I love FamilySearch. I love FamilySearch more every day. The records I have been able to find for my family just in the last week have included an 1854 church marriage record from County Durham in England, 1855 and 1857 baptismal records for that couple’s son and daughter, an 1885 Champaign County, Illinois marriage record, a 1931 Pierce County, Washington death certificate and more. I found all those images, for free, in just minutes, all from the comfort of my living room. Every day, FamilySearch adds more images to their vast collection of digitized records, which any researcher, anywhere in the world, can access to learn more about their family.
Many of these collections are not searchable by name on FamilySearch, but there are ways to browse the collections of images to find what you want. For example in addition to the volumes of death certificates for the City of Los Angeles, FamilySearch has also digitized the indexes to those volumes. Search for a name in the index volume to find the certificate number, and then look in the film of death certificates to find the actual certificate.
But I want to caution you a bit about the indexes. Sometimes FamilySearch puts the index books in the wrong place. What do I mean? Here’s an example.
FamilySearch has a wonderful collection, “California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994.” (https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2001287). If you look on the page, you will see search boxes, but when you read the description, you’ll see some limitations – “The name index for death records covers Stockton, Lodi and Manteca cities and San Benito and San Joaquin counties.” If you want records for other counties, scroll to the bottom of this page to where it says “Browse through 2,915,415 images.”
When you click on that link, you’ll see a list of counties and towns. Here’s a small portion of that list.
“Los Angeles, Long Beach,” “Los Angeles, Los Angeles,” and “Los Angeles, Pasadena” will link you to records for those three cities, while plain old “Los Angeles” will give you records for the County of Los Angeles.
On FamilySearch when you drill down and click on the “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” link. Over 700 links will appear, starting with links to Birth Certificates, then Death Certificates, then finally, at the bottom of the list are the Death Indexes.
Since these records appear under the title “Los Angeles, Los Angeles, they should be just for the City of Los Angeles. Should be. But this is where the researcher needs to beware.
Here’s just one selection from the titles of the indexes:
Look carefully and you will see some overlap. “Death index 1928-1929 vol 14, A-L” and the same for “…M-Z.” But the item immediately below that is “Death index 1928 vol 22, A-Z” and then “Death index 1929 vol 23, A-Z.” Same years. Why are they repeated, and why do they have different volume numbers?
Here’s what I see when I click on the 1928-1929 volume 14 item:
Image 1 of 308 shows the cover of the book, perhaps the most important image in that set. Because, although FamilySearch has placed this digitized item in the “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” section of records, it is NOT for the City of Los Angeles, it’s for LA County.
Here is image 5 of the “Death index 1928 vol 22, A-Z”:
You can see it says “Los Angeles City” on the spine of the book.
If you find a certificate number in Volume 14, the book for Los Angeles County, and then try to look for it in the City of Los Angeles death records for 1928, it won’t be there. You’ll find whosoever's LA city death certificate has that number.
Be sure to look at the image of the spine of the book of records you're to see what it covers before you go diving into the index!
And the second issue is that when you look at plain old Los Angeles County, you won’t see an index to the LA county death certificates… because FamilySearch has incorrectly placed the index for the county under the “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” title.
I have alerted FamilySearch to this issue and hopefully they will correct it soon. This is just one instance of digital images being put in an incorrect location on FamilySearch. I know that there are probably a few more. If you don’t see what you expect to see, dig a little deeper, look at the images of the book covers, and see if you can figure out where the image you’re looking for might be. With all the great documents FamilySearch give me, this researcher is OK with having to beware and dig a little deeper once in a while.
Counties across the country use different methods to index their deeds, probates, naturalizations and other records. They are generally based on some alphabetical combination. It may be as simple as using separate sections of the index book for each surname that begins with a particular letter. All the grantors whose surnames begin with “A” are listed in order of when they recorded the deed. Or it might be a more complicated arrangement using two or three letters in the surname, perhaps combined with the first letter of the given name.
FamilySearch continues to digitize more records, making available record images that are not searchable by name and can only be browsed. But if you know how to use these county level indexes, you should have no trouble locating your ancestor in these valuable records.
I’ve written before about the Graves Tabular Initial Index and a West Virginia will index. I’ve been working on a presentation on the ins and outs of indexes for the Lewis County Genealogical Society next month, so I thought I’d write about using another indexing scheme.
Most counties I have run across have a set of Grantor indexes listing people who sold (or otherwise transferred) property, along with a similar set of Grantee indexes for people who purchased property. But Belmont County, Ohio combines the two into one set of books. How does that work?
To start with, you need to know the surname and first name of the party you are interested in. You can access the deed indexes for Belmont at https://familysearch.org/search/catalog/247145. Across the top of each page in the Deed Index for Belmont is a chart. The first letter of the surnames are listed across the page, and beneath each of these letters are the 26 letters corresponding to the first letter of the given name. Next to each of these letters is a page number where you will find that Last Name/Given Name combination listed.
Here’s the chart shown at the top of all the left-hand pages in the books:
I should find any transactions for Peter Cilles on page 72.
And when I go to page 72, here’s what I see for Peter:
You can see that there are 2 columns with names. The index only applies to the first column. Between the two “Name” columns is a narrow strip with either “to” or “F” (for “From”) recorded. In the first entry, Peter Chilles et al are transferring property TO Jno. M. Korcher. In the third entry, P. R. Cook et al are acquiring property FROM Mary Smith et al. Looking to the right we can see the volumes and pages where we can find the actual deeds (and get some idea who theses “et al” others actually are.) The index also gives a very brief description of the property, showing the number of acres, the Section, Township and Range where the property is located and what the transfer price was.
In this case Peter Cilles is my person of interest, and I now have all the information I need to find his deed. If Jno Korcher was my guy, the letter table above would point me to find the corresponding entry in the same book on page 225.
The transaction with Peter Cilles is the third one down, but you can see that John Korcher acquired a number of pieces of property in Section 25 around that same time.
This kind of index is an efficient way to search. You can find all the transactions for your ancestor for a given time span, both buying and selling, all in the same book. Happy hunting!
I wrote a blog post in February, “No Image Available? Maybe There is One!” In it, I described searching on FamilySearch and coming with a hit on an index record, complete with the dreaded “No image available” message. I outline a workaround where sometimes you can find the image on FamilySearch.
A similar situation sometimes happens with an Ancestry.com search. I recently found a result on Ancestry for an 1885 Iowa census record.
In my search for John Goodall, I got this screen on Ancestry. Note the “No Image – Text-only Collection” notation on the top left. But near to the bottom are two important notations – “Family History Film: 1021457” and a few lines above that “Page Number: 363.” Let’s see what I can find on FamilySearch!
On familysearch.org/catalog/search, I typed the film number in the box labeled “Film/Fiche Number” and clicked “Search.”
I got one result.
When I clicked on “State census, 1885” I got a couple of options.
Where it says “Records of Iowa State Census, 1885 are available online, click here” I clicked and entered John Goodall and Crawford in the name and residence boxes. My first hit looked like the one I was looking for:
When I clicked on the document icon, I get a transcription of the record, a source citation, and a link to the census image.
Here's the image
In this case, FamilySearch had the “Records of Iowa State Census, 1885 are available online, click here” button, which took me to a search page. If they hadn’t had that direct link, I could have scrolled further down the “State Census, 1885” page until I got to film number 1021457.
Again, with the magnifying glass image, I was able to search the film, but even without the search capability, the presence of the camera icon is a clue that I can browse the records. I’ll be linked to the correct film and will just need to poke around until I find page 363.
Note that sometimes when you click on the camera icon, you’ll get a message that the records are only available for viewing at a Family History center. It all depends on the agreement that FamilySearch has with the agency who owns the records. I like to save these searches up, and monthly or so make a trip to my local Family History Center and look at all the images I can’t get from home.
But remember, when you’re searching on Ancestry and they won’t show you the record image, if you see a reference to a “Family History Film” follow my steps and see if you can find the image on FamilySearch. For free, even! Score!!!
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.
Don’t you just hate it when you search for an ancestor on FamilySearch and you get a hit for what you know is the correct record, and then you see the dreaded “No image available”? Well last week in the Family History Library, the absolute nicest woman, Sister Hays, taught me a nifty little trick that just might get you around the “No image available” roadblock. Here’s how you do it…
In my example I searched for a marriage record for Edward Barrett. I knew from his death certificate his wife’s name was Catherine. He was born about 1855 so I guessed he was married between 1875 and 1890. I plugged that into FamilySearch and the second result looked promising.
I clicked on the document icon and I could see a little more.
Note, the dreaded “No image available.” Well, Sister Hays, sitting right next to me said “I maybe know a way around that. It doesn’t always work, but let’s try it.” And so we did.
Step 1 is to copy the film number, as I’ve highlighted in yellow. Next, go to the FamilySearch catalog search and in the box for Film/Fiche number, paste the film number, like so….
Click on Search, and you’ll get… Search Results. Fancy that!
“Marriage records, 1801-1951” is a hyperlink to the next screen. You’ll have to scroll down to see the film notes, but lookey here, there’s a camera icon. That means pictures!
I got an array of thumbnails of microfilm images. For this particular film there are two batches of marriage records, the first from 1875-1884, and the second batch from 1885 to 1890. Edward and Kate were married in 1887 so I worked my way down to the second set. The first few pages in each set of records are an index, which appears to be alphabetical by the first letter of the groom’s name, and then in somewhat chronological order by the date the marriage was recorded.
Edward’s index entry was found on image 396 of 768.
This told me their marriage record would be on page 420. (Note this is not image 420. It’s the register page labeled 420, which happens to be on image 646.) And look at the fruits of my labor!
It's the sideways one in the upper left corner. And here in all it's glory...
This little trick doesn’t work with every “No image available” record. But thanks to Sister Hays I now know a workaround to try.
I’m certainly thankful for the week and a half of research I’ve been able to do at this wonderful library with its incredibly helpful staff. If you haven’t been here, definitely put it on your research bucket list.
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.