Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Moving on beyond big online genealogical data sources

One of my daughters asked me to get a clearer copy of a christening record of one of my direct line ancestors. She knew that the record was in the Bishop's transcripts of 1675-1877 from the Parish Church of Llanfyrnach on a microfilm in the Mesa FamilySearch Library. Hoping for a way to avoid searching an old microfilm record, I looked for the same record online from different sources. I found that likely the record was in the database but only in an index. When I got into the microfilm, it took me a while to figure out that there were two different parish transcripts on the microfilm and the one I was looking for was at the end of the film (of course). The parish transcript record we needed was actually Llangadock (or Llangadog), Carmarthenshire, Wales.

After a relatively short search, I found the record we needed and then started searching the microfilm for additional records of the family. I am still in that process. This small exercise forcefully reminded me that once again, it was time to move on beyond the big online genealogical databases and get on with research in original records as opposed to indexes.

The ease of finding a relative online (or not finding the same relative) is really a trap. If you fall into the trap, you will begin believing that you have actually researched your family lines when all you have really done is look in some obvious places. From time to time when I am teaching a class, I use the following as an example: I search for county records in or and see how many records there are available compared to the same entries in the Family History Library Catalog and then I do a search online for additional records, not online but also not in the Family History Library Catalog.

Here is one example. I use a random county in North Carolina, say Beaufort County. If I search for North Carolina in the FamilySearch Historical Record Collections, I currently find 17 collections of records. Beaufort County was created in 1712 and was one of the original counties in North Carolina. There are county records in the FamilySearch Historical Record Collections but only two of the digitized records are county records. One collection, North Carolina, County Records, 1833-1970 has 593,567 images and contains the following Beaufort County records:
There may be other Beaufort County records in the 17 Collections list also. Here is a list of the 17 collections with the number of records and the date added to FamilySearch's Historical Record Collections:
This seems like an impressive list of records and it is. But how does this compare to what is in the Family History Library Catalog of records still not digitized? To determine what is and what is not digitized, you would have to look at the catalog entry for each record. But here is a list of what is in the catalog:
Sorry about the long list, but I am making a point. It is abundantly clear that only a small number of these records have made it through the digitization process as yet. Of course, some of these records, such as the U.S. Census records are cataloged in other places in the Historical Record Collections, but there are still a huge number of records waiting to be digitized and put online. 

So how does fare in the same type of comparison? By going to the Card Catalog, you can see a filtered list of any category of records among all 31,394 collections. If you filter for a particular state, you will see a huge number of records, many of which are national or regional and not specifically pertinent to the state. A filter for North Carolina shows 8,565 collections but many of those are general records such as directories and general U.S. records. Guess what? Beaufort County is not listed as a filtering option.

Now we have to think. Why is the county not showing as a filtering option? A glance down the list of counties included in's filters show why. The number of records from any given county is very small. The largest number of records is from Guilford County with 15 collections but the rest are mostly with one or two, up to five. 

So how many records are there in the Family History Library Catalog for Beaufort County? Here is the list:
Once again, excuse the long list. I think the point is illustrated. There is still a long way to go before even a majority of the available records are online and the large online genealogical databases are not the answer to all of the research options. As a matter of fact a quick Google search for Beaufort County genealogical records shows about 54,000 entries. Quite a bit to keep you busy with your research both online and on microfilm or paper.


  1. "The ease of finding a relative online ... is really a trap"

    Here's a variant trap I fell into. I was looking for a baptism of my 4G grandmother, Martha Spode, born Sandbach, Cheshire, England, about 1792/93. Couldn't find her in the online FindMyPast index and databases - only some records for what I suspected were her brother and sister. Eventually, by trying all sorts of combinations, I realised that Sandbach's parish clerk(s) sometimes wrote "Spode" for the name and sometimes "Spord" or some such variant. When I looked online for Martha Spord, there she was, baptised 23 Feb 1794, almost bang on the estimate.

    If I'd been looking through the microfilm, one entry at a time, I'd have seen "Spord", thought, "I bet that's a variant", and found her record straight away. As it was, I didn't see any variants until I went looking for them.

    1. That is a really good point. It shows up the limitations of indexes and is probably the basis for another blog post. Thanks.