Yes, there’s a ton of free records online at FamilySearch.org that you won’t find by using their Search feature. These records are primary sources like deeds, court records, probate, tax records, vital records, and the like that haven’t been indexed yet.
Here’s how to find the records FamilySearch has for a given location, such as a county or state.
First and foremost, if you don’t have a free account for FamilySearch.org, you’ll need to create one. Then…
From the top menu bar, click on Search, and in the drop-down menu, select Catalog.
Next image below: On Search By, Place is the default, so there’s no clicking needed. In the Place box, type the location in with the state name first, comma and spacebar, then the county name.
Note: In this image, hidden under the gray box that says “2 Results” are some Availability selections. They are “Any,” “Online,” and “Family History Center.” I usually just leave it at “Any” so I can see everything, even if it’s not yet online.
Step 3 from the image above: A dropdown menu will give you location options. Click the one you want to review, then Step 4, click on Search. And Voila! you’ve entered the realm of primary sources – mostly microfilm images converted to digital images – see the next image below:
The right hand column will show a camera icon, and you click the camera icon to open up a window with all the images laid out as thumbnails. We’ll get to that in just a sec. For camera icons that have a little key above them, those images are locked and must be viewed at a Family History Center (FHC) or FHC Affiliate Library (FHCAL). But go ahead and click on that locked camera icon anyway, just to check; in my experience, sometimes the images open up even though the key says they’re locked!
Also, pay attention to the Film column. Often there are more than one set of images on a microfilm roll, and if there’s an Item number, it will tell you where it falls on the roll. We’ll take a look at that next.
Why are some images locked? I’ve added thoughts about this at the end of this article.
I’m going to click on the camera icon for the third item, “Inventory book 1743-1766…” to open up the next set of images, below:
I scrolled down to find the second set of images (I just use click and drag), which are the Inventory images. And look, I’ve circled the Index pages in red! Sometimes, but not often, you’ll find an index at the back of the book. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s no index at all, so you’ll be scrolling page by page. I’ll show you how, next.
To enlarge the images, just double-click on the thumbnail you want to start with.
Here’s notes on the numbered tools:
- Scroll forward and backward to full-screen images.
- Enlarge or decrease the size of the image with the + and – tools. Go to the set of thumbnail images (this is useful if you want to jump backward or ahead quickly). Make the image full-screen.
- Attach this record to someone in FamilySearch’s One World Tree (this will be the subject of a separate post).
- Print the image, download it to save it on your PC, and using Tools, you can rotate it, adjust the brightness and contrast, and invert it (sometimes making the image a negative will make it easier to read).
- Save it to your personal Source Box for later use.
And that’s it! Happy hunting!
Now, my thoughts on those irritating locked images…
- For newer materials, such as books containing transcriptions and abstracts of county records, these may still be under copyright and access is restricted to an FHC or FHCAL.
- For deed records, I’ve found that some county clerk offices have put their deeds online, and these are sometimes free and sometimes they’re “pay to play” – sometimes very expensively. If you find deed records locked, try going to the county’s website and see if you find anything there.
- For deed indexes, I’m amazed at how many of them are locked, while the deed books themselves are viewable. Being able to view the deed books is fine, if hopefully they have an index at the front or the back; if not, you’re going to be “flipping pages.” When they’re locked, the first thing I do is check to see if Ancestry has them – usually they’re with the state’s will and probate stuff. Here’s how to find them. If they’re not on Ancestry, then I just don’t get why on earth they’re restricted. It’s very frustrating!
- I’ve also found records that used to be unlocked on FamilySearch are now locked. In these cases, it seems in my experience that Ancestry.com (or some other paid subscription genealogy website) has licensed these records to their collections and they can now only be accessed on those paid websites – which means you have to have a paid subscription there – or you can go to an FHC or an FHCAL to view them.
- Some counties still have privacy policies in place regarding access to records, so again, the FHC or FHCAL will be your best bet to view them if they’re not on Ancestry or another paid site.