Diane Sagers | Jul 26, 2018

Finding Elusive Records in FamilySearch, Part 1

This is the first in a series of three blog posts on Finding Elusive Records in FamilySearch, presented by Robert Kehrer, senior product manager of search and hinting technologies at FamilySearch, at RootsTech 2018. Read part two and part three.

Finding information in obvious places (like parish records) is simple, like picking low-hanging fruit, but such records may not provide all the information we need. How do we go about locating more obscure records?

FamilySearch is digitizing their vast collections of records for online research. Thousands of volunteers are helping them index images for easier searching, but the indexing process is slow.

“Our capacity at FamilySearch to acquire and digitize images and records far surpasses our ability to index and make them searchable. Today, about half of the data on our website … is our images that are unindexed. … Another quarter of the data is images that have been digitized but have not been put into collections. They're only accessible from the FamilySearch catalog. That means that about 77 percent or three-quarters of the data on the FamilySearch website is not available through the search system or hinting,” said Robert Kehrer, senior product manager of search and hinting technologies at FamilySearch, in his 2018 RootsTech presentation.

It may sound daunting to try finding useful information from these records, but there are some simple methods we can use to dig deeper and uncover otherwise obscure records.

Method 1: Using FamilySearch Maps

FamilySearch’s maps let you search records from a specific area, including images that haven’t yet been indexed. Click on the Search tab on FamilySearch, which opens a search page with a map on the right-hand side. Click on the map to choose a location you want to search. A list of countries within that location will appear. Choose a country to open a FamilySearch page dedicated to that country, which contains links to the catalog and the wiki. Further down the page is a section for image-only records, or those that have not been indexed. Click on a record to look at it. A page summarizing the collections within the record will open, and a search form will appear if the record is searchable. Some records will invite you to browse images and provide hints for searching.

Don’t be alarmed if the collection contains millions of images. Clicking on the link to those images generally opens a collection of waypoints to help direct and narrow your search. The waypoints open a smaller set of records that may be searchable by date or alphabetical listing. The record images may also include indexes created by the scribe who recorded the data. The indexes may appear either at the start or end of sections.

Once you’ve located a record that you need, click Attach Record. Attach the record to the person you were searching for by using the person’s ID number. (The FamilySearch home page lists the last 50 people visited by the signed-in patron in a window on the right side of the page.) You should also attach the record to other people related to the person the record applies to.

Method 2: Using “Find a Collection”

Looking for collections can help you find images or original records to verify secondary reports. It can also help you find new, previously-unknown information.

To use this method, click on “Find a Collection” and type a general place into the search box. This will bring up relevant collections from that location. Choose a promising collection, search it as indicated above (in the first method), and attach records that prove information to the people they relate to.

Method 3: Using the FamilySearch Catalog

About 25 percent of FamilySearch’s data is available only through the catalog. After reviewing a person’s information on their page in FamilySearch and looking through collections that might relate to a his or her lifetime and place, search the catalog next.

The catalog holds an entry for everything in the FamilySearch holdings—books in libraries, microfilms, indexed collections, unindexed collections, and even the images that aren't in collections, Kehrer said.

To access the catalog, hover above or click the Search tab at the top of the page, then choose Catalog. This opens a search page that allows you to access holdings by searching by author, place, titles, film number, and so on. The more information a person types into a search, the fewer results will come up.

“A good researcher tends to put in just a little bit of information, cast a broad net. Bring back some stuff. If they get too much, they can add a few more parameters and iterate on that search. We've given you a tool that lets you cast a broad net. Bring in a whole bunch of records, and then analyze that set of records in pieces,” Kehrer explained in his presentation.

To do this, type pertinent information into one of the categories, then choose a record set that looks promising.

If there's a camera icon, click it to go to the images of the record. Sometimes the person who created the pages that became the images also built an alphabetical index of entries. The index may be at the beginning of the set or at the end of sections within the collection. In some cases, such as probate records, a separate collection may hold an index to help locate records.

Tools in the search system provide a lot of power to help you find difficult-to-locate records. For example, in the Place box, you can add general information such as the name of a county (make sure not to add the word county to the search). The program will search all the records that include the search word. Select a promising set and click to open it. You can search the set using built-in indexes and waypoints, or by looking at indexes in the record itself (as previously explained).

Another tool is the Collections tab at the top of the results. This tab allows you to filter the results within the set by collection. Clicking Applicable Collections allows you to filter out records you don’t need. Note that the results within the collections may include only the top five or so. You can click to expand the results and choose from among them, or you can click a collection such as censuses to include all the censuses within the same results.

When searching censuses, you might find family members living near one another. A grid that appears below census images makes it easier for you to search for similar names nearby. Even if the census record is already attached to the tree, you can use the “Review Attachments” link at the top of the result to view the source linker. Use this to make sure the record is attached to all relevant people.

Diane Sagers

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