFor a successful DNA matching experience, you need to attach the best possible family tree to your DNA test results. But what if you don’t have a family tree file? Or your family tree doesn’t include a certain branch? Or your match has a stubby little tree that needs to be built out so you can see where you might connect?

You may enjoy doing the genealogy research yourself. But sometimes what you need is what Diahan Southard refers to in Your DNA Guide—the Book as a “quick and simple tree.”

“Building a quick and simple tree is all about finding an online tree that has more information [than you do]. You can often expand this tree by searching online trees created by other genealogists to see what they have already discovered about your match’s ancestor.”

Searching Public Family Trees

Millions of people have publicly shared their family trees on websites like FamilySearch*, MyHeritage and Ancestry.com. You can search these trees for individual names—and indeed, entire family branches—that others have already researched. So pick an ancestral name from your family tree (or your match’s), read the following tips, and then follow the instructions for searching on your preferred website.

3 Important Tips

Tip Searching Public Family Trees.png1. Many trees have inaccuracies in them. Watch for trees and even individual ancestral profiles with a lot of historical sources attached to them. These are typically a sign that someone has tried to do accurate research. Hopefully, what you find will be accurate enough for the purposes of your DNA question. (Remember, the purpose of quick-and-simple tree research is to answer your burning DNA question, not to have a perfect family tree.)

2. Understand that there are two kinds of family tree systems: the single, shared tree or groups of individual trees. FamilySearch, Geni.com and WikiTree have a single shared tree, to which everyone contributes, with (ideally) one single profile for every deceased person. At other websites such as Ancestry.com and MyHeritage, users build individual family trees, which they can choose to share or not. Those that are shared are searchable as “public trees.”

Shared v Individual Family Trees.png3. Subscription websites MyHeritage.com and Ancestry.com require site memberships to explore their public family trees in detail. Free options for access to their trees:

  1. Use the free trial memberships (just remember to cancel before you’re charged!)
  2. Use Library Editions that may be available via your local public library or Family History Center.

How to Search the FamilySearch Family Tree

You don’t even need a free login to search the FamilySearch Family Tree. Go to www.familysearch.org.

FamilySearch family tree search.jpg

  1. Under Search, choose Tree.
  2. Enter the name of a deceased person, and any additional identifying information you know. You can click on the + options to add information about an event or relative.
  3. Click FIND to run a search.

Search results will appear as individuals whose data most closely match what you search. Roll over each result to see a quick summary of that person’s data, including how many sources are attached to their names. Look for familiar details, such as places and dates that align with what you already know.

Once you click to enter a person page (individual profile), you’ll be able to click on additional person pages for the parents, siblings, spouse(s) and/or children who are attached to that person in the FamilySearch Family Tree. (Got an abundant harvest of data? Here’s how to download entire family tree branches from FamilySearch.)

How to Search Public Family Trees at MyHeritage.com

MyHeritage subscribers (or Library Edition users) can search enormous collections of public trees on MyHeritage.com.*

MyHeritage search family trees.jpg

Subscribers can log in, and under the Research Tab, select Family Trees.

  1. Enter what you know about the relative in question.
  2. Click Search to see results. Results about individuals will be nested within that person’s individual family tree, so you can explore information about their relatives.
  3. MyHeritage pulls in family trees from other websites, including FamilySearch and Geni.com. Can you say one-stop shopping? Their copies of those collections may not be the most current, but they’re sure convenient. Click on individual collections along the right sidebar to search them.

Library Edition users will see a modified version of the above screen. Click on Family Trees (on the right side) to search within all Family Trees. You may not be able to explore the entire trees for individual profiles you explore, but you can click to see their immediate relatives.

Tip: Your DNA Guide—the Book has a step-by-step clever trick for copying over large amounts of tree data from a public MyHeritage tree into your own tree (or a new tree you’ve created for your DNA match).

How to Search Public Family Trees at Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com also has enormous collections of family trees. After logging in, subscribers can…

Ancestry search public trees.jpg

  1. Under the Search tab, select Public Member Trees.
  2. Enter what you know about a deceased person on your tree (or your match’s).
  3. Click Search. Results about individuals will be nested within that person’s individual family tree, which you can explore to keep expanding your tree.

Tip: Your DNA Guide—the Book has a couple of clever tricks for copying tree data from a public Ancestry.com tree into your own (or into a tree you may create for your match).

Library Edition users: The home screen you see may look different. You may need to scroll down to Quick Links > Public Member Family Trees, and click there to begin your search.

More family tree resources

WikiTree.com: We have written previously about this free shared family tree website. Search WikiTree for ancestors’ names.

Geni.com: This is another free website with a shared family tree. This one is owned by MyHeritage. Search Geni.com for ancestors’ names.

Family Trees + DNA Matches = Your Family Story

Harvesting information from public family trees is an important part of the much larger process of putting your DNA matches on your family tree—AND using your DNA matches to put missing ancestors on your family! Learn what next steps to take to continue your family story with our free downloadable guide, “Finding an Ancestor Using Your DNA“.

Get Free Guide: Finding Ancestors with DNA

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