20 July 2012


The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah has the most extensive genealogy record collection in the world.
"The Collection includes over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals and 3,725 electronic resources."
The library's catalog is available online at FamilySearch.org and is free*. Of course not all of us will be able to make it to Salt Lake City to visit this mecca. Luckily there are library branches in 80 countries and the LDS Church is constantly adding indexes and digitized images to its website. Next week's post will be about visiting FamilySearch Centers. This week will be about using the website. 
*You may need to sign in to view some images which just means you need to create a username and password. FamilySearch will not ask for a credit card number unless you are ordering microfilm. 

The first thing you'll notice on the home page is the search box which is set to automatically search records that have been indexed. You can mark individual facts to be searched exactly by checking the small box next to each fact. Years can be made exact by entering the same year in the 'From' and 'To' boxes. You do not need to enter a name to do a search. A search that has been incredibly fruitful for me has been searching on just the names of parents. No name. No place. No years. Only parents names.
Example 1: 
In the 1910 US Federal Census you see that your ancestor gave birth to 5 children but only 3 are living in 1910. Both of those children were born and died after the 1900 census and before 1910. Searching with just the parents' names may bring up a birth/baptism record and/or a death record. 
Example 2:
You're looking for descendants but cannot find the daughters because you don't know their married names. Entering just the parents' names may bring up a death certificate or a marriage record. 
One drawback on FamilySearch is the inability to make corrections. Records are transcribed exactly as they are on the page and those that are difficult to read may be transcribed incorrectly. 

The second search tab is 'Trees'. Trees on FamilySearch can only be submitted by members of the LDS Church. That doesn't make them any more reliable than the trees on Ancestry.com and you know how I feel about those so we'll just skip this ;-)

There are still millions of records that have not been indexed so searching the catalog is a necessity when you can't find what you're looking for. There are two ways to search the catalog and it is worth searching both ways. The first way is to use the 'catalog' tab. The second is by scrolling down the home page and browsing by location. You can narrow down your browsing (area, time period, record collection) on the next page. All collections that have digitized images have a camera icon next to them. If the items aren't digitized and have a film number you can order that microfilm (more on that next week). 
Here are examples of search results using both searches.

Example 1: Catalog tab - Place-names search - India, Bengal
 - History of the Cossimbazar Raj in the nineteenth century, period covered, 1804-1897
Church history 
 - History of the Catholic missions in central Bengal 1855-1886
Church records
 - Parish register transcripts from the Presidency of Bengal, 1713-1948
 - Roman Catholic returns of baptisms, marriages and burials, 1835-1856
Court records
 - Court proceedings, 1727-1774
 - A general register of the Honourable East India Company's civil servants of the Bengal establishment from 1790 to 1842
 - Scott and Co.'s Bengal directory, and register, with almanac and appendix
 - History of the Cossimbazar Raj in the nineteenth century, period covered, 1804-1897
 - George Nesbitt Thompson and some of his descendants
Merchant marine
 - Indian Navy, Bengal pilots, 1858-1861
 - Bengal marine, miscellaneous correspondence and financial papers, 1831
 - List of Europeans in the service of the Bengal marine, 1848-1860
 - Bengal marine annual report, 1844-1857
 - Bengal marine financial reports, 1873-1874
 - Bengal marine civil and marine casualties, 1824-1864
 - European officers and seamen serving in the Bengal naval brigades, 1858-1860
 - Bengal pilot service papers, 1796-1880
 - List of seamen in the Bengal marine who have claims on the company for wages, 1821
Probate records - Indexes
 - List of wills to be found in the Bengal Public Consultations, volumes I to VI
Probate records
 - Court proceedings, 1727-1774
 - Bengal wills 1728-1774; Bombay wills 1728-1783; Madras wills 1753-1779; index 1704-1783
 - Bengal wills and administrations, 1774-1937; indexes 1774-1909
Social life and customs
 - Marriage and rank in Bengali culture : a history of caste and clan in middle period Bengal

Example 2: Browse by location - Asia & Middle East - India (no option to narrow location further)
 - India Deaths and Burials, 1719-1948
 - India, Births and Baptisms, 1786-1947
 - India, Hindu Pilgrimage Records
 - India, Marriages, 1792-1948
 - India, Punjab, Moga Land Ownership Pedigrees, 1887-1958

The catalog also includes books. Some books have been microfilmed but those that are only available in hard copy do not leave the main library. If you find a book that looks promising try searching Google Books. If it is cataloged in Google Books click the "find in a library" link, enter your zip code and you may find a copy closer than Salt Lake City.

On the header of the FamilySearch home page you'll see the 'Learn' button. The section of this I'd like to point out is the Learning Center. It has video research courses to help with everything from What is a Census? to the Australian Civil Registration Index to Reading Russian Handwritten Records. FamilySearch also has a YouTube channel. The videos on their YouTube channel are conveniently grouped into playlists so you can easily find and view videos on a specific topic.

UPDATE: Click here for a playlist of YouTube videos related to FamilySearch.

NEXT POST: Logic is Overrated
RELATED POST: Visiting a FamilySearch Center 


  1. Thank you for doing this series. I have just this week come to the realization that I will need to visit my local Family History Center to look up some records on microfilm and have been slightly intimidated by the thought for some reason (and me with a library degree, go figure). Anyway, I look forward to your next installment!

    1. Thanks! Next Friday's post keeps getting longer and longer as I think of things to add ;-)