Sunset at Gowanus Bay

Sunset at Gowanus Bay
Sunset at Gowanus Bay, Henry Gritten, 1851

Monday, December 15, 2014

How I Use Family Search to Find a Specific Record

Family Search, which can trace it's origins back to the creation of the Genealogical Society of Utah in 1894, is a website dedicated to preserving and sharing the worlds largest collection of genealogical and historical records. Over the course of just the past through years the Family Search online collection of records and indexes has grown to include tens of millions of records, images and index entries. This has been a terrific boon to genealogy researchers that is made even more valuable because access is free.

The large number of records, and the fact that many of them are not indexed or included in search results, can make using the website a bit daunting. I have heard from more than a few who have become discouraged when using the site. Although the method I use to navigate and locate a possible record of interest might seem to some to be a bit too much work, my high rate of success with it (i.e. finding what I was looking for) makes it worth while.

Generally, the way someone might approach using the Family Search website is to begin at the main page and then choose one of the categories they find under the Search button, say for example, "Records" which when selected opens up the Search Historical Records page. For an example, say I'm looking for John Brewer in Hancock County, Georgia. On that Search Historical Records page, I'd enter his name in the appropriate spaces and I'd add in the "Restrict records by location" section, "United States" and then "Georgia." Note that this does not let me narrow down to the county level. What I end up with is a display of a little less than 3000 entries. For those who are just starting a search for John Brewer in Hancock County, Georgia, this may be a fine place to start. You can play around with the various filters on the side bar and hopefully narrow down and find some entries for the specific John Brewer you are looking for. But, say you had a specific record in mind that you wished to locate. In my case, I wanted to locate the images for the 1802 will of John Brewer of Hancock County, Georgia. There is a direct way to locate this record. Here is how I went about doing it.

I start at the main page
Select "Search" then "Records" which takes me to Search Historical Records.
Scroll down to the map "Research by Location" and click on the area of the U.S. This brings up a pop-up window from which you select the state to research. Chose Georgia, which changes the window, then select "Start Searching in Georgia" which takes you to the main page for Georgia records and indexes.
If you scroll down you will see a list of database collections related to Georgia. Under the heading "Georgia Image Only Historical Records" there are a number of collections that have not been indexed and cannot be searched. But you can browse through them.
Scroll down and under the sub-heading "Probate & Court" click on Georgia Probate Records, 1742-1990 which opens up the Georgia Probate Records page.
Now click on "Browse Through 2,280,204 Images" which leads to a list of the counties in Georgia.

Chose the County you wish to browse in. Choosing Hancock opens up the page for Hancock County.
Scroll through the list of Record Types to find "Wills and Administration Records 1794-1807 vol A-4A", click on that and arrive at the first image of a digital version of the original microfilm made by, or submitted to, the Genealogical Society of Utah some years back. [Recall, I went into this search with a specific type of record (a will) and a known year (1802) in mind].
Now it was just a matter of scrolling through this page by page by page to you find the record you want. In this case I got lucky. I figured since the books start in the year 1794 and John's file was in 1798, I would be wasting a lot of time just flipping through pages one at a time getting through the years 1794 to 1798. So, instead, I took a guess and first went to image 200 of the 580 images in this one film (by entering the number 200 in the little image no. box and hitting enter). What I  saw was that the record at image 200 was dated 1798, telling me I was close to what I was looking for, and so I then started browsing page by page until I found John Brewer at image 223.

In many cases the bound will books, and similar court records and deed books have indexes either at the beginning or end of each bound volume. Some single films will contain multiple volumes so the indexes themselves will have to be searched for in much the same way I searched for John Brewer's will above. Some locations may even have indexes bound separately and found on a separate digitized film. In the case of Hancock County, Georgia, however, there were no indexes at all. In addition the images in the Georgia Probate Records collection have not been indexed by Family Search volunteers. Therefore, this record would have never been found using the broad search engine the website has created.

Family Search does have a Help page dedicated to questions regarding their Search feature. It is recommended as a source to help you locate the records you are looking for.


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