Today we’re bringing you a short introduction to some of the amazing contributions FamilySearch is making to the genealogical community online. There are online tutorials available, but let’s first whet your appetite for this amazing research tool.
How can Family Search to help me? The Family History Library in Salt Lake is full of microfilms. These microfilms represent filmed records from all over the world, including such things as birth records, court papers, marriages, family books, land records, and much more. These microfilm are available and can be requested to be sent to a local Family History Center (FHC) for a nominal cost. Using these microfilms enables the researcher to broaden his or her research without too much travel. The FamilySearch website is now putting many of these microfilms online for free, and a great number of those are linked to a search engine for faster access.
When I click the Search button what am I looking at? This first page is your access into digitized records. You need to register first to be able to see any of the records, but it’s free. Let’s discuss what you can do from here.
There are three distinct ways to research in FamilySearch:
- Search Engine. Try entering name, dates, and location for an ancestor you are researching in the fields given at the top of the page. Your next page will be a list of hits for that search, with closest matches listed at the top. To look for a specific type of record, scroll down and click “Collections” in the box on the left. This will open a smaller box with types of records hit for this search such as vital records or censuses. These search hits represent only those microfilms which have been indexed and inputted into the search engine. Be warned that not every microfilm or even every digitally reproduced microfilm is represented in the search engine. FamilySearch invites volunteers to help index their digital records to make them even more accessible online through their indexing program. When you open a hit, often it leads to an index page. Towards the bottom of the page is a film number that the record was indexed from. Take down this number and check the catalog to see if it is digitized, but browsable only, or available to order and send to the local FHC.
- Browse. Many of the digitized microfilms are not represented yet in the search engine, but are online. Think of these like using a microfilm on a traditional reader, but in the comfort of your own home. From the search page, scroll down to the section “Browse by Location.” This represents all the digitized films, but when you click on a place, you will see either a number (the number of records in this group) or the words “Browse Images.” When you click on this it will either take you to a second page to narrow your search to a more specific location/record type or straight to the first page of the microfilm.
- Catalog. If the record type you want is not in the digitized collection, check the online catalog to see if it has been microfilmed. Remember that not everything you need has been microfilmed, but the FamilySearch staff does continue to search out records and ask permission to film new ones all the time. A current project includes FamilySearch staff and volunteers who are working with the National Archives to digitize Civil War pensions. To search the catalog, use a place name where your ancestor lived, and check the record types that come up. If you found a film number from a hit off the search engine, enter it from this page as well.
You might also explore other tools from FamilySearch, such as the FamilySearch Wiki, Learning Center, Research Assistance, and more. Technology today has made so much available to genealogists, and we appreciate all those groups who contribute their time and talents to helping us find our families. Let us know what you’ve discovered to tell your family’s story!