Familial searching is the process of finding potential relatives of the donor of a crime scene profile in a DNA database. Several authors have proposed strategies for generating candidate lists of potential relatives. This paper reviews four strategies and investigates theoretical properties as well as empirical behavior, using a comprehensive simulation study on mock databases. The effectiveness of a familial search is shown to highly depend on the case profile as well as on the tuning parameters. We give recommendations for proceeding in an optimal way and on how to choose tuning parameters both in general and on a case-by-case basis. Additionally we treat searching heterogeneous databases (not all profiles comprise the same loci) and composite searching for multiple types of kinship. An R-package for reproducing results in a particular case is released to help decision-making in familial searching. © 2014 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.