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.
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 – we call them browse-only collections.
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.
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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:
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.
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 browse-only discoveries in the comments!
Image: “President Roosevelt and party after nine hours ride through rain and mud, Rocky Mts., Col.” 1905, Library of Congress