FamilySearch.org – Beyond the Search Engine

March 31, 2012 at 1:14 am | Posted in Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
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Family Search Catalog Results Sample

Family Search Catalog Results Sample

FamilySearch.org is undoubtedly one of the top 3-5 genealogy websites.  But as popular and as terrific as it is, I wonder if most genealogists look beyond the search engine on the first page.  If, indeed, that’s the case, I’m here to say, they – and maybe you – are missing out on a TON of resources.

If you are among those who haven’t ventured past the search engine, stick around.  I’ll give you the tour of a couple unsung repository heroes in this website that can propel your research in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

What is FamilySearch.org?

Before we dig into the meat and potatoes of this rich website, I want to take a quick minute and answer a few questions you might have about the site and the organization that sponsors it.

First of all, www.familysearch.org is sponsored by the Mormons or the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.  It is a foundational tennant of this faith group to pursue and document their family trees, therefore they are vested in the search for and preservation of family records.  The website is simply an outgrowth of these efforts to make the records more available to a wider audience.  The website, and for that matter the genealogy work of the Church, is not intended or executed in the spirit of evangelizing. They simply make the records available to any one  – period.

More importantly, to the genealogist, the LDS Church has gone to extraordinary lengths to copy and preserve records – civic, historic, religious, etc. – around the world.  The Granite Mountain in Salt Lake City, Utah holds more than three billion records on microfilm.  Three billion!  As a genealogist, do you really want to miss that treasure?  In fact, I understand the Church has a 10-year plan to digitize all three billion records and put them on www.familysearch.org.  Wow.  Makes you want to just pull up a chair and wait by your computer!

The Catalog

Now that I hopefully have your interest. let’s talk about those records that can be accessed through the site now.  The Catalog is one of the tools on the site that I think gets most overlooked.  And frankly, in doing so, researchers miss tapping into those three billion records I just mentioned.   In Salt Lake City, the Church has the world’s largest genealogy library.   It is the Family History Library with its storage extension, Granite Mountain, mentioned above.  The Catalog is the library’s card catalog for Granite Mountain.

How Do I Use the Catalog?

It works very much like the card catalog you would find at your local libary – assuming it is digitized and online.  You can search by book title and author, just like a normal library.  You can search by microfilm number – in case you happen to know the microfilm number.  Both of these routes are helpful but in limited circumstances.  At least in my experiences, I rarely know any of this.  Far more common – at least for me – is knowing the place of where I want to search.  The town.  The county.  The state.  With this information I can select “place,” and type in “state, county” or “Massachusetts, Worcester.”  The catalog returns a HUGE list of subjects or types of records for Worcester, Massachusetts.   Maps.  Naturalization records. Newspapers.  Probate.  Deed. Vital Records.  And behind each listing is a number.  That number is how many books and/or microfilm are at the Family History Library and/or in Granite Mountain related to that location.  Click on the subject, i.e.  Massachusetts, Worcester – Probate Records, and you get the actual card catalog entrees with the typical, title, author, and other identification information.

How Do I Get the Film or Books?

I hear you.  “Beth, you just helped me find the PERFECT record in a library 1,500 miles from home.  Great. How does THAT help me?”  Ah, have no fear.  The Family History Library has an amazing inter-Center loan program.  There are thousands of little Family History Centers around the country and world.  You can have the film or book sent to your local center for a few dollars (to cover the shipping and handling), where you can view it and make copies at your convenience.  You can find a FHC near you by using the link on FamilySearch.or site here.  Additionally, many archives and genealogy centers, like Midwest Genealogy Center, participate in the inter-library loan program, too.  It’s as if Granite Mountain is in your backyard!

Family History Books

What’s better than ordering a book from a library?  Finding the book online!  Aren’t we fortunate to live in the 21st Century where whole books have been scanned, digitized, and put online for us to read from the comfort of our easy chair?  FOR FREE!  The digital book trend has taken the publishing world by storm.  Books out of copyright (70 years past publication) are ideal for this online revolution. Without violating any author’s publishing rights, the digitizing organizations can upload books, that genealogists previously could only pine for, with great abandon!  Family History Books on www.familysearch.org is one of these virtual genealogy libraries.   40,000 genealogy-related books and counting are there for the perusing.  Seven genealogy repositories to date are contributing their archives to this massive project.  Did I mention that it is free?

I have found online books to be the most helpful when I’m looking for local or very specific histories.  The history of a town or county.  The history of a community.  The history of a military unit or battle.  Another goldmine among family history books are, well, published family histories.  Many of our forefathers have put pen to paper and documented family trees one, two, or three hundred years ago.  Those histories were published and now can be found online.  I’ve found more than a few published genealogies for my family in the Colonial American era.  Aside from the obvious litany of names and dates, you’ll often find personal stories not found anywhere else in these genealogies – and for that matter in any of the aforementioned histories. Then there are the Bible records!  Before there were birth, marriage, and death certificates, there were family Bibles, where all the family history was recorded.  Now, you can find them online.

Not to be overlooked, you can search by “last name” in this search engine, too.  I’ll explain how this works a little more in the following discussion.

How to Find Online Books

I recommend two search methods to find books related to your interests.  The first method follows the procedure mentioned above.  Search by location – county, state.  You’ll find any and all books related to that area.  A quick search tells me that there are a mere 2,694 books related to Worcester, Massachusetts.  Online.  Free.

The second method is a little tricker.  You can search by family name.  You have options under the Advanced Search to limit or expand the way the search engine will look for your terms.  You can search for the last name to appear in  “any (location in the reference),” title, the subject, SURNAME, or full text.   If you search for “Watson,”  in “any” location you will get all of the books with the last name “Watson” in them. (7,798 to be exact).   If you search for “Watson” in the surname, you get 101 records.  I suspect this is a list of all of the titles with a surname of “Watson” in them.  The surname search doesn’t look like a full text, every word search.

Once you find a book that looks interesting, all you have to do is click on the title, and there it is.  Every page in the book is now available for your browsing enjoyment.  You can save the books on your computer, too.  They are typically in a PDF format, which is pretty universal, and you should have no problem downloading and/or reading it.

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