Monday, March 21, 2016

Women's History Month 2016: Tip #20 Exhaust FamilySearch

Cupcake by Serge Bertasius Photograph/Courtesy
How do you use FamilySearch? That may seem like a dumb question but I'm serious, what parts of FamilySearch do you use?

Over and over again I hear from family historians that they don't use the FamilySearch Catalog or the Wiki or some other portion of the website. And I get it, I really do. Why use the Catalog (or other parts of FamilySearch) when you can go straight to digitized records or indexes? Let's face it, for most websites or software, we only use a portion of the available features.

It's sorta like when you were a kid and it was your birthday. You waited patiently (or not) til it was time to cut that cake. But minutes before there was that temptation, the overwhelming temptation to stick your finger into the frosting and be the first to taste some of that sweet goodness. For those of us who dared to follow through with our plan, the result was that your mom would get mad and give you that disappointed look or threaten to not let you have a slice. But let's face it, the frosting is the best part when you are a kid. Now, this defiant act made mom mad  for a few reasons but there's something she knew to be true. The frosting is great but it's better to have the cake with the frosting intact. Very few people want to eat dry cake.*

Sure there's the immediate gratification of entering a name and date in FamilySearch and getting some "hits." There's a lot you can do on FamilySearch but you need to partake of the cake and the frosting. The cake includes that Catalog with its  books, periodicals, microforms and digitized records. This is where the vital records, wills, probates, and everything else can be found.

My advice to everyone is to conduct an exhaustive search on the FamilySearch Catalog as soon as possible in your research process. Not sure how to search the Catalog? Let me provide some tips.

From the Catalog homepage, you will have the ability to search by Place, Surname, Title, Author, Subject, Keywords or Call Number. As you start your search, you are going to want to search by Place, Surname, Subject or Keyword unless you know the specific resource you are looking.

Before you search the Catalog, you should have determined the research question you want answered. So if I want to see what records the Family History Library has that may document Martha Proby who lived in Ipswich, Suffolk, England in the early 19th century I could structure a number of searches to find what I need.

I would first try a Surname search for Proby.  The Surname search would help me locate family history books. Next, I would conduct a Place search. Here I will type in the city that Martha Proby was from. On the  Place results page for Ipswich, I can look at the various categories of records available and then choose those that are of interest to me. This is where I can find microfilm for subject categories such as Court and Church Records, Occupations, and Vital Records. I would recommend searching on the city, county, and state (or country) that your ancestor lived in to get a complete view of what records might exist.

Once you have completed a Places search, I would recommend trying a Keyword search. Remember our Keyword List from Tip #5? Pull that list out or start it now. A Keyword search allows you to search on a word or phrase that might be found in a catalog entry. So for example I may choose the word “Quaker” or the phrase “Quaker women.” 

A great new feature of the Catalog is the ability to combine your search, using more than one type of search. So for example, we all have Smith ancestors, right? Well you can start your search by clicking on Surnames and enter “Smith” and then click on Places and search for “Utah.” You could also combine a Place with a Keyword search. So for example you could try “Alabama” and the keyword “Women.” Once you type in your combination of search terms, click on the Search button. As with all search engines, remember that the more search terms you add, the fewer results you will receive. This doesn’t mean that there is no information to be had, it just means that those terms may not be cataloged or that combined they may not result in a hit.

Another tip to be aware of, when you are looking at an entry in the FamilySearch Catalog,  notice towards the bottom of the entry there is the heading “Subjects.” Under that heading you may find one or more links. These links provide you the opportunity to search the Catalog for those subject that closely match your search. By doing this, you may find additional resources that were not available in your original search. These Subjects or Subject Headings, available in all library catalogs, allow you to focus and enhance your search.

There's so much more to using FamilySearch than typing in a  name and a date. Make sure to become familiar with the entire website and what it can offer you. Exhaust FamilySearch when researching your female ancestors.

(* Ok, I would still rather eat the frosting and I know lots of adults who don't like to eat it and save the calories. But let's just go with this analogy for the sake of the point I'm trying to make).

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