Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

10 Useful Tips for Searching in the FamilySearch Catalog

The FamilySearch Catalog is an expansion of what used to be called the Family History Library Catalog. The updated catalog contains entries from an expanded base of Family History Centers and FamilySearch Libraries from around the world. It is found on the website. In addition to helping locate genealogical resources in the FamilySearch system, it also functions as an instructional finding aid. You can use the categories in the catalog to suggest other types of records that may be of assistance in finding your ancestors.

Here are the 10 Tips:

1. Start out with only a few search terms and then add terms.
It is tempting to try and put something into each field offered for searching the Catalog. However, the best policy is to start with about 3 or 4 fields. No more. If the results you obtain are not specific enough, try adding another search term, one at a time, until you start seeing some results.

2. Try using the "exact search" option.
There are reasons to try a more general search, but occasionally an exact search will find what you want. Most database search engines, such as the one used by FamilySearch, are programmed to provide the "next level" in a search. For example, if I specify a city and there are no names matching for that city, the program will default to the state or some other location. This is the reason that some of the searches seem to produce random results. I many cases, not all, checking the "exact search" option will give more specific results.

3. Try using the "Keyword" search if you do not get results with a specific place etc.
I have found that searching for a specific place may not produce any positive results while searching for the same place (or word) will find the same word. This doesn't always work, but it is worth a try.

4. When searching for a name or place, try all of the variations.
You may think you know the way your ancestors spelled their name, but you might not know that the name changed before you inherited it. In addition, remember, you are searching with indexed records. The person who indexed the record may have misread the source or simply misspelled the index entry. Trying a number of different variations is advisable. For example, one of the places where my ancestors lived is officially spelled two different ways; St. Johns and Saint Johns.

5. Close out a search before switching to a different type.
This is a suggestion from the FamilySearch Research Wiki article entitled, "Introduction to the FamilySearch Catalog." Here is the quote:
When you want to change to a new kind of search it helps to close the old search first. Close the old search by clicking the "X" in the upper right corner of the area around the search box. Then click on the new search type to open that kind of search.
6. You can do more than one type of search at a time.
This is a simple process, just select more than one type of search and add content to both entries. This way you can use a keyword with a place or name.

7. The Library is a moving target, try again later.
New material is added to the Catalog as new material is acquired by FamilySearch and the libraries. In addition, much of the material in other libraries is still being added to the Catalog.

8. Use the wildcard options.
The FamilySearch Catalog has two "wildcard" options; the * and the ?. Searching with a wildcard has been explained in a FamilySearch Blog post appropriately entitled, "Searching with Wildcards in FamilySearch." Here is a quote from that blog post:
Wildcards enable you to replace characters using wildcard characters. The wildcard characters are an asterisk (*) for multiple characters or a question mark (?) for a single character. Wildcards are useful when you can spell a surname or given name in multiple ways, for example, Thurgood or Thoroughgood. You can use up to four asterisks at a time for any surname or given name. You may also use multiple single character wildcards in a given name or surname. Note: To use a wildcard symbol in your search, in most cases, you must use at least 3 letters of the surname or given name.
9. Do your homework before you search.
You need to have some confidence in the search terms you decide to use. The rule is always to search from the known to the unknown. Guessing does not always help. You may need to drop back a generation or two and find out more information about your more recent ancestors before launching off into the unknown.

10. Always look for more results on Google.
If you find a useful type of record in the FamilySearch Catalog, then use the name of the source as a search term on Google search. This will usually give you additional sources for similar information.

Keep Searching!!

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