Sunday, August 31, 2014

Getting the most out of FamilySearch–The Search menu (Books)

Screenshot taken from the FamilySearch website

I use the Books section of the Search menu all the time.  This is a collection of public domain books, periodicals and manuscripts.  The FHL has partnered with several other libraries so you have access to even more things.  You will be able to read the items online or download them to your hard drive.  What makes this different than something like Google Books is that EVERYTHING listed is in the public domain and everything is genealogy or history related.  I do use Google Books but I have to weed through all of the hits that only have previews and those that have nothing at all to do with what I am searching for.  I think that many genealogists overlook this section thinking that they won’t find anything of use.  All I know is that I have found many treasures here and this page is part of my regular search routine when I am researching someone.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Getting the most out of FamilySearch–The Search menu (Catalog)

Screenshot taken from the FamilySearch website


The next section we are going to look at on the Search menu is the Catalog section.  I skipped the Genealogies section for now but we will be coming back to it.

The Catalog section is the card catalog for the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  It is a normal library card catalog system.  Most of what you will find here will be microfilm listings.  There will also be some books listed that haven’t been microfilmed.  I am not going to show you how to do a search in the catalog since it is pretty self-explanatory but I do want to give you a couple of tips.

  • If you have problems finding something specific try going back to the old version of the online catalog.  You will see a link on the search page in the upper right that says “Visit the previous version.”  Sometimes using the old search works better.
  • Once you find the microfilm you need, it is a snap to order it.  Just click on the film number and fill in the blanks.  The film will be sent to your local FHC for you to view.  You will have to pay shipping to and from the FHL.
  • The FHL will do lookups for you but there are very strict guidelines.  Everything you need to know about that is HERE.  You can do this in a two step process which will still be quicker and cheaper than ordering the film.  Have the FHL look up your person of interest on the index film and then take that information to do a second request for the actual document.
  • One really nice thing is if you pick a microfilm where the images have already been digitized you will see a link to the image set.  It is easy to overlook image sets on FS, especially since they are adding new records practically every day, but it is pretty hard to accidentally order a microfilm that you don’t need.
  • Microfilm is a much underused resource.  Don’t think that everything is online because it isn’t.  Even relying on microfilm is risky.  Courthouses have records in their vaults that have not been microfilmed.  I have found several instances of loose papers being sent to the state archives that were sent before the microfilm crews came round.  Most churches have not had their collections microfilmed. I call courthouses and repositories all the time to see if maybe they have something that I need that isn’t on microfilm.

Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, August 29, 2014

Getting the most out of FamilySearch–The Search menu (Records)

All screenshots taken from the FamilySearch website.

FS 3

 The Search menu has five options but we have already talked about the Wiki so we will skip that one.  The other four options I will do over four days.

Records is the bread and butter of FamilySearch.  When you click on the Search button you will be brought to the search page BUT I don’t do any searches from this page.  Why?  Because this search is too broad.  It searches everything that FamilySearch has online.  I prefer to narrow it down to a specific records set.  Sure, this will mean more work in that I will have to do more individual searches but for me it is a lot less frustrating because I don’t have to weed through nearly as many false leads.  To get to the individual record sets click the Browse All Published Collections link or click on the interactive map just above the link.

FS 4


You will see the the record sets divided up my location, date,  and type of records.  I like to go to United States and then to the state I am working with to see what all FamilySearch has.  There are three different types of record sets and Georgia happens to have all three so I will use them as an example. 

FS 5


The first entry (labeled 1) has a camera to the left and the words, “Browse Images.”  This record set is not indexed.  You will have to go through the pages one at a time.   These images are usually broken down into smaller sets once you click on the link.  Sometimes they are divided up by county or by year.  They can be even further subdivided so it isn’t quite as daunting as you might thing.  Another hint, if you are looking at records that are normally in bound books such as deeds, look at the first images because most of these books have handwritten indexes in them which will save you a ton of time.

The second entry (labeled 2) does not have a camera to the left and there is number in the column to the right.  This is an index only.  There are no images in this database.  You would use this as a finding aid so that you can track down the image in another way.

The third entry (labeled 3) is the best of both worlds.  There is a camera to the left indicating that there are images and there is a number to the right indicating that these images are indexed.  If you find your person of interest in the index there will be a link to click to get to the image.

One really nice thing about all of these databases is that FamilySearch will give you a nice source citation to go along with your index entry and/or your image. 

fs 7

On this screenshot you can see the link to view the actual document on the right and the nicely formatted source citation at the bottom of the screen.  One other thing I would like to point out.  Right below William Ashley’s name you will see the Attach To Family Tree.  If you have your family on Family Tree this is an easy way to add documents right to the individual.  If you don’t want to add this document to William right now but you want to hang on to it for later, you can send it to the Source Box.  All of this will come into play once we get to the Family Tree portion of the website.

Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Getting the most out of FamilySearch–The Help menu

The first section of the FamilySearch webpage I want to talk about is the HELP section.  Most people don’t bother to access the Help menu until they have a problem.  There are some pretty cool things in the Help menu if you just take the time to look.  If you click Get Help in the extreme upper right corner this is what you will see:

FS 1Screenshot from FamilySearch


The Quick Start to FamilySearch is a short video that gives you a general overview of the Family History Library (FHL) and FamilySearch (FS).  It is very interesting.  You will learn some background information and some cool statistics.

Getting Started is a step by step tutorial with videos. This is an excellent resource for people just starting out.  There is so much information out there that you can become overwhelmed and frustrated.  This tutorial is a great way to get started.

The Help Center is easy to navigate because it is divided up into 8 major topics, Family Tree, Memories, Search, Indexing, FamilySearch Account, Genealogy Assistance, Family History Center, and Mobile.  When you click on one of the topics you will be taken to an easy to navigate menu of helps specific to that topic.  At the bottom of the main Help Center page you will see the top 10 FAQ and the entire FAQ is searchable.

The Learning Center is AMAZING!  There are hundreds of videos by the top CGs, AGs and professional genealogists from around the world on every topic you can imagine.  They are divided by skill level, location, and subject so it is easy to navigate.  There are also quick lists for Most Popular Courses and New Courses.  At the bottom of the main page there are links to the 5 Minute Genealogy series (21 episodes) which is great for the beginner.  Information is presented in small chunks that isn’t overwhelming or intimidating.  The videos go all the way up to very advanced so there is something here for everyone.

The Research Wiki is where I go when I am researching a topic or a place that I am not familiar with.  There are almost 80,000 articles and the number is growing.  The section is community supported which means if you are reading a page and you have information that you feel would be helpful to other researchers you can add it.  There are also some links over on the right side that will help you get the most out of the Wiki.  Since the Wiki survives on volunteerism, you will also see some links where you can help with specific projects.

The Contact Us section shows you all the different ways you can contact the FHL for help.  You can call them on the telephone, chat with them via instant messaging, send them an email or be referred to someone local that can assist you.  Remember that the FHL is on Mountain Time and their help center personnel are only available during the FHL’s normal operating hours which you can see HERE.  If you want to contact them after hours then email is best.   One thing that a lot of people don’t know is that someone from the FHL can remote into your computer to assist you.  If a FS technician wants to do this they will walk you through the process.  Every time you contact FS via email it will be logged into a ticketing system and you can track your “cases” via the My Cases link. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Getting the most out of FamilySearch–Intro addendum

Yesterday I said that everything on FamilySearch (FS) is free.   I need to qualify that a bit.  Rhonda, my partner in genealogical crime, emailed me and reminded me of something.  Rhonda works at the local Family History Center (FHC) so she is my go to person for anything FHL/FHC/FS. 

There are links to some records on FS that are actually housed on partner sites.  These are subscription sites.  If you have subscriptions to these sites then no problem.  If you don’t, you will need to visit the FHL, your local FHC, one of the public libraries around the country that has been designated as a FHC, or any public library that has subscriptions to the linked databases and you will be able to access them there.  You can access all of the records for free but some of them you will not be able to view at home unless you have a subscription to that particular site.  Here is a link from FS explaining all of this in greater detail.

Access to Records video at (free records and paid sites)


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting the most out of FamilySearch–Intro

FS 2Screenshot from FamilySearch

This is the start of a series on FamilySearch.  I am going to show you some things on FamilySearch that you might not know about.   I think FamilySearch is the best all around genealogical website and it is completely free.  Here is some general information you need to know before we get started.

  • FamilySearch (FS) is the online presence of the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah
  • The FHL is the largest repository of genealogical holdings in the world (by far)
  • The FHL and FS are owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS)
  • You do not need to be a member of the LDS church to take advantage of the FHL’s holdings
  • Everything on the website is free of charge
  • New materials are being added to the website on a daily basis so it is important to check back often
  • The best way to keep up to date on what is going on at FS is to subscribe to the FamilySearch Blog


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis



Monday, August 25, 2014

Advice from UCOS

I have been watching old episodes of New Tricks, a British crime drama series.   UCOS (Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad) reinvestigates murders that have gone cold.  This is one of several “cold case” type shows and they all give us an example of what to do when one of your genealogical cases goes cold. 

The detectives go back and look at each piece of evidence again.  They formulate new theories instead of just assuming that the original line of enquiry was correct.  The detectives also takes advantage of technology that wasn’t in place during the original investigation (DNA for example).  The new team has a fresh set of eyes so they might see things that the original investigators overlooked. 

This is probably my favorite brick wall technique.  I will set aside a frustrating case and then just forget about it for awhile.  When I pick it back up I start at the beginning and I look at everything again.  I like to manipulate the data in as many ways as I can (spreadsheets are your friend).  I also like to have a fellow genealogist look over my data in case I am overlooking something obvious.  I survey the available databases to see if maybe something new is out there.  I also consider DNA just like the police detectives do. 

Just because your case isn’t solvable today doesn’t mean it won’t be tomorrow. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis