Most family history buffs eventually run across the LDS site, FamilySearch.org. It provides a mix of user-contributed information with official data, such as SSDI and 1880 Census records. Recently, the folks at FamilySearch started a pilot program in which volunteers transcribe official documents from around the world into searchable index records. The ongoing result is the FamilySearch Record Search site located at http://pilot.familysearch.org/recordsearch/.
Most of the data collections at the FamilySearch Record Search site are from compiled versions of official state and provincial vital records (birth, marriage, death). There are also census records, war pension indices, and some church records that pre-date secular data storage. While many of these records sources are available elsewhere, the flexible and comprehesive nature of this search site make the genealogist’s job a bit easier.
The Search Form
The start page is a simple search form. All fields are optional, so long as at least one blank is filled in. Wildcard characters can be used, but the wildcard asterisk (*) can only be used as the last character in the search string with at least three letters in front of it.
First and Middle Name – try various combinations of names and initials and nicknames, one variation per search.
Last Name – subject surname – try just one spelling variation per search.
Event – All events; Birth/Christening; Marriage; Death/Burial.
Year – refers to the chosen event set. Depending on the event option, this changes between a year range or just a single year.
Location – again, refers to the event set. Typing in a partial place name triggers a list of places in the database from which to select.
Advanced search adds the following fields:
Father – first name and last name
Mother – first name and last name
Spouse – first name and last name
The advanced searches are helpful when looking for other family members. For instance, to find a person’s siblings, enter the parent’s names only. This will often bring up records of near relations that can aid in locating the target person. Also switching which spouse is the search subject, or entering just one of the spouse’s names can pull up a more useful set of results. Women’s names, in particular, create problems. Should you try the maiden name, married name, or just the first name? The answer is “yes.”
Search options include:
Exact Match only – excludes any record that does not exactly match all the completed fields as you typed them.
Exact & close match – (the default) places the best matches at the top, but also includes records that have alternate spellings or soundex matches to the completed fields.
Exact Close and partial – in addition to the previous matches, includes records where any of the search criteria are in any of the results fields. This is a choice to try only if the other types of matches yield no results. You may get a message that there are too many records to display, in which case, refine the search to include more exact search criteria.
Each search launches a display of results. Each results page has about 25 records of four columns. Use the scroll bar on the right side of the page to see all the records. Use the navigation arrows at the bottom to move between result pages.
Person – The person’s name as it appears in the collection as transcribed by the volunteer. The collection name appears under the name.
Events – Location and dates of record events, such as birth, residence, death, burial.
Spouses and Children – The spouses name will appear first, followed by the list of children, again as transcribed.
Parents – Father’s name appears on the first line, and Mother’s name on the second line.
The person’s name will be in bold. Hover the mouse over the name to see a preview of the record details, or click the name to open the details on the right side of the results screen. The details displayed depends on the type of event record. Click on the double arrow (>>) in the upper left of the record details area to return to the search results list view.
While viewing the record details, you can perform any of the following actions:
Copy – generates a copy of page details in your sytems clipboard to be pasted as text into a separate document or program.
Print – launches your systems printer dialog box
Share – creates a link to paste into email, IM or post to FaceBook.
Some collections include original record images. They will have a black icon to the left of the person’s name. Click on the icon to view the Record Image to the right of the Name column, and to the right of the details, if they are displayed. Click on the double arrow (>>) in the upper left of the record page image area to return to the search results list view.
While viewing the record image, you can perform any of the following actions:
Full screen – toggles between the records results page image view and a full screen image view.
Rotate – turns the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
Invert – reverses the image from black on white to white on black, which makes some original records easier to read.
Save – invokes a dialog box to name and save the image to a file on your local disk.
Print – launches your systems printer dialog box.
Image navigation – moves between multiple records in a collection: previous record arrow, record number, next record arrow.
An Image Panning tool appears in the lower left corner of the image display.
Zoom in /out – scroll between the + and – icons on the left side of the tool to zoom the image
Pan – drag the shaded frame on the panning tool or drag the mouse pointer (hand) across the image itself.
Selecting Specific Collections versus a General Search
At the bottom of the main search page is an invitation to “Search or Browse Our Record Collections.” Selecting this option opens a new page with a world map, and a drop down list of regions, which are basically each continent / island group. Click on the desired region in the map to view a list of collections for that geographic area. Scroll down the list and select a collection of interest.
Most collections launch a targeted search form similar to the main search form, but the result will be limited to the collection you selected. Some collections are not yet indexed for searching and are designated as “browse images only.” If doing a general search failed to get any results, browsing these collections may yield a better outcome.
As an example, one of my maternal lines came to the U.S. from Scotland by way of Prince Edward Island in Canada. Although I could do a search on that location, there were 3 collections where I was able to find results only by selecting to browse a subset of the images. The image subsets will be grouped by lastname (surname). Once the images load, you can navigate through them one at a time, or type in a record number to skip through. Most collections are in rough alphabetical order by surname. I’ve found using the high-low method, like on the Price is Right helped me hone in on my target surname more quickly. I was able to find the death record for a “pioneer” ancestor with his age. With that information, I went back out to the Scotland records and narrowed down which ones are likely candidates for his birth record.
Well that’s the nature of family research, isn’t it? It never ends. There is always another generation before the one you’ve just deciphered. I hope this information about the FamilySearch Record Search collections helps you find those missing branches and roots in your family tree.