Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Go Beyond the Search Engine

When records are digitally indexed so they can be found with a search engine, it makes research a lot easier. But not all digital documents are transcribed. If you've only ever typed your ancestor's details into a search engine to find records, you may be missing out. Both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have certain collections which can only be manually browsed, much like a microfilm.

Ancestry.com's Card Catalog allows you to browse all the collections on their database, both indexed and not and you can narrow collections down by location, date range, language and record type. Unfortunately, they aren't great about indicating which collections have been transcribed and which haven't so I find it best to merely browse the collection titles by location and see what looks promising whether transcribed or not. For example, I found some records for my Italian ancestors by manually browsing the images in the Siracusa, Sicily, Italy, Civil Registration Records, 1900-1929 collection.

Though not transcribed, you can find
PA Wills in this Probate Records collection.
FamilySearch.org All Published Records Collection is like Ancestry.com's card catalog, allowing you to browse their entire digital database and narrow collections down by location, data range or collection type. But FamilySearch indicate when a collection hasn't been digitally indexed under the "Records" column - if it says "Browse Images", that means it hasn't been indexed. I recently found a bunch of Last Wills & Testaments by browsing the Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1994.

I know that manually flipping through hundreds of images may seen impossibly time consuming but often, you can narrow it down by date or name and sometimes, there are scanned indices. For example, the Pachino records in the Siracusa collection where I found my ancestors have a separate "Indice" book. Also, in the Pennsylvania Probate Records, sometimes there is a direct Will Index but in other counties, you need to first look in the Estate Index, which will point you to where you can find the right reference in the Proceedings Index, which will then finally tell you what volume and page in the Will Books you're looking for.

Also noteworthy is the fact that FamilySearch.org have thousands more records available on microfilm which haven't been digitally scanned yet. These can be found and ordered from the Catalog section and the microfilm will be delivered to your nearest Family History Center. Just pop in the location you're searching within and see what microfilm collections they have available.


  1. I got the case numbers for Philadelphia from microfilm at my LDS but was hoping Philadelphia County would be listed here .Did I miss a step ??

    By the way, welcome back to more USA research on the ground!

    1. Thanks! Unfortunately, Philly isn't included in that collection, I'm not sure why. But in the info about this collection: https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Pennsylvania_Probate_Records_(FamilySearch_Historical_Records) - it says you can search Philly probate records here: http://www.epodunk.com/cgi-bin/record-search-court-land.php?locIndex=14656 - I haven't tried it myself though, let me know if it works!

    2. Just noticed that Philadelphia City Probate Records from years 1837-1865 are schedule to become available at FamilySearch.org: https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Pennsylvania,_Philadelphia_City_Probate_Records_(FamilySearch_Historical_Records) - doesn't say when though