Friday 14 January 2011

FamilySearch - some useful tips

Back at the day job, one of the things I have to do is collate the feedback forms after the public talks that we have every Thursday. Yesterday's was the first one after the Christmas and New Year break, and we got off to a great start with 'What's happened to the FamilySearch website?' from Sharon Hintze, Director of Family History Centres (or Centers!) worldwide. In England we know her as director of the London centre, the only large FHC outside North America. She is always a popular speaker when she visits us  at The National Archives, and yesterday was no exception, with a full house and lots of positive comments on the feedback forms.

I was there to introduce the session, and I took a few notes too. Although I am already quite familiar with some of the features of the new site, I still learnt a lot. I'll try to pass on some of Sharon's tips, with the health warning that the site is still being developed so details may change from one day to the next. Although Sharon was in Britain, talking to a British audience, about British records, most of what she had to say also applies to the rest of the world.

The IGI as we know it has gone; it used to be a mixture of entries extracted from registers and 'patron submissions' but now the register material is part of Historical Records on the new site, while the patron submitted entries will be part of the new Family Trees section, along with the former Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File. So far only the Ancestral File material has been loaded.

She showed us the new version of the Library Catalog, and I tried a few searches of my own afterwards to try it out. As you type a place name, it makes suggestions, which is a nice feature, but there are some areas where the old version still works better. For example, Brighton in Sussex used to be called Brighthelmstone, and if you search for Brighthelmstone in the old version the result is a hyperlink '(See) England, Sussex, Brighton; if you search for Brighthelmstone on the new site, it returns 'no records found'. There seem to be similar problems with other places that have alternative names, or alternative spellings. I am sure this will be sorted out in due course, but for the time being it is a good idea to check both sites.

When you get some results from the Catalog, one of the fields is 'Availability'. This will usually say 'Family History Centers', which means that the item is on microfilm and can be ordered through your nearest Family History Center for viewing there. Even a large one like the London Family History Centre only has a tiny fraction of the films in the catalogue in its permanent onsite collection. If the availability is 'Family History Library' this is likely to be a book, or some other item that cannot be copied, so you can only view it onsite in Salt Lake City.

Sharon gave us an overview and some explanation of the new site as a whole, with only limited time available to cover the business of searching the Historical Records collection, especially the British Isles records. I will report on what she had to say in a later post, but we hope to get her back later in the year to give us an entire talk on that subject, which is definitely one to look forward to.


  1. Thanks Audrey,

    I knew IGI patron subs weren't on the Family Trees section yet, but hadn't realised Pedigree Resource Files weren't there yet, so worth knowing. I've had the same experience with the catalogue and placenames - no such place as Blackford in Perthshire according to the new site. My Blackford born great grandfather is no doubt spinning in his grave!


  2. Regarding the Library section, somehow, on the new site, I once found a way to find out which FHC currently had a borrowed copy of a specific microfilm. I can't seem to find that again. Do you know how to do that? Thanks