While we know FamilySearch is one of the best free genealogy resources available, most people aren’t making the most of what they have to offer. If you’re going to FamilySearch.org and searching from there, let me show you what you’re missing out on and how to dig deeper!
Start with the Catalog Search
Many of FamilySearch’s records are not accessible from the front page search, so how do you access them? Go straight to the Catalog and input a location. For example, I’m interested in probate records for Woodstock, Windsor County, Vermont. As you type in the village, town, or city of interest, you will get a menu of possibilities:
Select the country, region, state or province, and city, town, or village that’s applicable to your search, and click the blue Search button. You will get a list of available records. Some will be microfilm-only and some will be online databases. Click the small gray arrow to the left of each category to see what’s available:
Click the record set to dig deeper. At the top, you’ll see the title of the film and what’s (probably) on it, the film number, and other pertinent information. Make note of this either on your research log/spreadsheet or wherever you track your research. This ensures that you A. don’t duplicate your work by returning to the film or database again and again and again and B. that you have a full source citation if you do find something in the collection.
The picture of the camera tells you this database is accessible online, so it’s time to get searching!
When you click the camera for the record set you want to browse, it will bring you directly to the images. Each set is organized differently, so you might have to get a feel for the best way to navigate through it. In this instance, the set is alphabetized and I want to jump straight to a specific name, so I’ll probably experiment with inputting an image number to move around more quickly, rather than clicking through image by image.
I want both this record and the one immediately preceding it, so I choose the download option to save the image:
Now that I have the probate docket on the 2 individuals I was seeking, I want the actual probate file. It’s time to go back to the Catalog search page. However, instead of searching for Woodstock, I’m going to look for holdings for Windsor County. Why? Because probate courts in New England are on the county level. As you can see, I have 3 different options here:
Unfortunately, the record set I need to view has a little key above the camera, which means I can’t access at home. However, I may access it by visiting a Family History Library (FHL) or FHL Affiliate Library. The two FHLs closest to me have odd hours, so I can either try to work around their schedules or another option is to visit the Omaha Public Library, which happens to be an affiliate, and view these databases:
I haven’t struck out entirely, though, because I’ve been able to access a treasure trove of Italian records from home in the meanwhile, records that aren’t available from the FamilySearch.org main search page!
What have you been looking for that you haven’t found from the main search page? Try the catalog page and you might be pleasantly surprised!