FamilySearch Site to Jumpstart Your Own Family History
Bringing an online class together is a huge task, but when it involves not only my passion for family history exploration but also my love for digital scrapbooking and photo restoration, then, hey… I’m all in. The fear of taking on such a large undertaking felt small compared to the fact that I knew that I had all the tools to actually pull it together. This was one of those times when I feel like I have been practicing for forever to bring something just like this to life and I just can’t thank Tiffany Tillman enough for gently nudging me along to bring “Heritage with Michele” to the Champions area of Scrapaneers.
But enough about the class already… In the class, I purposely left out so many ways to creatively look into your family history because, really… I would have been talking for days in the class and not just for a few hours! But there is one website that that left out and I definitely want to tell you a little about it… FamilySearch.org.
This site has a special place in my heart because it was at one of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Family History Centers here in Indiana, that is about 20 miles away from me, where I first sat down at a computer and pulled up information on my own family. I remember it vividly because it was all I could do to sit still and not squeal out loud with excitement. And yes, I was hooked right then.
A little background
The Church of Latter Day Saints has been amassing microfilm copies of all sorts of documentation from the City/Town levels all the way up to National records and they have been doing it for years. In fact, they have a mountain vault out in Salt Lake City, Utah that houses all their microfilm at a steady temperature. I am amazed when I see pictures of it and think about the wealth of information that has been saved to microfilm over the years.
A few tips
The thing with microfilm, though, is that it can get brittle and break from heavy use so they have been steadily digitizing all their microfilm records and uploading it to their website at FamilySearch.org. You don’t have to be a Church member to get access to their site but they do like you to sign up for a username and password. And if you should decide to start your family tree on their website, it will allow you to keep that tree information private, at least for the generations that are still living.
Locations, locations, locations
While most of the digitized records are available free of charge on their website, there are some records that they require that you retrieve onsite at one of their many FamilyHistory Centers across the United States and even the entire world. Once again, you do not need to be a member at their Church in order to use their centers (across the world) and most are fitted with microfilm readers as well as many computers with access to their own databases as well as subscriptions to many online services like Ancestry.com as well. You can find a map of Centers at https://www.familysearch.org/locations/.
They would love you to add your family tree into their system because it becomes a part of their attempt to pull the whole world into one large family tree. And you probably think I’m kidding at this point, but I’m pretty sure that I have heard them right at the many conferences I have attended. I think of their family tree to be a bit similar to Wikipedia. We each have our own trees ( or articles on Wikipedia) that can be edited by others but together, it makes one of the largest encyclopedias available anywhere. FamilySearch takes their family tree project very seriously and have made a lot of changes over the years to make sure that they offer something that is easy to use and can be taken seriously.
The family tree is one thing, but their digitized collections is on a whole different level. While they have been steadily digitizing their microfilmed records, not all of them are indexed so they have recruited thousands of volunteers to transcribe and index hand written records. Why is this so important? Well… if you have every tried to look page by page through microfilm, you quickly realize that you can miss something just because there is just so much to take in on each page.
But, even if all the documents are not transcribed and indexed, let’s get serious at how wonderful it is to be paging through microfilm scans in your home, on your own time schedule and without having to wait for a microfilm to arrive. You also don’t have to worry about how to load them and work the microfilm readers! Take it from me, life just got a hundred-fold easier with their digitizing project and they are gracious enough to share their records with us all at no cost.
Here is a link to their Historical Record Collection that literally spans the world: https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/list.
What kinds of things might you find?
For Indiana, where I live, FamilySearch.org has a marriage collection that just about takes my breath away every time I use it. I actually located my own grandparents’ marriage application after quite a few attempts to locate it on my own. It wasn’t showing up anywhere until I did a search on their names in this database when it popped right up, all innocent like it had been just waiting for me to find it! And find it I did and now I have my own copy of it without having to bother the County Recorder’s office.
Of course, it only gets a “wow” factor if it contains your own ancestors, but there are times when I see documents dating back to 1699 like the one below that really just give me goose-bumps. These are pictures of the actual book containing records that people wrote down over three hundred years ago. That gets a “wow” in my book. You can peruse through the images by using the “Browse the images” link or in most cases simply enter a name to search. I would always recommend entering a name first and then begin to browse just in case a name got incorrectly transcribed.
There are two other sections that I really love as well. The first one is the Books section and once again, it has reached such great proportions due to several institutions working very hard to digitize books from all over the world. You can get to this area by clicking on the SEARCH tab at the top of their website and then choosing Books in the pop-up menu.
I did a quick search on my own family’s surname, Julian, and found a book written on a well-known George W. Julian from Indiana. I won’t go into his history, and he is a distant cousin to my own family, but I want to show some of the treasures that can be found in these great old (and not so old) books.
*** A tip: Try to do a search on your ancestor’s name enclosed in parenthesis and see if you locate anything in particular. It helps to narrow down your search a bit.
*** Another tip: When you are copying pages from a book for your records, make sure to make a copy of the title page of the book as well so that it shows the title, the publisher and the year published. These are really important so that you can find the particular page you located at a later date if you need to!
It’s all about those photos
My last, but not least, favorite part of the FamilySearch website is the Photo gallery that is searchable. You can reach it by clicking on the Memories Tab at the top of the website page and then clicking “Find” on the pop-up menu. I would try to enter just the name you are searching for as a beginning step and then add those parenthesis to narrow down the results a bit.
You might not find a thing but it is worth trying it. I had a client pull up a scan of a handwritten record that her ancestor had written in a journal that literally documented her entire family and their movement from the East Coast westward towards Indiana back in the early 1830’s. She was thrilled because this one document gave a first person record of her family during a time when they were on the move and not many records were being kept — during the pioneer time period in the midwestern section of the United States.
This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg for this website and all that you can do within this one site, but I think it is a great starting place! Good hunting and I would love to hear what new things you run across…
If I have caught your attention and you are interested in an online class to get you started in the exploration of your own Family Life Story, you might want to take a look at my class, “Heritage with Michele.”