February 5, 2015 by tomneel
If you have been watching Kenyatta Berry and Josh Taylor on the Genealogy Roadshow on PBS stations, you may wonder how they find all those original record images onscreen. Many family historians and probably one or two archivists are unaware that many county courthouse records are available from your home computer or mobile phone 24/7 and free-of-charge at FamilySearch.org
The Genealogical Society of Utah was formed in 1894 and has evolved into the modern FamilySearch, a nonprofit arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with a wonderful mission statement, “believing that families bring joy and meaning to life.” [Ours is “to promote subject and special collections services.”]
Just some statistics….. Launch date of FamilySearch was 24 May 1999. The web site currently has 85,000 unique visitors each day. They are adding 33 million digital images each month. Somewhere in there are over 60,000 digital books. FamilySearch has over a million registered users [you have to give them your email address and create a user name/password to view the images]. They have had over 16.6 billion page views since inception.
In very simplified terms, the Mormons believe in saving their ancestors, thus the dedication to genealogy. They went from courthouse to courthouse microfilming records in the 1960s and 70s and have volunteers (missionaries) throughout the world scanning records today. There are 200 digital camera teams set up in 45 countries, with 42 of them right here in the United States. We have a couple here at the Ohio Genealogical Society library scanning Ohio obituaries. Last week, despite all the snow, they were able produce 13,349 images. They have nearly passed the 600,000 mark, and they have just begun the letter “T”. “They” refers to Al and Julia Hoffman, local church members who were trained by a team from Salt Lake. The two are volunteers, working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, zapping pictures of Ohio obituaries. Before retirement, Al used to be our postal mail carrier so he was used to seeing our library each day. He just lives here now like the rest of us!
These digital camera teams and over 200,000 genealogy volunteers at home, who are indexing images, have produced 1363 separate searchable record collections online. But the real treasure is all those courthouse volumes and case file packets that I mentioned earlier. They are still waiting to be indexed, yet the casual user can access them in about 60 seconds.
After getting a user name/password, log in at www.familysearch.org, and choose “Search”. Despite the name, don’t try searching. Instead, click on the image of the United States on the map to the right. Select “Ohio” from the menu, then click on “Start Researching in Ohio”. Then click on “Show all 58 Collections”. Web designers like to throw in a dozen extra steps, don’t they? Way at the bottom is a section of “Image Only Historical Records”, i.e., not searchable. As an example, under “Probate & Court”, choose “Ohio Probate Records 1789-1996”. There are almost 7 million images here! Click on the Browse line and then choose a county. Pick a record type and go into a volume. You’ll see administrations, guardianships, probate journals, and wills. Each of these files corresponds to those large ledgers that you would pull down and examine in the Probate office at the courthouse.
Once you are in an actual volume of records, I generally type the number “10” in the image box at the top and click “Go”. Hopefully, this will put you in the middle of an original index at the front of the ledger. Then it is just a matter of estimating the page number to find the action you are seeking because the image page numbers do not correspond with the ledger page numbers. Often there are two pages shown in an image. The user can enlarge the page with the + (plus) sign and then page forward or backward using the arrows on either side of the image number box. Depending on your Internet connection, pages may be a little slow to load. You can print directly from the screen (will print what is in view), but I like to download the file into an image program like Picasa.com (free download). Then I can crop what I want and add the label desired.
When you are done exploring Ohio’s records as well as those of your favorite foreign country, go back to the beginning and try an ancestral name in the search box that we ignored earlier. You might stumble upon something new and be as happy as our ex-mailman pressing a button all day, or as those “random” case study subjects on Genealogy Roadshow!
Tom Neel, Library Director
Ohio Genealogical Society