Have you been wanting to learn how to use the FamilySearch Catalog to make new discoveries about your family? I taught this class twice at RootsTech and both classes were full, so you’re not alone. I use the catalog every day in my client research and I was excited to teach over 2,000 people how to become better researchers. Today I’m sharing an overview of my presentation and including the slides and syllabus at the end so you can learn as well.
Why Use the FamilySearch Catalog?
I started with several reasons why you’d want to learn to use the catalog. First, FamilySearch has billions of records that are digitized and available to search for free. Most of them are not indexed, however, and you need to learn how to access them.
Second, for those digitized records that are locked on your home computer because of copyright issues, Family History Centers worldwide give access to most people within a few hours drive.
Lastly, the catalog has records for almost every locality worldwide. For fun, try searching for some unusual places and see what you can find.
The Genealogy Research Process and the FamilySearch Catalog
As a professional genealogist, I use the catalog every day in my research. It helps me find the records for a specific locality so I can form my research plan. Also, the catalog provides all the details I need to create my source citations in my research log. As the following slide shows, it is at the heart of my research process.
The catalog offers a variety of searches and I discussed each one and how it can benefit you in your genealogy.
This is the default when you first access the FamilySearch Catalog and can be used to locate all the specific records for a locality. One of the quirks you need to know is to not use “county” in the search box. You’ll get “no results” if you do! Instead for U.S. searches: enter United States, then name of state, county, or city. Alternately, enter the county or city and select from the options that appear.
For research in a different, country, enter the name of the country in English, then the state, province, and town name in the country’s language. For the British Isles, search with and without “shire” for complete results. Alternately, enter the city or town name and select from the options that appear.
Some tips: spell place names correctly, search for records at each jurisdictional level and use the “Places within” feature to drill down to very local records.
Have you ever considered a surname search? Use this to find histories, biographies, or genealogies that mention a specific surname or to find the surname used in a title. You can filter the results with keywords or place to narrow your search.
You might have heard about a great book in your locality, but not quite remembered the title. Using the title search feature of the catalog you can find specific titles of books, journals, microfilm, or maps. Enter the words in the title you can remember, they can be out of order or missing words. The title search is similar to a keyword search but the search terms must be in the title.
Perhaps you’ve heard of an author specializing in a certain region and you’d like to locate all of the books by that author. An author search will locate all titles attributed to individual authors. Enter the first name and surname for best results. Alternately, you can enter just a surname or first name if needed – will have more results. Authors can be listed in multiple ways, complete names or just initials so try a variety of searches.
The FamilySearch Catalog uses the Library of Congress subject headings for the subject search. Think of broad searches: Native Americans, Civil War, Quakers. What do you know about your ancestors? What was their religion, nationality, language etc.? Searching by these topics will help you discover sources to broaden your knowledge of their community and social history. Combine a subject search with keywords to narrow the results.
The keyword search might be my favorite, after the place search. You can search all catalog entries containing the search terms: authors, titles, subjects, film notes, etc. This lets you search a wide range of records, so understandably you’ll get a lot of results. You can then filter by record category, time period, and locality.
Call Number Search
You may wonder why you’d need to search by call number, but I use it all the time. It lets you locate specific information for publication such as the author, title, date and place published. When you’re creating a source citation you need those details. Often I’ll find a record in a book at the Family History Library and I don’t want to take the time to record all the information needed for a citation. Instead I can jot down the call number and reference the source again when I’m at home at my computer.
Film/Fiches Number Search
If you’ve ever had the dreaded “no image available” note come up on an indexed record, you’ll want to know how to access the original microfilm that was viewed by the indexer. Searching by the film number brings up the record collection and you’ll then scroll to the specific film. Clicking on it shows the various digitized images.
Some tips for searching the digitized images on microfilm: look at beginning of collection to learn about the records. Check for an index which may be at the beginning or the end of the microfilm, and note the organization of the records. Are they alphabetical, chronological, apparently random? There is generally an order and it up to you as the researcher to discover it.
You can use the image numbers at the top left of the screen to skip through the microfilm and find the image that you want. I consider this a game to see how fast I can find the record of interest.
As you’ve seen, the FamilySearch Catalog has a wide variety of searches and for best results you need to experiment with all of them. The keyword, title, and surname searches have the additional filters of year, category, language, and availability. You can see which are online, only available at a Family History Center or the Family History Library, or any.
Tips for using the catalog: locate and look at the original image, find new sources to search, and create a print list of books and microfilm to search.
FamilySearch recently changed their “Book Search” page to “FamilySearch Digital Library.” This is a collection of books from libraries all over the world and contains thousands of digitized books. You can search by author, title, or key word such as a surname or place. Because of copyright issues, not all of the books are available online. You may see “public” or “protected” in the access level field. If you can’t view it from home, you can consider using inter-library loan to access the book.
From the home page of the FamilySearch Catalog you can access WorldCat – a catalog of over 10,000 libraries world wide. Use WorldCat to search for any title and then see it’s availability. The book you need may be in a library not too distant.
Also available from the FamilySearch Catalog homepage is Archive Grid. Similar to WorldCat, Archive Grid helps you locate archives and libraries worldwide. If you’ve heard of manuscript collections but not known how to access them, you need to experiment with Archive Grid. Put in any zip code then view on Google maps the repositories in that area. Clicking on each one enables you to view contact information and search the collections.
With the amazing record collections waiting for you in the FamilySearch Catalog, why wouldn’t you make it your best friend?
Best of luck in all of our genealogical endeavors!
Slides: The FamilySearch Catalog for RootsTech
If you enjoyed my class at RootsTech, you may be interested in my Research Like a Pro online course. The coupon for 40% off expire Sunday, March 10, 2019. Get the coupon code here: Family Locket RootsTech page.
Thank you I like to learn all I can. It’s not easy for me. Thank you
Have fun trying out the catalog. It’s worth all the time invested to learn how to use it!
Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips!
You’re welcome! Have fun exploring.