Published date: 27 January 2014

Sharon Hintze brings you up to date with the latest developments (2014) on FamilySearch, the world’s largest genealogical organisation. It is rapidly evolving, with new features and collections, and partnerships with commercial organisations arising almost weekly.

Sharon is Director of the London ‘Family History Center’, currently based at The National Archives at Kew.


My name is Sharon Hintze and I am Director of the London Family History Centre which is lodging here in the reading room at for which we are very grateful.

I’m going to talk today about a variety of things to do with FamilySearch. I’d like to start by talking about what FamilySearch is, who is FamilySearch. You’re probably aware of it as a website. It’s actually, I would call it the trading name for the Family History department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So there’s a whole department belonging to our church, like there’s one in charge of Chapels and building, one in charge of Publicity and whatever. We’ve lots of departments and one of the departments in our Church has to do with family history. And FamilySearch is the name that we use when we communicate with the outside world.

So FamilySearch is a website. It’s an organisation. It’s 4,600 family history centres all around the world and in 120 countries. It’s the teams of people filming downstairs in The National Archives and in lots of different locations around the world to preserve genealogically related records. It’s a lot of different things.

And I’m not going to talk about all of them today. I’m only going to talk about the website in general and how it works and then I’m also going to talk a little bit about the ‘London Family History Center’.

Before I get into the website, let me say something about the records. The Church has collected the largest group, genealogical collection in the world.

This place {The National Archives] has 11 million records and it’s responsible for the records of essentially the British Government over many hundreds of years. A frequent question that American visitors ask me is ‘well, where are all the church records from the English Churches? Where are they in The National Archives?’ And I have to say to them that the records for the Church of England are, in general, not held at The National Archives. There are some, there are also some non-conformist records which you know, but those records are not governmental records and they don’t really fall under the remit of The National Archives. They are stored, as you know, at county record offices in general, not all of them.

At any rate for The National Archives, of those 11 million records, about 95% of them are not online. The same is true of our genealogical collection of records. Of our genealogical collection of records, 93% of them are not online. So if you go to FamilySearch and are frustrated by not being able to find what you want, it could be the same situation as here at The National Archives.

You know very well that very often, if you were Simon Schama and wanted to write a new history book you wouldn’t be looking at The National Archives’ records online, would you? You would be out here looking at letters and original government documents to try to write your material. You’d use other resources at the British Library, and other resources as well. But you’d be using the original records.

Now for us, the 93% that is not online is generally held in the form of microfilms and they can be ordered and you can get them to come here or if you don’t live near to Kew, you can get them to come to Family History Centre near to you. There are about a 100 Family History Centers in Great Britain – I should say in the British Isles because that counts some in the Republic of Ireland.

So now you have a clearer idea of who Family History or FamilySearch is, let’s talk about who is setting the direction for FamilySearch. Let’s talk about who sets the direction for a Government Department here. Well, the Government of the day sets the direction for what the Ministry of Defence is going to do or what the Home Office is going to do; the policies are set by the Government, right? And then a minister is put in charge and he proposes things that have to be agreed and then they go forward. The same system works for FamilySearch. The government of our family history department does not work as an entity separate from the leadership of our Church. On the contrary, it works in direct response to direction that they get from the ecclesiastical leaders of the Church.

Now let me talk to you about what that ecclesiastical direction is and what it has been over the last long time, because FamilySearch today is the organisational name or the public name for an organisation which was founded in 1894. That’s when the Church first had direction from the ecclesiastical leaders to begin to collect records.

So the first remit to the department in its fledgling infant stage was to collect records of genealogical interest and in Utah in 1894 that meant collecting books. Some of them published transcriptions of records and others published family history. They started with 300 donated books. That remit has not changed from that day until now. There are 220 ‘cameras’, we call them; those are people filming records and currently working, I think, in about 70 different countries and have filmed records from a 120 different countries. So collecting records still continues as a major priority of the department.

The second thing is that the directive was given after 20 years or so, it occurred that people were making, you know, birth briefs and establishing pedigrees for their family and having details of records that they had obtained one way or another and the idea was that people should share these.

So starting in the early 20th century, people were invited to contribute their work so that other people could share it and so that people could work together on the same lines. That directive has also not changed at all since it was first given more than a century ago.

The way that we have done this has changed over the years and currently, I will show you today, I’ll show you the current version of the way to share your family history information. But the directive to make family histories available for people to use and to share with other people who might be related to them is a very old directive

So, of the two first things which were given as remits; the first one was to collect records and the second one was to make available people’s family history to other people who might find it useful, and to allow collaboration between families.

The third remit has been given from time to time over the last 100 years but has been dramatically renewed in October of 2011, when an ecclesiastical leader gave a talk which said ‘I know of no reason why only senior people should be involved in family history’.

You’re probably aware that for us as Mormons being involved in family history is a religious obligation; it’s not a hobby. That means that I’m a fifth generation family historian. You try and figure out what you would be doing to extend your line back further if your second great grandfather had already been working on it – ooh! [laughs with audience]. And since most pedigrees, like mine and I suppose yours, most parts of them are of pretty ordinary people, if there’s a reason why the records don’t extend beyond, say, the late 17th century, that reason would usually be known by generations of people before myself.

So we all have a religious obligation to seek out our ancestral dead and therefore when a directive comes from an ecclesiastical leader that young people are supposed to be involved in this, well that sets off a whole lot of questions. And that’s why we have the first picture here showing [slide 1] because this picture shows two age groups who are not normally involved in family history, people the age of your children, for most of you, and people the age of your grandchildren or in some cases your great-grandchildren.

That’s the first clue about the new directive or the reinforced directive, because young people have been invited to join in family history from time to time in the last 100 years. But it hasn’t been as consistent as those other two messages. So you see who’s driving the machine here; that’s the young person. And there’s a good reason for that. You know they are handier with these machines than you are. They seem not to be born with it but when they are touching the screen when they are 18 months old, by the time they are four years they’ve figured out how to get into pretty much anything that’s on any screen they can get to, which as you know has its advantages and disadvantages.

So getting youth involved is a very important, new emphasis for the department and one of the consequences is that the type of materials and the type of technology that you want to use if you are trying to get youth involved has to be different than if it was only grandmas and grandpas.

You’ve also got to talk about connecting within generations. One of the good ways, one of the good features about involving youth, and we’re generally talking here teenagers, but even earlier as shown on that first picture. Really the issue is…let me tell you something that happened to me last Sunday. Last Sunday, I was assigned to teach a lesson in our Women’s organisation about the life of a person who had been the President of our Church between 1968 and 1970. We’re going to study in our Women’s organisation his teachings for the next year and I was supposed to give the bio. Well, in the audience there were probably 50% of the people who were younger than 40. He died 43 years ago. I was the only person in the room who knew [who he was]… I didn’t know him, I never met him but I listened to him speak often and read his talks, the things he would write for the Church magazine, so I knew who he was. And I was the only person in the room who did.

It seemed, to my astonishment, to be very interesting to them. They clearly thought that they were getting a report from some prehistoric time [audience laughter] 45 years ago [laughs]. That I could remember something that happened before any of them were born seemed to be of great interest to them. And this is what’s going on in this picture. This young person is asking her grandpa about things that happened before she was born; things like dial-up telephone [laughter] that were attached to the wall, or in a fixed place or in Great Britain, 45 years ago, in the front hall only, if you can remember how we all had phones like that.

We’ve already talked about the emphasis on leveraging technology. Personally, I think if you want to get a teenager to interface with family history it needs to be on his phone! We are not quite at that stage yet although they are about to launch some phone apps in the coming year.

Then the other thing that you need to remember about our Church is that, well, first of all about half of the members are not like me; they don’t have the Mormon genealogy. About half of the members are first generation members and they are in countries on every single continent but Antarctica.

And so our responsibility is to provide tools and resources for people no matter where they were born or where their background came from. And of course that has a big impact on what the department does too. And I’ve already indicated that collecting the records is part of it.

The next part of it is you’ve got to provide all your material in lots of different languages. So while you’re thinking about one country and one culture and maybe with somebody who went to New Zealand or a great-aunt who was born in France, we are thinking about families all over the world. And all of these things are having an impact on the development of FamilySearch [slide 5].

Now let’s just summarise what the FamilySearch website actually consists of now [slide 6]. Ignore the button in the middle. It actually consists of two different things. It consists of family tree, a collaborative family tree which is a successor to those people donating their pedigrees, right, and it consists of the ‘search records’ thing which has been there before.

Now if you’ve used the FamilySearch website in the last five years, you know, or let’s say if you’ve used it for longer than five years, you know that the next but last version of FamilySearch had both some pedigrees and also some records in it.

And then to the great joy of quite a lot of people a version of the site was issued in which the records which were transcribed were separated from the records which people had contributed. And the records which people had contributed vanished. They weren’t there anymore. You’d been able to just look at the transcribed records and then now some browse records with images and so on, without troubling yourself with these things recording ‘a person named Elizabeth born about 1600 in England, right ?’, which was the kind of thing which used to frustrate people with the family tree information that was available online.

So the two big pieces of architecture are now that there is a family tree available now which there hasn’t been for two or three years and the search thing is now… it’s still there, it’s growing and doing very well.

The button in the middle is about photos and stories. And the photos and stories are illustrated in the picture earlier, of the child talking to their grandparent. This is the interface where a teenager can get involved and be interested. Teenagers in general are not really thrilled by the idea of searching for records for people they never heard of and know nothing about. They are interested in knowing what grandpa did in the war. They are interested in ‘who is that person in the photograph? They are not interested in searching for ‘Edward Didsbury’ who was someplace in Yorkshire, born around 1828. This isn’t their grab-on point.

A grab-on point is a photo or a story. So now the site has been developed in a way to appeal to them more, because they can contribute things. They can interview their grandma and write down what it was like when she went to school, no computers in the school, no cell phones in the school. These seem like prehistoric times to a young person.

[slide 7] So the home page to FamilySearch which was launched last April [2013], it hasn’t been a year yet, in the middle of April all of a sudden that old greeny- bluey thing with the mountains went away and all of a sudden there was this. And even worse the picture changed and the site changed every three or four seconds. Well that probably really frustrated you. But that is what is required to keep the attention of somebody, 14, right? They expect to do several things at once and they don’t focus on the same thing for a long time. They want action, right? So the site has now had to put in some features which essentially will make it easier for younger people to feel attracted to want to do something.

Now if you look at this page, there was another problem with this, which hasn’t been changed yet. Most people would click on, get started and then they wouldn’t get to the search thing. By now most of you have figured out that at the top of the screen and at the bottom of the screen, if you want to search records, there’s a button for search and you can go there and we will talk about that. So the website has been redesigned with younger people in mind, and with what attracts them – different colours, different types of pictures – shucks…you’re not going to attract them by putting a whole lot of World War One pictures, when they don’t know anybody who was involved in the World War One. They want to see people like themselves on the screen.

Now the photos have been a big success. This is a photo of the mother of the currently Managing Director of the Family History Society. [Slide8] I think she is the third or fourth sister from the right; she is not the one getting married. She is down on this end, a younger sister. And this is a wedding that you can probably date by the clothes. And it’s the oldest of nine sisters getting married and what you want, is for one of those sisters who is still alive to say ’ I remember that wedding, someone so trod on my dress! ‘ and whatever is going to be said about the memories of that particular wedding. That will be interesting to a teenager. It’s not so interesting maybe if you’re just concentrating on names and dates.

But the truth is, photography has been around now since the mid-19th century in a big way and almost everybody relates to a picture as an item of interest better than just names and dates. So people are being encouraged to gather and find pictures and to submit them and have them appear in the family tree, and some two million pictures have been uploaded.

One of the other features, that is shown on the home page, is a fan chart [slide 9]. This is a fan chart for a convert ancestor of mine, who is Henry Lunt there, born in Cheshire, died actually in Mexico. This is his wife and children down here below and these are his predecessors here.

One of the disadvantages a fan chart attempts to address, one of the disadvantages of doing family history on a computer, let alone at home: the screen is too darn small, that’s why very many of you when you come to see us at FamilySearch unfold a large piece of paper on which is written your pedigree because you can’t get the overview of the whole darn thing unless you do bring that bit of paper. And I understand that, we all want to know, where is the twig that we’re working on? How does it fit with the rest of our tree? Is this Mother’s side or Dad’s side? You know once it gets kind of complex, sometimes you don’t always remember.

What the fan chart does is allow you to show more generations on a single page than you can get on if you do it in the normal way. So I don’t see them as a fancy way to show your pedigree, I see them as a working tool for showing more generations in smaller spaces.

This is the normal presentation [slide 10]. And that’s the problem, that’s all you can see of the same person. Now you can scroll to the right and scroll to the left and click on this and do that, but you cannot get the same overview that you can with the fan chart that we looked at before. [Slide 11] This is the person view in family tree. So what I’m showing you is something which is quite different than anything we have ever had before for collecting people’s donated family history information.

Now I need to tell you a special feature of it which is not what you’re used to and you kind of worry about it initially. I hope you don’t worry about it in the end. It is, that you know if you put your tree up on Ancestry then you have a tree which is yours alone and you can, not let anybody look at it or you can let the whole world look at it, you can let nobody change it, you can let certain people change it, you can do whatever you want. You are in charge of that tree, right? It’s your tree. And that’s true of most of the websites which allow you to have a tree; you’re usually in charge of it.

The family tree on FamilySearch is not like that at all. This is a collaborative family tree – for the whole world. Anybody can get on there and change something. Anybody can get on there and add a photo. You’re thinking ‘Oh my Gosh!’ That’s okay. You don’t need to give up keeping your own records for yourself. But I would be surprised if there weren’t things on family tree that were new to you or interesting to you.

And I would be very surprised if it were not true that most of you in this room have a photograph of somebody that’s in that tree that a lot of other people would really like to see. Even if it’s your mum or your great-uncle in the war I’d be very surprised if most of you do not have a photograph. A lot of people maybe Aussies or Kiwis, who knows who would be interested to see. Who knows those Aussies or Kiwis are very… let’s just say they’re very enthusiastic about seeking out their British roots.

So the family tree is now a collaborative tree. The last thing that I need to tell you about it is that it is a tree that…if you rush out of here and go over to any computer with FamilySearch on and click family tree it won’t let you see it. It will require that you create a login. You will have to create a username and a password. Why is that? You don’t need the username and the password to do the search. You need it because you now have been given the key to that tree and you can monkey with it and everybody wants to know who did that.

So you have to sign in. So if you are going to contribute a picture of whoever, in his First World War uniform which I hope you do this year, right? [2014 – centenary of start of World War One] Then you have to be identified as the person who contributed that picture. And if you know something about him and you want to write it actually on the title of the picture, you can or you can contribute a little story and say ‘ this person died at Ypres’[ pronounces it as ‘wipers’ with a laugh], right, or whatever you are going to say. Now that’s all I’m going to say about the family tree part of the FamilySearch website, got it?

[Slide 12] Right, now let’s talk about the search features. What you had before was the first bullet on this page, the records – 3.5 billion records, some of them with images, some of them transcriptions and we’ll talk about that. Then under genealogies you now have, not a collaborative anything but read-only versions of previous versions of the family tree that we now have. Ancestral file was in existence between 1979 and 1999. Pedigree resource file, which was something more like your ancestry tree where you contributed and you controlled it, and nobody else could change it. They were both static, they were always read-only. In fact if you had a new version of your family tree you couldn’t change it, you just had to submit it again to pedigree resource file and that’s still the case.

You could still contribute your life’s work to pedigree resource file and it will remain as a snapshot of your work at the day that you submitted it. Then here, listed under search, is the key to the 93% of the records that are not online. That would be the catalogue of all the film in the Salt Lake collection. And those can be ordered, at the moment it costs £7.50 to order one to come to our Family History Center around the corner or to another one near to where you live if this one isn’t convenient.

Now I would like to talk about books…Incidentally, one more comment on the film. So, I haven’t lived in the United Kingdom all my life as you can tell by my speech, but I’ve also had a chance to live in other countries when I was working and I wanted to do my family history. How could I? In many of those years there was not an internet. I was living in Switzerland and I needed to research Ireland and Cheshire. Now what am I going to do? Well, the answer is: I’m going to order the films of the parishes that I’m interested in and bring them to Switzerland so that I can do my work. You could have a relative from Poland or from France. You could order a film. It’s a lot cheaper [than travelling]!

We have everyday, Jamaicans over there at the London family history centre because we have the entire Church collection of Jamaica and Barbados. Well their choice is, come to see us or go to Jamaica. Now we have put some of the records online and you would find that out that they are not all there. And so the catalogue and ordering films is a far more important thing than you think it is.

Now a comment: the last two bullets are about books and the wiki.

The wiki is like Wikipedia, only, it only has to do with family history. It is as I have written here, a very seriously under-utilised asset. You’ll need to get on to the wiki, type in anything you like. Type in ‘South Africa’ if you’re trying to find somebody in South Africa. You get a description of the records, a description of the history of the country and set of handy links, the information about the archive; all kinds of things. You also would find a lot of information about London parishes and I’m going to show you an example, in a minute, about another feature which I hope you will find useful.

Books: there are a lot of online historical books available. Internet Archive and Google has millions of them. The problem is that they are not specifically selected family history online book collections. And this set is. And it isn’t just 100,000 family history books from the Library in Salt Lake. It is also collaborating with four or five other libraries in the United States which have significant family history collections. Histories don’t all have to do with US families there, they are quite widely spread. You ought to spend a few minutes just rummaging around surname-searching and place-searching to see whether there isn’t one of those that would be useful to you.

Now when you click on search – I never advise anybody to ever fill in anything on the homepage of any search screen, especially if it is a multinational search screen, because I think you need to narrow what you’re going to look at, so you don’t get so many irrelevant results. In a minute, I’m going to show you that if you want to look at British records, I recommend that you don’t start here at all but someplace else.

But the other thing that I’m recommending to you is that you seriously look at searching with a relationship because one of the feedback that a lot of people gave us about the previous site is that it dropped the ability to be able to do a parent search and that ability has now come back in spades and the ability to do a spouse search.

So if you can identify that a person, say the one I mentioned, what was his name… Edward…I can’t remember… Didsbury. If you knew his Dad’s name was John, you could write that there and then you would get results, where the father’s name was John, would come to the top. Let’s suppose you knew that Edward and his second wife Harriet had 15 children [tut-tuts] Industrious woman, got her name in the paper for that. I think she lived in…they were both born in Yorkshire, they died in Connecticut. This person, you could write Edward Didsbury and Harriet, his wife and then you could put Didsbury up in the last name box and hit ‘Go’. Well I would put in a few dates, likely dates, they might have had children and it would look for all the children of that couple.

So parent searches have been returned and they worked very well. Now I’m going to go back now to the slide that I had out of order. At the bottom half of the main search page where you can’t actually see it, when you look at the screen at the beginning, is a lovely map and it’s a better map now than it used to be because they had a version of it on there, which didn’t have the British Isles appear at all [laughter from audience]. This was pointed out to them and they have repented and now the British Isles appeared. It appears quite large to my eye, but I think this is probably the projection. Look how big Iceland is and you know Iceland is not really that big [Slide 13].

So you get to choose by some part of the world and the part of the world most of you would be choosing is United Kingdom and Ireland. And if you click on that, there are a 107 different data sets and the first thing you’ll notice is that the first one is in the Channel Islands which is not part of either the United Kingdom or Ireland (!). So I’m going to explain to you why that is. That’s because when they previously called this category British Isles which is as you know, geographically correct, they got 200 emails of complaint from people living in the Republic of Ireland [laughter] who did not want their country associated with anything that had the word ‘British’ in it. Now we’re not going to get into that, we’re just going to say that their compromise was just to write United Kingdom and Ireland and hope you would all understand. So now you do.

Now if you then start by clicking on, say, England. Well you click on United Kingdom and Ireland, the first database that comes up is Channel Islands. Then you get three databases: England, Births and Christenings and here at the bottom I’ve written my major message to you ‘those three first databases are the old British IGI’. That’s what they are. That collection of nearly 70 million British christening records is the biggest christening record collection online anywhere by a very large amount. You can still use it. You can filter it by county. You can do those parent search things. You can do all kinds of things with it. Those are the old IGI records, just so that you know that. You’ll notice that there is no picture of a camera by them, that’s because as you know they are transcribed records and there never were any images associated with those transcriptions and you can’t go back and put them. You’ll have to index the whole thing all over again in order to be able to associate them with the images.

[Slide 16] On the other hand most of the entries in the IGI will tell you the film number and when they tell you the film number, you can whip round the corner to us and usually we have it and then you can see the image. Or you can actually correspond with Salt Lake about them getting you the copy of that film, of the image that you require. I’m going to give you a hand out. (We’re going to have to get a few extra hand outs, photocopy it – I might get Elda Watt to do that for me, Sister Watt to do that for me.)

But you can see down at the bottom, with a giant red arrow, the source film number which tells you the film you need to see this transcribed record, right? So for most of the IGI entries there is a source film number; occasionally there is one without then you can come over and complain to us and we’ll try to do something about it. But this just tells you what you have to know since the link is on the hand out you’re going to get… You don’t need to concern yourself about it.

[Slide 18] I’d like to move on to something more important to your understanding, more structural we could call it and that is that the little camera wandering down the left hand side of the records for England, does not always mean the same thing. Now I’ve been pleading with them: can’t they colour the camera different colours, can’t they this, can’t they that but they have all kinds of reasons why it is difficult for them to do anything so obvious, right?

You could ask, if they’ve got images, why can’t we see them – everybody. And the answer to that is that whether we show an image on the internet is not our call, it’s the call of the person who owns the records.

Let’s take Scottish Church records as a prime example. Okay, our church did a transcription of the old parochial registers of Scotland decades ago. We have all the films. We’re not allowed to show the images because the Scottish National Archives, who are the holders of the record don’t allow anybody to issue those images, except themselves. On the other hand, if you were to whip around the corner to our Family History Center, we’ve got most of the films. So if you look, the Scottish IGI is online as well, and if you find a film number come and ask us. We’ve likely got it.

So who’s controlling whether or not you can see the image or way that the image can only be seen in the Family History Center or whether you have to log in to see the image is the record owner, it’s not us the record publisher, it’s the record owner. Okay, so I’m sorry you’re going to be frustrated.

Sometimes, as in the previous example, if it says just browse images, let me go back, because I want to point something out to you. [Slide 18] Here, look at the top where it says ‘Cornwall and Devon Parish Registers – browse images’. And you see it doesn’t have a number there, it just says ‘browse image’. That means there is no index.

And I will show you how ‘browse images’ works. Now look at the next line, there is no camera and there’s 1,474,000 records to do with Derbyshire. That means this is an index, there are no images, got it? There’s no camera, there are no images.

On the other hand let’s look at the third one which says ’England, Devon Parish Registers’ and then has a number 1,200,000 roughly. That means there is an index and there are images, but it doesn’t mean you can see them at home. You will find out when you try [laughter]. You can always see them at a Family History Center.

So can you see how that works? If there’s a number, then there’s an index.

If there’s no number there’s no index.

If there is a camera; lucky dip, if you’re sitting at home, right?

Okay now, so now we’re going to check out how browse images works. So here it is, all on one slide [Slide 19]. First you choose your county; you say I want ‘Cornwall’. Then, you choose the parish from a very long list of Cornish parishes. My goodness, they had a lot of parishes in Cornwall. I choose Bodmin. Then it shows you a list of the records that are in this browse collection for Bodmin. You choose baptisms of a certain time period or baptisms, burials or marriages for an earlier time period. And then you start to browse. So you’re not having to look at however many images there are in the whole browse collection. You can focus; the burials for example are in handy 20-year time periods and usually you know roughly when you are looking.

This breaking a big set of browses into pieces is called ‘way-pointing’. Without way-pointing, nobody would do it, right? Nobody would do it! I wouldn’t even look at Bodmin without the way-pointing, let alone the whole of Cornwall, no way!

You have to be able to get to the section of all these records that is most relevant to you and that’s what this does. So don’t be afraid of ‘browse images’. When you do browse, you’ll be able to get a record which you can download or make a copy of in any way you like to on your computer.

Now let’s talk about…you need to be a little careful. I think it’s true of all online databases that I think most, let’s call them intermediate or experienced, users would say none of them have good enough descriptions of their collections, right? When I’m searching something I’m not really sure what I’m searching. This would be the case with England, Cheshire School records which first has no camera, so I know in advance there’s no image. But nonetheless, I’m interested to have a little poke around and see if anybody related to me is found in these school records.

So I type in a sample name and up pops a young sprout who is the child of the name of I typed in, ‘John Lunt’, and blow me down! The record which is shown is not the actual school record even though it’s from 1901, long after children were required to go to school. It’s a Sunday school record. Now I’m wondering-‘okay, Sunday school, that’s going to tell me which church they’re going to, which might be different than the one that I’ve been looking for their christenings in’. So I have found something that is useful to me anyway.

So it’s always worth having a go with records, even if you’re not really sure. The other thing that you need to know is you can’t go to FamilySearch and do a big search and spend all Sunday afternoon and sort yourself out and say ‘Right, that’s done, don’t need to go back there’. You can’t, because just like the other providers we put on new records all the time.

You can actually sign up for the blog and it will send you messages which tells you what’s coming on and you can see that a week ago on Tuesday, FamilySearch added a 145 million records in one week. But of great interest to you, is these records which are described as birth, marriage and death indexes. (You’ll be delighted to know that the titles of those has been changed so that they don’t begin in 1800, they begin in 1837 where they should have begun.)

So these are transcriptions of the civil registration indexes [England and Wales] which are appearing on FamilySearch for the first time. And since it’s always useful to look in more than one version of certain indexes, probably be worth having a go. You’ll see that also some records from other countries were ordered, were put online and there are things added every time online. Now let’s quickly skip through these, don’t write anything down for the next two or three slides, which consist of tips about how to search in FamilySearch.

[Slide 24] My favourite one is this one listed as number 4. I love it when I can substitute up to three letters at the beginning of a name, because as you know with transcriptions, the usual problem is that you can’t find it because the first letter is wrong, or the first couple of letters are wrong, and not very many of the wild card things will let you really have freedom with that.

[Slide 25] Okay, the last feature about the website is this, which is at the top of every page in small letters – I personally think they should be flashing yellow, the ‘Get Help’ things, but they’re not – small letters at the top of the page, it says ‘get help’ and if you click on that, this is what comes up. So for example, let’s say you’ve decided after all to upload your soldier onto the photos. And so you’re having trouble figuring out how to log in. You’ve got some problem with trying to register. So you would go to product support and it would say ‘Problems getting registered’ and then it would walk you through it.

On the left hand side you’ll see that you can send them a message – ‘I’ve looked at this for the 59th time and it is still not working the way it’s supposed to be working and so on and so on’. And they will respond, usually within 24 hours to tell you they got your message and usually within 72 hours with some sort of response to you.

‘Visit Us’ is no more or less than a link to the thing that will tell you the nearest Family History Center to where you live.

So I always think people make way too little use of the ‘Get Help’ section. Another thing I’d like to feature on this is the video courses which are free and which are…there’s more than a 100 of them for the British Isles.

For the wiki I promised you an application nobody would be able to resist and this is it. This is the one which tells you which church court your pre-1858 will was likely administered in, probated in. You would simply go to the wiki, there’s a search screen, you type in ‘Surrey probate’ or ‘Devon probate’, takes you to an article about that county. You scroll down through the county until you find court jurisdictions by parish. Bingo, Bob’s your uncle! You have the primary court for that parish and subsequent places to look if that doesn’t work. Why wouldn’t you be using this? Saves you carrying around the Gibson Churchill book all the time.

Here’s the Learning Center course [Slide 27] I’m advertising to you, on estate duty.

Here’s a feature which again is on the hand out, um, which is a little thing which is very handy. It’s a set of maps with overlays and what the maps show you is the different jurisdictions and they are here shown on the left, the parish, the civil registration, the diocese and so on and so forth [Slide 28 ]. You can show one or you can show two or three at a time. One that I used to use quite a lot in areas of the country I didn’t know well, I knew the parish they were in, had no idea of the registration district they were in, so that was helpful to me.

Also there are other things that are communicated here. You see for the parish of Wybunbury, where my friend Henry Lunt came from, it gives me the list of all the little hamlets and towns in that parish. Of course some of them manage to get themselves born, christened or buried in this little bit here which is not, although entirely enclosed by Wybunbury, is not actually in that parish. It took me a while to figure out that that was going on. But then once you know you know what to do.

[Slide 29] This is another feature which I’ve got which is not part, directly, of the FamilySearch website but very useful which has the ‘Boyd’s Inhabitants of London’ presented. There is also on this particular place a good, a very good Jewish family tree collection. This is an illustration of an entry cobbled together from two or three different things in ‘Boyd’s Inhabitants of London’ telling you a man…a woman and her husband and the father and mother of the woman and the marriage of those. So you might find that useful to you.

Now, just a couple of words about the London Family History Center itself. We are one Family History Center among 4,600, but some of us are more equal than others and we are definitely more equal than most of the 4,600. We would be in the top six of those 4,600. We’re the largest Family History Center outside the US and it is a very interesting experience to be here at The National Archives and work with all of you to try to find your family.

I can tell you…let me give you a piece of advice. Let me tell you what the professionals come to our Family History Center for, ‘cos we have professionals who come every week, usually on the same day. [Slide 31] Now you look at the resources that are there on the screen and tell me why they are there. They are not there to look at subscription websites, although we probably have a much bigger collection than you have at home and you might want to come over and browse in ones that you don’t subscribe to. If you are a professional you have to subscribe to all those websites, because they have different databases.

So they are not there to look at subscription websites, they are there to look at the basic, humble microfilm. And you can see that the two most important collections that we have are listed first. That would be English parish registers, parish registers from Scotland, Wales, church records of all kinds. We have 10,000 plus parishes. Then we have the best collection on this island of wills for England. If you have used Ancestry to find the calendar entry for a post-1858 will, as long as it was probated before the end of 1925, we have a film with the will on it. You must all have about 20 post-1858 wills which you ought to come over to us and get a film and get a copy of. Why wouldn’t you? You know how interesting wills are. This is easy, you’re already here!

And that’s what the professionals are doing, let me tell you. They’re using a pre-1858 wilsl and then a lot of Irish people come and Scottish people and I’ve already mentioned our Jamaicans. By exotic records, I mean Mauritius, St Helena, various places where British flags have been planted from time to time.

We give a talk here on Tuesdays, every week. It’s just for half an hour, so you don’t have to make the big investment you made today. Look at our schedule of talks and see if you can find time to attend one or another. And then we do provide speakers to societies and groups, away or also sometimes here at Kew.

[Slide 32] This is the website of the London Family History Centre which is also on the hand out. [Slide 33] This is just to make you feel homesick if you’re from Lincoln. It tells you we have 684 Lincolnshire parish records presented in our film collection which is two floors below you, downstairs. It’s impossible that you don’t need our film collection. It’s just impossible! You’ll see that there are also some films catalogued by the things that don’t go by parish, ‘cos not everything does; probate is one of them. So the film collection is the reason why the professionals are at our place every week. [Slide 34] ‘PC York Calendars and Copy Wills’, how can you resist this?

[Slide 35] Okay, so the summary is what FamilySearch is providing online for you now is a tree (new), records (old) and increasing frequently, right, and the catalogue to the 93% that are not online. Incidentally we are losing ground. It’s not going to be 92% next year; it’s going to be 94% because we’re filming faster than we’re getting things online. That would be true of The National Archives too, who had their User Forum today and they are acquiring records faster than they are getting them online. So we are all going backwards as far as digitisation goes: too many records!

For the London Family History Center there are no online records at all. The site exists largely to tell you what we have in the way of films. It’s essentially the place where you go to the search box on the home page. You can put in the name of your parish or your place or you can put in the number of a film that you found on the IGI that doesn’t have an image.

Right! Now, warm and fuzzy…I’ve got two more pictures. This is a picture…it’s not a picture from 2,000 years ago, but it is a picture of a person who has a pedigree which was recorded 2,000 years before Christ. And this is a pedigree of a set of people who have the inherited right to be priests of the god, Ptah. This shows you that even though those little figures all look the same; that in fact the thing which explains who their father is and so on; the hieroglyphs there are different for each one of those 60 people. People have had a very long and very persistent interest in their family history.

Our church has an equal, not 3,000 years long, but we have had an interest in our family history since the 1840s. It’s because we believe in a literal resurrection. We think we will see our ancestors in the next life. So we believe in literal resurrection. We also believe the Saviour when He said you have to be baptised or you couldn’t be in the Kingdom of Heaven. And we’re picky about the baptism. We think it’d have to be one of ours. We’re picky about baptism authority, it’s essentially the reason.

So we trace our family so that we can baptise our progenitors in the Mormon way as a proxy ordinance which we think has no impact on them whatever if they want to remain a Baptist or a Methodist in the next life. It only has an impact. Any proxy ordinance only has impact if the person you are acting for wants whatever you’ve done on their behalf. So the answer is we have a deep theological reason.

So I reckon I will see Henry Lunt in the next life and a lot of people buried in that Wybunbury Church yard and I’m going to say ‘Ooh! You’re this one and this…’ and we’re going to have a good time when we get together. So yes it’s deeply rooted in our theology and that’s why the Church paid for it. You are the lucky beneficiary, essentially of our theology.

Thanks very much.

Transcribed by Jay Ramesh as part of a volunteer project, March 2015


  1. 8 February 2014
    8:25 pm


    A very useful overview of the updated website and how to get the best out of it. Also info re the massive range of records that can be ordered through family history centres. I didn’t know they had probate indexes and records and a huge range of overseas records.

    I have been using to a small extent. You can save the records you find (a bit like FindMyPast.)

    Another thing that will be useful is a map with overlays so you can find a parish and find out what diocese or registration district it is in.

    It was very helpful having the slides.

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