Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are beginning to become involved in family history are being exposed to large online data base programs for the first time. Because of the "free" partnership access FamilySearch has negotiated with other genealogical database providers, members are beginning to sign up for Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, findmypast.com and now, AmericanAncestors.org. Many times, the members sign up for these websites without the vaguest idea of their content. In fact, many researchers with more than a basic understanding of family history, are also only aware of the content and limitations of these other websites or even of the content of FamilySearch.org.
All of these websites, including FamilySearch.org, have finite, limited collections of records. Their holdings may be vast, but the particular information you are seeking may simply not be located in any of these huge online collections. So how do you determine what they have available?
The answer to this question is surprisingly simple. You look at the list of collections (also called databases, records and other designations) listed on the various websites. For example, does the particular program you are using even have any records from the place where your ancestors lived? In some cases, the answer can be no.
Where do you find these lists of collections? Let me assure you that each of the programs has such a list and further each of the programs has a way to search the list or to filter it to show pertinent collections. Here is a summary of the location of the lists on each of the programs. Remember, new collections are being added by these programs constantly. Checking back frequently is well advised.
FamilySearch.org has a highly organized and searchable list of its holdings including online digitized collections, microfilm, books and other resources. These are all contained in the FamilySearch Catalog accessed under the Search tab on the FamilySearch.org startup page. Those items that have been digitized and are available for free online are clearly marked in the Catalog entries. The Catalog contains items in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah as well as other major collections in Family History Centers around the world. There is also a list of all of the currently digitized files in the Records section of the website when you click on Browse All Published Collections.
Ancestry.com has a feature called the "Card Catalog." If you are using the Library version of the program there may be a link to the Card Catalog somewhere on the startup page. It may also be a link to view all collections. If you are using a personal version of the program, you can find the link to all the collections as the last item in the Search pull-down menu.
The Card Catalog page has a selection of filters along the left-hand side of the window. You can use these filters to focus in on a particular type of collection. If you filter the collections by their location, you can quickly see whether or not the program has any information on the area of your research.
The complete list of all of the collections on MyHeritage.com is located under the Research tab on the startup page or Home page. On the Research page you can search the collections or filter for specific collections or types of collections. There is also an interactive map at the bottom of the page. You can use the map to see if MyHeritage.com has any collections in the area of your research interest. When you click on a specific country, the program will show a list of the collections available for that area.
There is a tab link on the home page or startup page for findmypast.com to Search all records. On the Search page, there is a link in the upper right-hand corner that says "A-Z of record sets." This is a link to complete listing of the record sets or databases or collections on the findmypast.com website. You can filter the sets by area or search for specific titles. The title search appears to be a word search so do not rely on searching for a specific place, it is more productive to look for general locations.
The newest partnership website is AmericanAncestors.org. The complete listing of all of the collections is located under the Browse link on the Home or startup page of the website. If you Browse all of the databases you will get a complete list and be able to search the list of all those available.
In every case, remember that records can only be found if the websites have the records you are searching for. You will save yourself some time if you make yourself familiar with the holdings of each of the websites. I will be looking at some of these websites in more depth in a subsequent post.