I was recently looking for Van Wert County, Ohio records. On Linkependium in the Estate Records category there was a link to Ancestry.com’s “Ohio Wills and Probate Records, 1786-1998.” I reasoned Linkpendium wouldn’t have sent me to Ancestry if it didn’t have any records for Van Wert. But when I searched for some surnames that I knew had probates in Van Wert County, those didn’t show up in Ancestry’s list of results.
Finally I just searched with NO surname and "Van Wert County and I got 2509 results! And I’m afraid none of the results were terribly useful. You can see below that on page 1 of results, not one of them has a name and only 2 even have dates:
It’s not until page 25 of the results that any additional entries with dates show up, and still they don't show names. In fact in the entire list of results, all 51 pages, no names are listed. None.
I clicked on a random item on Page 37 of the results, an 11 Jun 1888 probate. The abstract entry gives me the date and place but no name. When I click on the image, I can see quite clearly a probate record for Anthony McQueen, deceased.
If you try to use the search boxes to find Anthony McQueen, you will come up empty, not because there is no record, but because Ancestry has not indexed this particular set of records by name for this place and time. On the search page for “Ohio Wills and Probate Records, 1786-1998” Ancestry describes the collection, saying:
"The records come from a collection of microfilm that took years to compile. They have been brought together from multiple courthouses over time to give you a single source to search. Some localities and time periods may not be included because they were not available to be acquired as part of this collection, or the records may have been lost or destroyed before the effort to collect them all began… For details on which counties and records are included in this collection, please explore the browse menu.”
If you “Browse,” you see Van Wert is one of the counties with records. Ancestry’s search page has boxes, but because they have not indexed the Van Wert records by name, the search boxes are worthless. That doesn’t mean the records aren’t there. It only means the records are not searchable, they are only browsable. But Ancestry doesn’t give you any clues that this is the case. To me, the mere presences of the search boxes on the screen below should indicate these records are searchable.
The takeaway here… On any search on Ancestry, if you don’t get a hit, don’t immediately walk away. First, search for a very common name, something like Smith or Brown, which ought to be found at least once in the records. If you still come up with no result, try searching just by place with no name in the search boxes. If you come up with no result, this probably means Ancestry doesn’t have records of that type for that location. But if you get some "hits" on you no-name search, Ancestry probably has some records and you'll have to figure out how to browse through them. Browsing isn't always the speediest process. But by being willing to try a No-Name search you might discover that there are records.
One more thing about these records -- to me they look a lot like the digitized films from FamilySearch. You may have an easier time going directly to FamilySearch and browsing there. I find the interface on FamilySearch provides a clearer way to recognize which records are Browse-only and an easier method to see all the browsable items in the particular collection.
For another post about browsing on FamilySearch see "Understanding Indexes in County Records - Graves Tabular Initial Index" which talks about just one of the many kinds of indexes that make browsing easier.
Do you ever search for records on FamilySearch using Batch numbers? It can sure come in handy!
I’ve been researching a McGill family – Thomas and his wife, Kate Ahern. They had eight children. I searched on FamilySearch for children of this couple, born between 1870 and 1890 in New Jersey. The left side of the image shows the terms I input on FamilySearch to look for this family. Here are the first few results of my search:
As you can see, there are two similar records for Catherine, born 2 June 1884 and one each for three brothers, James, born 1880, William, born 1882, and Thomas born 1878. For most of these, it indicates the child was baptized in St. Patrick’s Church in Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey.
But my search for McGill/Ahern children on FamilySearch only gave me birth or baptismal records for four children. What about the others? I knew there had to be baptismal records for more children but how could I find them?
Let’s look at the index entry for James.
This record, along with the two for Catherine and the one for William are all baptismal records. If you look on the right of the screen you see “GS Film Number 1398788” and “Indexing Project (Batch) Number C01849-9.” Catherine’s and Williams’s have the same numbers. (Thomas’ record is a birth record, not a baptismal record, and so comes from a different film.)
Not every record entry you find will show a batch number. The batch number relates to the indexing project, and so covers a group of related records, perhaps a set of records from a particular church, or a collection of marriage records from a county.
I clicked on the batch number in the record of James McGill to find all the records in that batch. FamilySearch then automatically sets up a search with everything blank except the batch number. I got over 28,000 results, a few more than I wanted to browse through, so I also filled in a couple of the “Search with a relationship” boxes to narrow my search to those records with parents named “Thomas and Catherine.”
It’s been my experience that surnames are pretty easy to “butcher” but indexers seem sufficiently familiar with given names that they’re able to pick out a T, a tall letter, a letter in the middle with some humps, followed by a couple more letters and recognize that spells “Thomas.” Alsp the FamilySearch algorithm is pretty good at recognizing given name variants, for example that "Kate," "Catherine" and "Katherine" are all the same name.
With that modified search I got 82 results. I passed by the ones with surnames Bacon and Bransfield and worked my way down to the M’s. And there I found a few more kids!
Edward Mcgiel, born 1874, son of Thomas Mcgiel and Kate Hanan and Mary Mcgill, daughter of Thomas Mcgill and Kate Ohara. I also found a baptismal record for Thomas that didn’t show up on my first search because his parents are listed as Thomas Mcgill and Kate Shearne. It’s pretty easy one you see it to think about making the leaps from McGill to McGiel and Ahern to Hanan, O’Hara or Shearne, particularly when you realize those baptismal registers used to create the index were likely handwritten in cursive.
I haven’t looked at the record images. FamilySearch won’t let me see them unless I’m at a Family History Center, so that’s on my to-do list. I never want to rely on just an index when there is an original record to look at. And I’m still missing records for two more McGill children, Charles and John, but hopefully I can turn them up. Charles may have been born before the family moved to Elizabeth, and I’m not entirely certain John existed – he may be one of those phantom names that pops up.
How can Batch Numbers help you in your search? Depending on how many records are in the batch you’re interested in, you might search for the surnames of your ancestors and their in-laws and associates who lived in the same community. You may stumble upon some family you didn’t know about.
But you can see how searching by batch number, with or without a name, might tease a few more records out of the great bounty on FamilySearch.
If you have found a record by searching by a Batch Number, please let me know in the comments section below.
 "New Jersey Births and Christenings, 1660-1980," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FCVY-13X : 12 December 2014), Catherine Mcgill, 02 Jun 1884; citing , reference item 2 p 409; FHL microfilm 1,398,788.
2i] "New Jersey Births and Christenings, 1660-1980," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FCVY-L31 : 12 December 2014), James Mcgill, 01 Dec 1880; citing , reference item 2 p 343; FHL microfilm 1,398,788.
 "New Jersey Births and Christenings, 1660-1980," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FCVY-P4D : 12 December 2014), William Mcgill, 07 May 1882; citing , reference item 2 p 374; FHL microfilm 1,398,788.
 "New Jersey, Births, 1670-1980," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FCY1-6LN : 8 April 2016), Thomas McGill, 02 Apr 1878; citing Elizabeth, Union, New Jersey, United States, Division of Archives and Record Management, New Jersey Department of State, Trenton.; FHL microfilm 494,184.
 "New Jersey Births and Christenings, 1660-1980," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FCVY-L31 : 12 December 2014), James Mcgill, 01 Dec 1880; citing , reference item 2 p 343; FHL microfilm 1,398,788
 "New Jersey Births and Christenings, 1660-1980," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FCVY-632 : 12 December 2014), Edward Mcgiel, 22 Apr 1874; citing , reference item 1 p 218; FHL microfilm 1,398,788.
 "New Jersey Births and Christenings, 1660-1980," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FCVY-NYF : 12 December 2014), Mary Mcgill, 20 Nov 1875; citing , reference item 1 p 251; FHL microfilm 1,398,788.
 "New Jersey Births and Christenings, 1660-1980," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FCVY-WFH : 12 December 2014), Thomas Mcgill, 15 Jan 1878; citing , reference item 1 p 292; FHL microfilm 1,398,788.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.