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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Comments on FamilySearch Record Collections of 2018
In a recent News Release, listed their "Top Record Collections of 2018." The list raises a number of issues that are also shared by all of the other large online genealogy database programs including by not limited to,, and

The News Release consisted of a brief introductory statement followed by a long list of countries and some specific categories of records that were apparently taken from the Catalog. Here is a screenshot of part of the announcement and the list.

Here is what the introduction had to say about the list:
SALT LAKE CITY, UT (8 January 2019), In 2018, FamilySearch added hundreds of millions of searchable free images and indexes of historical records from all around the world. The records came from locations such as Germany, Sweden, France, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Mexico, and the United States. We thought we'd summarize those countries with the largest volume of new records and images for you and provide convenient links to help you quickly discover a few new ancestors. FamilySearch now has over 8 billion free names and record images.
The way the statement is worded, it is unclear whether the numbers in the list are the number of new images added in 2018 or simply the total number of images from each of the categories of records. For this issue is even more complicated because there is a further issue of the number of total images vs. the number of those images that have been indexed and included in the Historical Record Collections section of the website. See the following video for a brief explanation of this part of the issue.

Where are the Digitized Records on

So how many of the records listed by are images in the catalog and how many have been indexed and are searchable in the Historical Record Collections? That is entirely unclear. But this is not, as I mentioned above, a unique issue with FamilySearch. The real issue involves the use of the following terms to describe the online collections of genealogical records:

  • images
  • records
  • names
  • collections
All of these terms are used to promote each of the websites and many others with the implication being that larger numbers are better. But unfortunately, none of these terms have a consistent and disclosed meaning. What is an image? That would seem to be obvious, but an image can be a record of a single individual or an entire family or a list of hundreds of names such as a passenger list or a probate sale. The other three terms are totally meaningless. Is a "record" the entry for one individual such as an entry for an individual on a U.S. Federal Census record, or is it the Census sheet with fifty or so names or is it the entire Census year with millions of names? The number has to be a rough estimate unless there are some people in each of the companies squirreled away counting every name on every image. How far off are the estimates? Are the estimates high or low?

I am not particularly picking on FamilySearch here. This is a common issue with every online database large or small that promotes their database by representing its size. The real question for every researcher is whether or not the collection or whatever has the record you are looking for. If it does. Great. If not, the size of the collection does not matter at all. 

As an example, I clicked on the first entry in the FamilySearch list shown above for Australia. The list indicates that there are 1,618,183 "Records and Images." Is each record an image or is each image a record? Anyway, here is where the link takes me:
You can click on the caption link and see this page for yourself. There are many millions of records listed on this page. Neither the number nor the link tells us how many of these are newly added if any and how many are just an arbitrary guess at the number of images available. In addition, some of the image collections list are obviously not indexed or searchable and some are not even available outside of the confines of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Although it is unlikely to ever happen, genealogists would benefit from a little less hype and a lot more transparency from all of the online database programs. Perhaps we should forget the idea that a large number necessarily translates into a benefit. Again, the collection is only beneficial if it happens to have your information.

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