Millions of Free Records on FamilySearch Can Not Be Found via Search: Here’s How to Access Them

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Millions of Free Records on FamilySearch Can Not Be Found via Search: Here’s How to Access Them

It’s an often overlooked fact that a vast amount of FamilySearch’s collections can not be found via the search on their site. Millions of free family history records are waiting to be discovered but have not yet been indexed and are, therefore, somewhat hard to find.

These records are invaluable tools for genealogists and cover a wide range of locales and time periods so we thought we’d offer a quick rundown on how to access them.

But first a note about searching collections individually.

One of the most commonly overlooked tactics for successfully locating ancestors in online databases is to search collections individually. It’s natural to want to check a site’s entire database with one quick search–and many places do make this incredibly easy and quite accurate–but the truth is, no search function is perfect. Especially when looking for an ancestor with a common name, searching all resources at one time may mean some results are never returned or that certain results get overlooked. It happens all of the time.

So, whether you’re searching through records on FamilySearch or another large site, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the additional details you can uncover by searching collections individually. It might take some digging to find the section you need to complete the needed search, but it will likely be well worth your time.

Luckily, FamilySearch makes the process pretty painless. You can access all of their nearly 2000 collections right here. In this section you can scroll through databases or narrow your results easily by location or date.

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The best part of this section, however, is the access to hundreds and hundreds of collections that have not yet been indexed. The images are online and free to view but no search function is in place.

This means that if you had gone to FamilySearch and looked for an ancestor who died in Alabama in 1890 you would have very possibly found a record from the Alabama Deaths and Burials collection 1881 to 1952 (105,000+ indexed records), but you would not have seen a listing from the 300.000+ non indexed probate records from the Alabama Probate Records, 1809-1905.

Here’s one:

alabama_probate_record

Or perhaps you’re looking for immigration information for your ancestor James Marshall. FamilySearch has his naturalization record, but it has not yet been indexed (something done by a dedicated team of volunteers). Instead it can only be found by flipping through the 2+ million records in the New York, Southern District, U.S District Court Naturalization Records, 1824-1946 collection.

Here it is:

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MyHeritage is offering 2 free weeks of access to their extensive collection of 7.7 billion historical records, as well as their matching technology that instantly connects you with new information about your ancestors. Sign up using the link below to find out what you can uncover about your family.

naturalization_record_family_search_James_Marshall

Sound too daunting–browsing through all those records? It is. It’s incredibly more difficult to dig through these images one-by-one to locate the file you need than it is to type a name in a search box–but in many ways it is also incredibly more satisfying and fascinating to locate records this way. There is so much history to discover!

And FamilySearch does provide some help. You’re certainly not expected to actually browse through 2 million records one-by-one. Images in a collection are often organized by type, date and location…often down to the county or town level. So if you come armed with at least some information you might just find what you’re looking for.

Give it a try for yourself, but first take a look at the quick key we’ve made of FamilySearch’s collections page. It’ll help you better understand what each one has to offer.

Family_Search_Images

Pink Arrow: Number of records in the collection–collections with a number have been indexed and are searchable by clicking on the title or via the main site search.

Green Arrow: “Browse Images” means that the collection has not been indexed. Click on this link or the title to look at the digitized records. Choose from the subsections provided to further narrow your results.

Red Arrow: Collections with this camera symbol mean that the original images are available on FamilySearch. This symbol shows for all non indexed collections and many indexed collections. FamilySearch asks that you log in to view some records, but registration is free.

Blue Arrow: The symbol means that the original images are available, but are only present on an external website that FamilySearch provides a link to. Some of these images may require a fee to view.

Happy Searching and please share your discoveries in the comments!

Image: “President Roosevelt and party after nine hours ride through rain and mud, Rocky Mts., Col.” 1905, Library of Congress

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43 Comments
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  • Diana Tull
    June 13, 2017 at 6:52 am

    I can access FamilySearch through Family Tree Maker, but I see only the record, not the source. How do I find the source? That’s very important to me.

  • Marguerite Startare
    March 19, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    I got so much information from this post. Thank you.

  • Terry
    December 3, 2015 at 6:24 am

    I read and re-read the article Millions of Free Records on FamilySearch Can Not Be Found via Search: Here’s How to Access Them but I cannot find a list of these records anywhere..please help?

    • Gary
      December 3, 2015 at 7:49 am

      Terry, there is a link in the article…. ‘You can access all of their nearly 2000 collections right here’ but if that isn’t working for you try one of these two methods. Go to the ‘Search’ tab on the home page of Fam Search and in that drop down menu click on ‘Records’. There you will see all the boxes to put in data to search with. That search only looks at indexed records…which are many, but you want the rest of the un-indexed records so scroll on down the page and find one of these two ways to get to the entire list of records. Either click the ‘Browse All Published Collections’ link located right below the ‘Search’ button which will take you to the overall list of all records which you can then filter using the side bar on the left….or, if you know the location you are interested in scroll down to the large map lower on the page and click on the country of interest. That takes you to a menu of states to select from and picking your state of interest will take you to a list of all records for that state, both indexed and un-indexed. Let me know if you need help getting further into the records from there. Good luck
      Gary

      • Sharlene Meyer
        December 3, 2015 at 9:40 am

        Thank you so much for the explanation. Since the original notice came out I have spent hours/days trying to browse around and do some research back in the 1700s in Germany/Alsace Lorraine. I realize 1700 records are sparse, but “maybe” I can find where my ancestor Konradt Weit (various spellings) lived before coming to the New World. All I know is he stated he came from the Palatine Region before 1743.

        Again, my thanks to you for your help.

        Merry Christmas!!

        • Susan Sullivan
          May 17, 2016 at 9:35 am

          Also, there is access to records in local family history centers that you cannot access online. Check with your local LDS church to see where your closest center is and speak to one of the consultants there.

      • K
        June 27, 2017 at 9:23 am

        Have used FS for years and never knew this! thank you!

  • Roslyn Richardson
    November 22, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    as a family historian researcher always use this site but generally have no luck looking for records from Kythera, Greece also when I bring up Australian records and/or collections get a message saying this is unavailable try again in a few minutes and also have trouble with Maori records from New Zealand but beside that thank you for the wonderful site it has helped out quite a few times in my research

  • LOUISE PLASKEY
    August 25, 2015 at 9:52 am

    I would just love it if Germany was worked on, my grandmother would be 129 years old and I can only find when she left Germany.

    • Richard Gehringer
      December 16, 2015 at 4:40 am

      Many of the German Church Books from about 1810 – 1870 in Baden-Wurttemberg have been digitized by Germany and are on line. Germany is adding more of them from other German States. I have been able to find births, deaths and marriages of many of my ancestors from Dossenheim, Baden in the Dossenheim Church Books. Remember that they are in German and the handwriting is hard to read (this I have found out and my German cousin also says that he has a hard time reading them) but names and dates can be discerned a lot easier. The site for the Baden-Württemberg Church Books is https://www2.landesarchiv-bw.de/ofs21/olf/struktur.php?bestand=12390&klassi=012.00059.%&anzeigeKlassi=017). Remember that not only are the church books in German but the site is in German.

  • April 13, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    If anyone has suggestions for FamilySearch there is a great way to affect a change. 1. Go to the bottom of any page in FamilySearch, click on FEEDBACK and go top suggestions, then in the top right corner of the next page type in a search phrase to see if anyone else has added the topic, if nothing comes up , make your title SHORT and CONCISE, and make your idea the same. Be organized in your thoughts and words. Then add it into the database, making sure you VOTE on your own idea by LIKING it. Then write down your TITLE. 2. Step two, go tell your friends to go to the FamilySearch website and go to FEEDBACK, have them SEARCH for your title of your suggestion. Then have them VOTE on it…the idea with the most LIKES or votes will gain the attention of the engineers the fastest. Those ideas are looked at right away and if the idea is a good one, they may incorporate it into the FS program. I have done this with two ideas…IT WORKS!

  • April 11, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    This is very helpful. Thank you. I just want to tell you that I’ve included this post in my NoteWorthy Reads post for this week: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/04/noteworthy-reads-9.html

  • Linda
    April 11, 2015 at 2:28 am

    This is very helpful. I will give it a try.

  • Caz
    April 8, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    So does that mean that once upon a time we would have been able to search the whole of a certain collection including seeing the original but now the ones they have been transcribed, they have taken the images off?

    • Cathleen
      April 12, 2015 at 5:51 am

      No, what it actually means is that there are (for example the Alabama records referenced) two different collection which may overlap in time period but which were filmed independently of each other. One has been indexed and the other has not. In the case of a record group not having a camera, it could be a number of reasons (not all of which I’m aware but which could exist) here are three: 1) There was only an index and it did not include individual record images when it was microfilmed; 2) the contracts surrounding that record prohibit the image of the actual record from being posted online; 3) the archive at which the record was originally filmed has since withdrawn its permission to use the image online.

  • April 7, 2015 at 1:37 am

    Sometimes we get so focused and the obvious is not always so obvious!! Thank you so much for the tips.
    Best wishes

  • April 5, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    Thanks for a most helpful post. When at Rootetech recently I visited the library in Utah before the conference and did a session. One thing I learnt was to always look at the size of the index and is it representative of the number of records that should be in that collection. If not to check if records are yet to be indexed or missing. So you check the images if required.

  • Gary
    April 5, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Most ‘experienced’ researchers using FS probably know this but the newer ones might benefit from knowing that many of the books you can browse have an index inside the front or back cover. After locating the document book you need you may not have to ‘flip’ through many pages to find your answer. Of course all books don’t have the index but most do. After all the original users of the documents wanted to make it easy for themselves so you have to approach the search just as you would if you were at the courthouse.

    Also, don’t overlook the ‘Books’ tab. I have found hundreds of valuable items browsing through that particular area of the site. Just type your subject in the search box and see what you get. I just typed Piatt Co., IL in the box and got 1980 HITS. Not all will be profitable but very many will be. Give it a try.

  • April 5, 2015 at 10:47 am

    FS needs to have these collections transcribed asap.

    I am an indexer and the last year I have not seen anything offered to me that I want to index.

    I would like to see the opportunity to index all of the Texas Death Certs.

    Also I would like to see FS clean up some of the results. There are so many hits that are all the same.

  • Sharlene
    April 5, 2015 at 10:25 am

    I am very confused. I can’t seem to get to any website that doesn’t want me to buy a subscription. If there is a way to get into Family Search records that have not been made available online, I can’t find it. Would someone please provide very simple instructions to complete this task?

    Thank you very much,

  • Jennifer
    April 5, 2015 at 7:35 am

    Where are the pink arrows? I only see red, blue, and green ones

  • Laurad
    April 4, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    I have no problem browsing collections of record IMAGES, but FS still has a real problems of 1) a terrible search function for indexed collections and 2) only indexes available no matter how you search or browse. If it’s not an IMAGE it’s not a RECORD. Period, end of case.

    • Nora
      April 5, 2015 at 11:17 am

      Laurad–FamilySearch has a lot of image of original documents just not in every index.

    • PR Paschke
      April 11, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      When the image has not been digitized, the index is a wonderful tool to help you identify records to seek out. You are correct that the index is not genealogical proof. For records not available on the internet, having even just an index is a wonderful thing. Before FamilySearch made their records available on the internet FOR FREE, we had the IGI on microfiche — but you still had to either contact the courthouse (or state archives), visit the courthouse, or (if you were lucky) rent the film from the Family History Library. What is available on the internet is but a fraction of the records out there. If FamilySearch provides and index, I feel blessed for that shortcut to locating relevant records for my searches. I am disappointed that the digitized image is not available, but it only makes me appreciate more what IS available.

      As for you complaint about the search feature. Perhaps as you use it more, you will find tricks that make it work for you. I am not saying it is perfect (it is not), but persistence will help you find what is available.

      I think FamilySearch has done a great job releasing the records (for free) to the public! If it weren’t for the Mormons filming all of these records and creating indexes, we’d all be up a creek! The savings in gas and hotel bills and time is incalculable. Thank you FamilySearch for all you have done for genealogists and family historians!!!!

      • Susan Sullivan
        May 17, 2016 at 9:42 am

        PR is correct. There are so many records not yet even digitized much less indexed. There is an entire staff working daily to digitize the records stored in the mountain and there’s a church-wide call out to get everyone indexing so that the information is searchable. FS has some issues, it’s true, but the vast majority of that work is being done by every day people on a volunteer basis and it’s all offered for free. It’s a multiple step process. Have you considered doing some indexing to help the work along? Any Family History center in your local area would be happy to have you and train you to index.

  • Nancy J
    April 4, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Thank you so much. A group of members of the SRQ Genealogy Society were discussing this exact issue over lunch today. Great help!!

  • K.J. McIntyre
    April 4, 2015 at 10:22 am

    I stumbled into this data mining concept by accident. But now that I have done initial searches, I am spending the time to go back in on key figures to flesh out their stories.

  • Cameron
    April 4, 2015 at 8:19 am

    I’ve had some amazing successes with Italian Vital Statistics records, as yet largely unindexed. One thing worth mentioning is that finding an original record often reveals much more than appears in the index. Italian records are a good example of that. Commonly, they stipulate parents of the person recorded; whether the parents are alive or deceased at the time the record was made; home (birth) villages and villages of current registration; ages, occupations, witnesses, sometimes street addresses. Quite extraordinary really. It takes a while to find the images, to learn to read them, and to understand all they are saying. But, the payoff is huge.
    Thanks for the article and the encouragement. I’m going to reprint it in our local genealogy newsletter. We are encouraging our members to browse more and get involved with indexing.

  • Marianne S
    April 4, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Be careful. Just because there’s a camera indicating an image doesn’t necessarily mean you can view the image. I research extensively in Slovakia, and many indexed records have cameras with them. But when you click through to the record, the page says “no images available”. A diligent search through several screens reveals that if ANY part of the microfilm contains records that fall within the “privacy protection” range (75, 100, or even more than 100 years), NO images from that film are available, even ones dating back to the 1700s. In other cases, after filming, the original archive withdrew permission for FamSrch to display images with the record.

    • April 5, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      Thank you for this helpful tip, Marianne!

    • Susan Sullivan
      May 17, 2016 at 9:44 am

      It’s true. I was told during my training that many times the permission is withdrawn because the original archives are making major bucks charging for copies so they won’t let FS do anything but index them.

  • Cal
    April 4, 2015 at 1:09 am

    very useful,I was looking for any information on my grand father from sicily who was born 1893 in the city of cessaro in the province of messina but haven’t found any ! Can anyone help me in finding records of him?

  • April 3, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    I use this function all the time and have sound many, many useful documents. Thank you Family Search!

  • Jacquie
    April 3, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Thanks so much for writing this article. I was aware but I know that so many others were not! I actually just recently wrote step by step for members of the genealogy groups I am in.

    Thanks

  • Rick in Indy
    April 3, 2015 at 8:47 am

    This is very helpful – I had no idea. I look forward now to exploring for more records about my family.

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