The FamilySearch Catalog: A Researcher’s Best Friend
How long has it been since you explored the catalog on FamilySearch to discover it’s offerings? If it’s been awhile or if you have never looked at the catalog, read on. Researching a family last week I was reminded again of some research tricks that I use to uncover the records. Today I’m sharing three of those tips with you.
Tip #1 Locate and look at the original image
FamilySearch has billions of indexed records. Many of those have an attached image, but not all. What to do when you run across the dreaded ” no available image?” What that means is that the image hasn’t been connected to the indexed record – not that it isn’t available somewhere. The trick is finding out where the image is located.
Why would you need to look at the image? Vagaries in old handwriting mean that indexers don’t always decipher the names and dates correctly. If there is extra information on the record and no place for it on the indexing page, it doesn’t get included. A general rule of genealogy is to always look at the original record. You will not only be able to verify for yourself the names and dates, you’ll also be able to find clues to your ancestor like the names of the witnesses, the minister, neighbors, and more.
Indexers use digitized microfilm to create those valuable indexes and that microfilm is generally either available to view at the Family History Library or on FamilySearch, it’s just a little tricky to find. How do you access that microfilm? With the FamilySearch Catalog.
Let’s use the example of the marriage record of Betty Cooper and Joseph Fielding. Their marriage is indexed on FamilySearch, and includes the fathers of both the bride and groom. Betty’s father is listed as James Schofield, which is interesting because her father on the FamilySearch Family Tree is Ephraim Draycott. Why isn’t James listed as her father?
I needed to look at the image and see if this was really correct, but the record had the “No image available” notice. Checking the citation under the indexed information, I saw that the citation included the FHL microfilm number. If you look closely at the citations of the records, you’ll often see a film number associated with the record. If the record comes from a third party like BillionGraves or Find A Grave the citation won’t include a film number because that record is from a different website.
I wanted to see if I could view this film online or if I’d need to make a trip to the Family History Library. To figure this out, I used the FamilySearch Catalog, located in the dropdown menu of the “Search” tab on FamilySearch.
Clicking on “Catalog” took me to the home page of the catalog. Notice all the variations that can be used for a search: Place, Surnames, Titles, Author, Subjects, Keywords, Call Number, and Film Number. I had the exact microfilm number from the citation, so this was easy. I entered it into the search box and hit the blue “search” button.
Because I had entered an exact film number, only one result came up: “Parish Registers for St. Mary’s Church (Oldham, Lancashire), 1558-1968. Did this make sense with the marriage record I was searching in 1847, Oldham, Lancashire? It certainly seemed to.
Clicking on the red title, I saw that there were actually 25 films in this category. Scrolling through the choices I saw the film number I wanted, 1,656,121. The magnifying glass icon meant that the film was indexed and the camera icon told me that I could look at this film digitally. If the camera wasn’t available, I’d have to either make a trip to the Family History Library or have the film ordered to my local Family History Center.
I clicked on the camera and a variety of images appeared on my screen. These were the digital images of the microfilm. With just a few clicks, it was like I was sitting at the Family History Library looking at the film, only better. Viewing digitized film lets me adjust the size, easily download the image, jump ahead quickly in the film, and more.
When I look at a film, I like to create my source citation on the spot. That means I need to look at the first images in the film to see where all of these marriages are coming from. Isn’t it great to see an image of the original marriage register?
Now I needed to locate the exact record. This film includes marriages from 1843-1848 and the Cooper-Fielding marriage took place in 1847. Noting that there are 533 images on this film, I definitely did not want to start with image 1 and scroll through several hundred. I entered a guess of “500”in the “image” box which took me to December 1847 records, not too far off. A few more clicks and I was looking at the record for Betty Cooper and James Fielding.
I see that James Schofield is indeed listed as her father. The handwriting is clear and there is no reason to question the record. Also interesting is the fact that James Schofield is also listed as a groom on the opposite page. Is this the same James Schofield or a son or relative? Future research could provide the answer to that question.
That connection would never have been made if I hadn’t looked at the actual image. It’s always a good research practice to look at a few pages before and after the record of your ancestor. Remember they didn’t live in a vacuum. They lived amongst family. Those relatives just might be in the book or microfilm you’re viewing also.
Once I located the exact image, I downloaded it to my computer for my own records. I was also able to attach the record to Betty Cooper and James Fielding in Family Tree using the FamilySearch source linker. Anyone else viewing the source for their marriage would be able to easily view the image.
Tip # 2 Browse the Catalog by keyword
How can you find records that are digitized and online but not necessarily indexed for your relatives? Try using the keyword search in the FamilySearch catalog. You can enter places, events, or types of records for a certain place. Use your imagination and see what comes up. In this case, I entered “Oldham, Lancashire,” the place of the marriage record for Betty Cooper. I wanted to see what other records I could search for this family.
I got a really large list of records of all types, 254 results to be exact. Several filters let me select by category, year, and even language. But what I was really looking for was “availability.” I saw that 58 record collections were ONLINE.
Selecting that filter, I had 58 record collections to explore. I was interested in “Parish Chest Records for St. Mary’s Church (Oldham, Lancashire), 1681-1831.” Could these records hold the key to my family history mystery? Clicking on the title, I saw the breakdown of records within this collection
Notice the icons.
- The camera means the microfilm is digitized. I can click on it and be taken to a screen like the one above, with multiple images to browse.
- The magnifying glass tells me this group of records should be indexed. However, in this case it wasn’t. Possibly a mistake in the programming of the page.
- The film reel lets me know that this is only available on microfilm. Clicking on it took me to an order page. If I wanted to order it to a Family History Center near me, I could pay $7.50 for a short term loan.
A large variety of records await my perusal. I found digitized books, electoral registers, directories, cemetery records, military records, and many, many church records. All available to search from my computer.
Of course there are the other 187 records collections that aren’t yet online, which takes us to . . .
Tip #3 Use the FamilySearch Catalog to find new record sets to search
You don’t know what you don’t know. And you don’t know what records you might be missing, unless you consult the FamilySearch Catalog. When I’m researching in a new location, I like to use the “Place” search. Start typing in the city or county and suggestions will pop up. Click on the appropriate place and you’ll get a list of record sets anywhere from a few to hundreds. Be careful with spelling because the catalog won’t recognize misspelled words. Check for records at all levels: city, county, and state.
If you find a microfilm you’d like to look at, you can have it sent to the nearest Family History Center. If it’s a book, you can search WorldCat for a copy near you or request an inter-library loan from your local library. The books at the Family History Library are being digitized and many are already available in a digital version. You may get a message that you can only view the book at the Family History Library, a partner library or a Family History Center.
I guarantee you’ll be surprised with what you might find. Doing a random search on my home county of Cassia in Idaho, I saw a record that interested me: “Hand written Copy of the Meetings of the Springdale Camp, Cassia Idaho (1935-1938).”
Why was this of interest? A year ago I researched and wrote about my Grandma Kelsey’s involvement in the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. This was her location. Could she be in the records?
I clicked to view the digital version and scrolled through the pages until I found Florence Kelsey, my grandmother. There she was, paying dues of $.25 in the 1930’s. Imagine, in the middle of the depression, when cash was tight, she was able to pay her dues.
Just like that, I found another piece of my grandmother’s history. I had no idea that record even existed or was in the catalog until I took a look at the county records.
What do you do with all of the interesting records you come across that you’d like to search? Add them to your research log. I keep a Google sheet with all of the microfilm and books I want to view for future trips to the Family History Library. See my post “Ten Steps to Success: Visiting the Family History Library” for more ideas on planning a trip of your own.
If you’ve never explored the FamilySearch Catalog, take a few minutes today and see what treasures you can find!
Best of luck in all of your family history endeavors.