Both. No question. Both. Why? Because sometimes one way into the records will have a hint or a clue, or maybe even an index that’s not available when approaching the records from another direction.
Take for example the Saskatchewan Provincial Records. If you go into FamilySearch through the Search page, click on the map for Canada and select “Saskatchewan” you can scroll to the bottom of the page to see the “Unindexed Records.” These are browseable records. There are thousands of images of records, maybe even the homestead record of your ancestor, but unless you have the date the homestead claim was recorded, or better yet the claim number, good luck. You will find yourself searching through file after file looking for a needle in an entire province of haystacks if you start your search using the map.
But if you click on FamilySearch.org/Catalog/Search, type “Saskatchewan, Canada” into the search box, and scroll down to “Land and property,” you’ll find “Saskatchewan homestead records, 1870-1930, and index.” An index! Yes, it’s an external index that will take you out to http://www.saskhomesteads.com/search.asp. But that index will lead you to the file number for your ancestor’s homestead record. The Saskhomesteads website provides a link where you can purchase a copy of the file, but once you know the file number, just go back into the “Land and property” in the Saskatchewan page in the FamilySearch catalog and browse through the records for that file number.
Here's a partial list of results from my search. The numbers to the left of the names refer to the homestead file numbers. I can go back to that list of Saskatchewan Provincial Records we saw earlier and see if FamilySearch has the file I'm looking for. If not, I can order it from the Saskatchewan Homestead Records site.
The map search is quick and easy to get into, just “point and shoot,” but sometimes it doesn’t have all the tools. Be willing to explore the catalog and its PlaceName search to see if that might offer a more helpful way into the millions of unindexed records on FamilySearch.
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.