FamilySearch.org is a wonderful, free website where many genealogists search indexed records. But FamilySearch.org has a lot more to offer than just the searchable records, although it’s not always that obvious how to find more. (For the record, the site also holds “family tree” functionality, where users collaborate, together, on one large tree – that part doesn’t interest me, and won’t be part of this post. I always encourage people to do their own research.)
Here are four methods I use often.
Start the search, then specify a collection
In the SEARCH screen, search by, perhaps, name & location.
The results will come up as individual records. At this point, switch from RECORDS view to COLLECTIONS, and narrow your choice to one or more specific record sets.
After selecting Massachusetts Births 1841-1915, the records list is shorter.
The icons below are indicating that the birth record for Addison Darling has tree information attached, as well as transcribed text from a record, and also a photo of the record itself.
Clicking on the transcribed text also brings up the chance to see the original document. If available, ALWAYS use the photo of the document or page that contains the record. And if no image is available, look elsewhere for the actual record. Never use an index entry as evidence.
I also found that clicking on the “tree” symbol, then clicking the “PERSON” link, brought up a data screen which was not at all correct, but did include some “Record Hints” that led me to a marriage record I’d never found before (which was actually for the son of Addison Darling, who had the same name). Record Hints are like Ancestry “leaf” hints – they might be completely wrong, but might be worth looking at. Turns out, Addison Jr’s second marriage occurred in Los Angeles, something I never suspected.
Use the Books section
I think the BOOKS section on FamilySearch (under the main heading SEARCH) is the most underutilized feature. There is a growing collection of books, including many family genealogies, that may not be found anywhere else.
When searching for Darling Family, 2300 hits come up. That’s too many, so I limit the selection to ON THIS SUBJECT: “Darling Family.” That gives us 110. Searching again with the name of the immigrant ancestor, “Dennis Darling,” brings up the best book on my Darling Family: Dennis Darling of Braintree and Mendon and some of his descendants 1662-1800 by William and Lou Martin. The book was available for download.
Often, books published since 1923 will NOT be available for download, but could be viewed from a computer at a local Family History Center, or a copy of the book could then be searched using http://www.worldcat.com.
Search for record sets by location
Getting away from indexed records and into the wide assortment of UNINDEXED records on FamilySearch, that will never come up in any record search, the tool I often start with is the location search, just to see what’s available for a specific location. Let’s try accessing some of the Darlings’ records from Massachusetts.
Go to the CATALOG (this lives in the SEARCH category).
Using the “Place” search, the system accepts a place named in this configuration: country, state, county, town. So in the search above, we are searching for the county of Norfolk, and not specifying any town. This will not bring up records for all towns, instead, it will bring up records which are county-wide only. I limited the search to records available in the location “ONLINE.”
This is really a jackpot of records for this county – probate, court, land (deeds) and some vitals. The online choices are really growing. Let’s try Land and property.
Once I opened up that category, I chose Land Records – Deeds, 1793-1890. On the screen that comes up, one line looks like this:
Massachusetts, Land Records are available online, click here.
After clicking, we then see this line, and click it:
Browse through 5,766,135 images
Well, that’s scary. But let’s try it. And we get this:
Choosing Norfolk county brings up this:
These are VERY long lists of index books and deed books. Using the index volumes first, we can find the deeds that we are interested in. Once you open any one of these books, it is basically a roll of microfilm, and you must page through it yourself. Use the arrows in the upper corner to page through, or jump around by typing a number into the box. It’s a matter of guesswork to get to the page you need. It’s slow, but remember, you’re able to do this in the comfort of your own home, in your pajamas. What progress!
After finding the entries I want for Addison Darling’s father, Elias Darling (many of which I now realize I’ve never seen before) I note all the entries, go back to the long list of books, and start using the deed volumes.
Drill down to a specific location
Another way to use this catalog is to drill down to very specific locations, to see everything available on FamilySearch for that location.
Let’s say I want to see what is available on the Darlings’ location, Sheldonville village in the town of Wrentham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. We start by entering the county in the CATALOG search, just like we previously did:
Next, notice the subtle place breadcrumbs up top of the screen that comes up:
Clicking on “United States, Massachusetts, Norfolk” at this point will bring us a choice of sub-locations:
There is nothing for Sheldonville, but there are some town records for Wrentham. Clicking Wrentham limits my results to just the town. There are some important tax and town records there.
As I was drilling down, I did NOT limit my results to the “Online” location, so most of these records are not online, and would have to be obtained on microfilm from the Family History Library, to view at my local Family History Center. But I notice more and more of the genealogy libraries are also becoming Family History Center affiliates, helping you to accomplish a lot in one trip, if you can get to one.
FamilySearch should be one of our first stops when we decide to go after the kind of records that will help us solve our brick walls. There’s a lot more there than meets the eye, so keep exploring.
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