First of all, sign in--always sign in to FamilySearch.org before you start working. It makes a difference.
At the top of the home screen, hover over Search and click Catalog. Notice all the ways you can search the catalog.
The Call Number search is not terribly useful for online searching since it pulls up books at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT. It's a good search to use if you are in the library and happen to have a call number of a book you want to find. The rest are all good ways to search online.
The system defaults to a place search because that is most often what we want to do. We want to find records from a specific place. The other search I commonly use is the Film/Fiche Number search as I explained in the post about finding images you didn't know were there.
What I want to point out is that you can use more than one of these search types simultaneously. For example, I am looking for a marriage record for an ancestor that I haven't been able to find searching the digitized indexed records. I believe the person was married in Catawba County, North Carolina. So, I can do both a place and a keyword search. That will limit my search results to marriage records from the place where I'm pretty sure my ancestor married.
So, I enter the place and then click Keywords and enter Marriages. I could go a step further and click Author and enter the author as the county court records so I only get official records and no extractions. But, since the system is not terribly generous in interpreting what you enter, I don't usually do that. I'm likely to miss things if I do. Another option would be to use the Subject filter rather than Keywords. But, again, the system is not terribly generous in interpreting and, if my subject doesn't match the subject the system gave to a record, I don't find it. Here's my search:
And my search results:
So 1 periodical and 1 probate records talks about marriages. But it's the vital records I expect to be helpful, so I can click that link and look at the offerings in the usual way.
Play around with search combinations. For instance, you might search by Surname and Place if you know that your family lived in the same place for many generations and you want to find some books about the family that others have compiled.
Similarly, filter your record search results to hone in on the records you really want to find. There are multiple ways you can go about filtering search results. I'll tell you the way I prefer. But play around and find what works for you. Most of the time I get to the record search page not using the Search > Records path but from the details page of an ancestor I am working on. On that page, I click FamilySearch in the Search Records box.
The system auto-populates the search fields with the name and birth information. That's a good place to start. But, if I've found most of what I want to find about someone, I often want to narrow things down more. One way to do that is to use the Collections tab, but let's look instead at the filter options in the Refine your search panel to the left of your search results.
First, realize that you don't have to enter a name in those first 2 fields. For women, you might want to enter only the first name and use other fields to find her with parents or spouse. Sometimes you want to search with only the last name and other filters. Sometimes you leave the name fields blank and search with spouse or parent information and other filters.
You can search using birth, marriage, or death dates and/or places. Or use the Any option in the life events area to enter a place and date range of the person's life.
The "Restrict Records by:" is especially useful.
- Restricting by Location means you only want to see records for a certain place. If you know the person never left Catawba County, North Carolina and you are tired of seeing search results for a person with a similar name and date range but living in Alabama, you can restrict the results to only Catawba County, North Carolina.
- Restricting by Type can remove the records types you already found from your search results or focus in on a particular kind of record you want to find. For instance, if I have found all the census records about my ancestor, I might click Type and then check the boxes beside everything except Census, Residence, and Lists. Or, if all I really want to find is an ancestor's military records, I can only click in the box for Military.
- Batch number is helpful if you have the batch number from an old IGI extracted record and you expect to find other family names on that same batch of extractions. For this, you'd typically enter only a last name in name fields and then enter the Batch Number.
- Restricting by Film Number can be helpful if you found a digitized indexed film that you suspect has information about more family members. You can enter the film number and other information such as a surname to see if you can find more family.
With both the batch number and film number filters, you can also just enter the batch number or film number with no other filters. This tends to give you huge numbers of search results, so only do it if you expect this film or extraction batch to yield a lot of family information.
Just like with the catalog search, you can combine filters in the record searches. Add as many as you'd like: name, birth, death, spouse, location, record type.... But be aware that if you use too many filters simultaneously you are likely to not find much. The system is trying to find records that match everything you filtered by. So, if you enter both birth and death information in your search, you'll not find a person's birth record, since the death is not recorded there.
Bottom line: play around. Do multiple searches with different search combinations to maximize your results.