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How to Navigate the FamilySearch Wiki (and find what you need!)

Show Notes: The FamilySearch Wiki is like an encyclopedia of genealogy! It’s an invaluable free tool that every genealogist needs. However, many folks get frustrated when they try to search the Wiki. In this week’s video premiere I’m going to help you navigate with ease.

how to navigate the FamilySearch Wiki

Video and Show Notes below

You’ll learn: 

  • what the Wiki has to offer,
  • how to access the FamilySearch Wiki
  • how to navigate the FamilySearch Wiki effectively
  • and how to overcome the number #1 reason people get frustrated when searching the Wiki!

Watch the Video 

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout  (Premium Membership required)

How to Access the FamilySearch Wiki

(00:42) There are two ways to access the FamilySearch Wiki. The first is to visit the website direction at https://www.familysearch.org/wiki. This will take you to the home page of the Wiki. Although you can sign into your free FamilySearch account on this page (in the upper right corner) it isn’t necessary in order to use it.

The second way to access the Wiki is to go to the FamilySearch website. You will need to log into your FamilySearch account or sign up for a free account if you don’t already have one. Once you’re signed in, then in the menu under Search click Research Wiki. This will take you to the same FamilySearch Wiki home page. However, you will see that you are signed in and able to use some of the additional features like participating in discussions, posting and creating watchlists.  

FamilySearch Wiki known as Research Wiki

On the FamilySearch website: Search > Research Wiki

Searching the Wiki by Location

(01:21) On the home page, what you see a map of the world. This is a great way to search the Wiki because in genealogy, it’s really all about location. We need to know where geographically we want to search for ancestors, and from there we can narrow down the timeframe. Typically, you’ll have a sense of at least in which country you need to be researching. So, the map is typically the best way to start.

familysearch wiki

The FamilySearch Wiki Home Page

You’ll notice also on the home page, there is a search by place or topic search field. You could bypass using the map, and just start by typing in a place. If you do, you’ll notice that it starts to prompt you on the kinds of things that are commonly searched for. This could be kind of nice if you are really focused on a particular thing such as Italian census records. You can just start typing Italy and see if census is one of the prompts. If it is, simply click it and it will take you right there.

However, generally speaking, the map is the best way to search for records and information that is rooted in a location. Start by clicking the button for the continent, such as North America. Notice that if you go to click on the map itself, it isn’t an interactive map. You’ll need to actually click the button.

From there, select the county from the menu, such as United States, then drill down by state. This will take you to the Wiki entry for that state.

You’ll notice that the FamilySearch Wiki is a lot like Wikipedia. It’s like an encyclopedia of information. But the exciting part is that it’s genealogy specifically! This means you don’t usually have to worry about including the word genealogy in your searches. 

Location-based FamilySearch Wiki Pages

Oftentimes, our research ends up taking us to a new location where the next set of great grandparents came from. If we’re not familiar with that location, let alone familiar with what’s available from a genealogical standpoint, that can pose a real challenge. You might be asking questions like when did they start recording birth records? Or did that state conduct a state census? Every state, every country, and every county has different types of records available.

Start your orientation over on the right-hand side of the wiki page. There you’ll typically find an overview box.

(04:15) This is a great place to quickly see what’s available here, and what you could dig into further. If you’re really new to research in this particular area, you might want to start with the guided research link. You may also see links to research strategies, and a record finder.

In the next section of the box you’ll find record types. This is going to be different depending on the area that you’re researching. For example, if they don’t happen to have any military records available you might not see that listed under record types. You should expect to see the most commonly used records included in the list. Click the link to the page for more information on that type of record. It will provide more details on record availability, and where you access the records.

Further down the box you’ll find links to background information on the area. It’s really easy to skim over this in excitement over records. But if you don’t want to get stuck at a brick wall, getting to know the place that you’re researching can make all the difference. Learning the background of an area can help you prepare the right questions to ask. It can help prevent you from looking for something that doesn’t exist or that wasn’t applicable to that area. You may find links to more reading, gazetteers and maps, migration patterns, periodicals, and the law. Understanding the law is going to help you understand why records were created, and who they affected. For example, if your ancestor was under 18 there might be certain records that don’t apply to them. Understanding the parameters of who was affected by the law will help guide you through the records themselves.

Next you’ll see cultural groups that you might expect to find in this area, and links to more specific information about researching them.

Under Resources you’ll find links to archives, libraries, societies, and the family history centers that are available in this particular area.

At the top of the main part of the page you’ll find the Getting Started section. Here you’ll find links to beginning step-by-step research strategies and some of the most popular records for that location such as vital records.

(08:35) You might be wondering who is putting this information together. Well, it starts with experts at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. These are people who have worked the reference desks and found answers to thousands of patron questions.

Locating and Using the County Wiki Page

(09:22) Back on the state landing page scroll down further to the map of counties. Navigating by location is still important, even when we’ve narrowed it down to the state. Unlike the map on the homepage, you can hover your mouse over each county and click.

Find county page at FamilySearch Wiki

County map on the state wiki page

The county pages are where the real magic happens because many records such as birth, marriage, death, and court records are typically available at the county level. Here you’ll find out how to contact or visit the current county courthouse.

One of the most common questions new genealogists ask is “should I be looking at the county where the town is located today, or the county that it was when my ancestors lived there?” Counties certainly do change over time. The answer to the question is that we go to the county at the time that are ancestors lived in the area. In fact, the Wiki page provides the history, or genealogy, of the county. Look for Boundary Changes on the page.

Because these pages are often quite long and dense, use your computer’s Find on Page feature by pressing Control + F (PC) or Command + F (mac) on your keyboard. This gives you a nice little search box at the top of the page. Type in a keyword like Boundary and it will highlight all the locations on the page where the term appears. This is a great way to make quick use of the Wiki. This is also a good trick to use when you don’t see the record type or keyword that you’re looking for in the page’s table of contents. It may be called something else there, but if you search the page for your keyword, it should find it for you. An example of this is that you may not see Birth Records in the TOC because they list Vital Records. However, in the Vital Records section further down the page they definitely mention birth records.

Finding the Dates that Records Began

(14:45) Here’s another reason the wiki is so helpful, and it makes things go so quickly. Remember, we talked about that location is key, but also timeframe. Well, if we are looking for genealogical records, we don’t want to look for a record in this county before they actually started creating those records. The wiki typically provides a nice little chart on each county page showing then some of the most important civil records such as birth, marriage and death were first created.

How to figure out when birth records started

County record dates at FamilySearch Wiki

Often times civil records began much later than church records. Sometimes you will see an asterisk indicating when statewide registration for these civil records began and then another date indicating when general compliance was enforced. All of this is guiding us to success in finding genealogy records, and it’s saving the headache of investing time looking for records that did not yet exist.

(17:42) Further down the page you’ll find links to places. These may link to town pages on the Wiki, but more likely they will take you to Wikipedia where this information already exists. There will be a small icon indicating that the link will open in a new tab and take you to another website.

Next you’ll likely see a Timeline section which gives you a sense of when the first people settled in the county and who those people were. Again, it provides you more context to better understand the records.

In addition to all these individual records, many of them linked over to FamilySearch, Ancestry or MyHeritage, we see Research Facilities. Why is that so important? Because not all records are going to be online. When we’ve exhausted online records and resources we need to go offline, and there are lots of resources here on the wiki to work with: county archives, family history centers in the local area, libraries, museums, and genealogical societies. The wiki provides contact information and links to their website where you may be able to see a listing of what they have onsite so you can plan your visit.

Other website links may take you sites like USGenWeb which is a fantastic free genealogy website. It’s organized by location much like the FamilySearch wiki website. Drill down to the state and then the county. You may also see links to the State Archive, or the state’s Memory project, and, of course, the FamilySearch catalog.

How to Overcome the #1 Search Problem

(22:01) The wiki really should be one of your first stops when you’re going to be starting research in a new area. Let’s wrap up with a quick conversation about the wiki’s search box. You could go ahead and put a topic in there. Many people will come in here and they’ll type in marriage records, Randolph, County, Indiana, and they will get a list of results. They don’t look as clear cut as Google results, and they may not all be on topic. This is where we can get lost. I think probably the number one reason why people give up on the wiki is they get these kinds of search results. They realize, wait a second, this isn’t even Indiana, it’s talking about Kentucky! Why am I getting all these? It can be frustrating.

familysearch wiki search results

The wrong way to search at the FamilySearch Wiki

This happens because we tried to do it ourselves, with our own keywords. Remember, like most search engines, they’ve indexed their content to make it searchable, so that means they’ve already decided how they want to talk about a particular topic. Rather than just addressing marriage record first, the wiki focuses on the location. Where is this marriage record? So, focus first on the place unless you are just looking for general information on a general genealogy topic such as genealogy software.  

Pay attention to the pre-filled suggestions as you type because the wiki is going to suggest what it has in the format it has it. Again, you may want to first go to the country, state or county level page and then look for the record type.

What if you’re looking for marriage records but you don’t see them listed? Well, it might be that the word marriage isn’t the keyword the wiki uses. Or it might be that the type of record you’re looking for is a state or federal record. That’s another reason why the find on page feature (Ctrl + F) is so helpful. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see what you want listed in the table of contents. It may just be a keyword issue. Let the work that they’ve already done in organizing their materials guide you. You’ll be more successful and also avoid frustration. The FamilySearch Wiki is just too good of a resource to miss.

Learn more about using Family Search at Genealogy Gems

Videos at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:

Visit the Genealogy Gems website.  There you’ll find videos, articles and podcast episodes and you can sign up for my free weekly email newsletter. 

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

Pennsylvania and Ohio Genealogy – Podcast Episode 270

In this episode, we’re going to be visiting two of the most pivotal states in the U.S. for genealogy research. These states played key roles in the development and expansion of the United States of America, and we’re going to explore a top online resource for each.

First up is the state of Pennsylvania, officially known as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1681 through a royal land grant to William Penn, and established as a haven for religious and political tolerance. And since for over 300 years the port of Philadelphia was a major gateway for arriving immigrants, many many family trees include people who passed through Pennsylvania. One of the best and most important resources for records of interest to genealogists is the State Library of Pennsylvania, and we’ll be exploring it today with Kathy Hale, the Government Documents Librarian, and Amy Woytovich, the Genealogy Librarian at the State Library of PA.

Then we will head west to Ohio which joined the union back in 1803, and where many of our ancestors settled, or passed through on their way West.  The Ohio Memory website is a rich source of historical materials that tell the story of this state and potentially many American families. Jenni Salamon, the Ohio Memory Digital Services Manager will be joining me to explain the depth of the available materials and provide insight into how to best navigate the website.

Listen to the Podcast

Resources

State Library of Pennsylvania

Special Guests from the State Library of PA: Kathy Hale, Government Documents Librarian and Amy Woytovich, Genealogy Librarian

The State Library of Pennsylvania Background

The library has been a federal repository library since 1858, and is one of the oldest in the country. The government printing office deposits materials here.

The State Library of Pennsylvania Collection

The State Library of Pennsylvania physical collection includes:

  • 30,000 volumes
  • 100,000 reels of microfilm
  • A million pieces of microfiche

The State Library of Pennsylvania digitized items include:

  • County and family histories
  • Local histories
  • Small church histories from rural areas
  • City directories
  • Passenger lists
  • Regimental histories (Revolution to Spanish-American War)
  • Pension Lists
  • Pennsylvania Published Archives (collection of military, government, marriage, immigration records from colonial times)
  • The 1940 U.S. Federal Census

Pennsylvania Documents

Example: a report for Pennsylvania of the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg. Includes information gathered at reunions including names, pictures, and more.

U.S. Government Documents – Serial Set

This collection includes reports to the legislature from agencies and institutions. Example: The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were compelled to provide to Congress a yearly report of the names of people approved by DAR. These can be accessed through many libraries, the federal government or by contacting the State Library of Pennsylvania via email: Ra-reflib@pa.gov

Library Research Guides

Amy discusses research guides available on the website. However, here is the link to the topics she specifically mentions such as Cemeteries and Zeamer collection – recorded information about Cumberland County PA cemeteries.

General Research Guides page.

These research guide pages include links to additional helpful websites.

The Genealogy Page

At the top of the page look at the For General Public tab which will take you to all of the genealogy research guides. Visit the Genealogy page at the State Library of Pennsylvania.

Newspapers

The library’s collection of newspapers includes papers from all 67 Pennsylvania counties on microfilm. They do have a lot of digitized newspapers at the Pennsylvania Photos and Documents Collection at the Power Library.

The Power Library

You can find the Power Library by going to the libraries home page, and under the For General Public tab go to Our Collections > Power Library. Or visit the Power Library website at Powerlibrary.org.

Electronic Databases: you have to be a resident with a library card.

Digital Documents: you don’t have to be a Pennsylvanian to access this collection.

At the top of the Power Library home page on the right you’ll find Digital Docs and Photos.

There you will find many materials from Pennsylvania colleges including yearbooks. You can browse by subject area, with Genealogy being one of those areas.

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Interlibrary Loan and Lookups

At the time of the interview the library was not open for interlibrary loan and lookups. Check the website for the latest updates.

The library does loan its newspaper microfilm. Up to 5 reels of microfilm per request. Kathy says that if you find a newspaper article at Newspapers.com and you see the title, date and the page that an article is on, you can provide the information to the interlibrary load reference librarian at your local library and place a request for a scan of the article from the State Library of PA microfilm. The article can then be returned to you digitally through interlibrary loan. The digitized scan is yours to keep.

The Librarians Favorite Collections

Amy’s Pick: Historic maps found at the library’s website Home > For General Public > Genealogy and Local History > Maps and Geographic Information. This includes Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Note: log in with a library card may be required. Contact the library with questions.

Kathy’s favorite collections include:

  • Map Collection consisting of over 35,000 maps.
  • The 5 generations from the Mayflower collection.

Usage of Materials

Usage rights and copyright are important considerations when utilizing library materials. Usage depends on the individual item’s copyright. It should be researched as much as possible. Check the meta data of digital images for copyright information.

State Library of Pennsylvania Help

“Think of Amy and I as your personal librarians.”  Kathy Hale, Librarian

Contact State Library staff by phone at 717-787-2324 or by email at:

Learn More About the State Library of PA Collections

In episode 43 of Elevenses with Lisa we discussed genealogy records available for free at the Internet Archive. The State Library of Pennsylvania has been partnering with he Internet Archive to digitize many additional items from their collection. You can access these items for free at the State Library Internet Archive Collection. This collection includes a large number of World War I materials as well as a growing number of 19th and 20th century pamphlet volumes.

Lisa’s Tips for Using the State Library of Pennsylvania Website

Maps for Genealogy

At the website go to Home page > General Public Tab > Our Collections > Search our Resources

  1. Type in a location and the word map
  2. Use the filters on the right side of the page > Library > State Library
  3. Click to select a map
  4. Try filtering to Full Text Online
  5. Look for the Online Access link, just above Text Item Call Number.

On the map viewer page, click the thumbnail button (looks like a checkerboard) to see multiple pages at a time. You’ll find the Download button in the bottom right-hand corner. The Print button is in the upper right corner.

Cite your source: Go back to the result page, and scroll down. Click the red button called Cite This. This allows you to copy the source citation which you can then paste into other documents and programs.

Newspapers for Genealogy

The Library of Congress Chronicling America website has many Pennsylvania old newspapers, but it doesn’t include all of the newspaper that the library has in its collection. Here’s how to find old Pennsylvania newspapers at the State Library website:

  1. On the State Library website go to General Public > Research Guides > Newspapers
  2. Click the link to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive
  3. Browse by title or date, or use the drop-down menus
  4. On the viewer page, zoom into the desired article. Then click Clip/Print Image
  5. Right-click on the clipped image to save it to your hard drive.
  6. The Persistent link is the URL address to your clipping.

Google Site Search Tip

This tip comes from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox and my Premium Membership video The Genealogist’s Google Search Methodology.

Many websites have their own search engine. However, each search engine is only as good as it was programmed. If you can’t find what you want on a website like the State Library PA website, try using a Google site search. Site search tells Google to search for your search terms only on the website you specify. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to the library website
  2. Copy the home page link (remove the extra stuff to get down to the root address)
  3. Go to Google.com
  4. In the search field type in a keyword(s) (for example, a surname) then type a space, and then type site:
  5. Paste the website address that you copied right next to the colon. Do not put a space between site: and the address.
  6. Press Enter to run the search.
  7. The search results page will include pages from that website where Google found your search terms.

In my example in the video, you can see that Google found the one page mentioning the surname in a listing of microfilms much faster than I would have found it digging around and navigating the website itself. This page was not a card catalog entry so it would not have come up in a search of the catalog on the website.

On long pages such as in my example, I use Control + F (Windows.  Command + F on Mac) to quickly find the surname on the page.

 

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Record Collection #1: Ohio Memory

Website: https://ohiomemory.org
Special Guest: Jenni Salamon, Ohio Memory Digital Services Manager

If your family has any connection with the state of Ohio – and sometimes I think it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have at least one ancestor who did – then you’re going to love the Ohio Memory collection and website.

Even if you don’t have a direct connection with the state of Ohio, like all collections it’s worth taking a peek. Records don’t care about state lines, and many items in the Ohio Memory collection touch far beyond the Ohio border.

OhioMemory.org was featured in Family Tree Magazine’s 75 Best State Genealogy Websites list in a recent issue of the magazine. I host the Family Tree Magazine podcast, and recently had the opportunity to interview Ohio Memory’s Digital Services Manager, Jenni Salamon for that audio show. Since there’s so much to see at Ohio Memory I’m excited to share the video of that conversation.

What is Ohio Memory?

Ohio Memory is the collaborative digital library program of the Ohio History Connection and the State Library of Ohio. Established in 2000. It was originally established as a bicentennial project they wanted a way to capture some of Ohio’s history and share it more broadly. Ohio turned 200 years old in 2003.

Ohio Memory worked with institutions around the state to build the online collection. They picked their favorite collections which were then digitized and made available as an online scrapbook. Initial submission by 260 institutions resulted in over 13,000 contributed items, and Ohio Memory continues to grow.

Most of the contributing organizations are public libraries, and some are university libraries. Other organizations such as historical societies, government institutions, special libraries, religious archives also contribute to the collection.

What kind of genealogical resources are available at Ohio Memory?

A wide-variety of materials make up Ohio Memory including:

  • Early Ohio state history
  • American Indians
  • The Civil War
  • World War I
  • Maps
  • Drawings
  • Paintings
  • Archaeological artifacts
  • Photographs
  • Journals
  • Objects
  • Oral Histories (audio and video)
  • Newspapers
  • Yearbooks
  • Present Day government records

All 88 Ohio counties are represented in the Ohio Memory collection.

Tips for Searching for Records at Ohio Memory

Everything at Ohio Memory is digital and keyword searchable thanks to Optical Character Recognition (OCR). However, they do sometimes connect back to other catalog records.

Search Tip: Finding Images at Ohio Memory

When you use the search box on the home page you will be searching both the text and the metadata provided by the contributor. If you want to search just visual items (photos, images, etc.) select “exclude full-text sources.”

It’s important to use keywords relevant to the time period that you are searching. Restrict your format to what you want right from the homepage.

Historical Newspapers at Ohio Memory

The newspaper collection of Ohio Memory does not overlap with the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection, but they are all part of the same story and collection. They have contributed a large amount of newspapers to Chronicling America over the years. At last count there are a million pages between the two collections.

Ohio Memory focuses on titles and time periods different from the content on Chronicling America. At Ohio Memory you’ll find deeper runs of newspapers and more recent newspapers. New newspaper content is being added regularly.

They also have some very early newspapers that are significant to Ohio history such as the Ohio State Journal which was the paper of record for Ohio during the 19th century. The Ohio State Journal collection covers 1830-1875 an important time period in Ohio’s growth and the Civil War.

The Lebanon Western Star newspaper from southwest Ohio near Cincinnati and Kings Island is another important newspaper. It covers Ohio history from a more rural area.

Old Yearbooks at Ohio Memory

A lot of Ohio Memory’s public library partners have access to yearbook collections through their partnerships with local schools. Many have worked to digitize their materials and put them on Ohio Memory. Some are quite early, some more recent although not very recent due to privacy concerns.

Many of the yearbooks at Ohio Memory come from northwest and northeast Ohio. You’ll also find student histories from southwest Ohio from a couple of universities, as well as other related materials such as student photos.

Is Ohio Memory Free?

Yes! They used to have one collection that was behind a pay wall. That was the Underground Railroad Wilbur H Siebert collection which features information about underground railroad activities in Ohio and beyond. It’s a strong resource for looking at research methods of the era, and the stories of how the underground railroad operated. That collection was opened up a couple of years ago and has remained free.

Ohio Memory Help Resources

Videos, an FAQ and search guides are available to help you learn how to dig into the Ohio Memory website. You can also reach Ohio Memory by email for additional assistance.

The Future of Ohio Memory

They continue to digitize and add new materials based on their strategic goals. Recently they focused on President Warren G. Harding since it is the 100th anniversary of his election. They are continuing to add more content to that collection.

Ohio Memory has about 40 active partners around the state that are choosing items from their own collections for inclusion. Examples include Wood County in northwest Ohio, Mount Saint Joseph University and the Sister of Charity in the Cincinnati area. They welcome new partners every year.

Copyright and Usage at Ohio Memory

While you may or may not find things specifically about your ancestors, Ohio Memory offers a wonderful opportunity to find things that help fill in their story and their community.

You are free to use items for educational and personal use without needing extra permission. If you’re a family historian and you are wanting to put a picture in a presentation for your family or you just want to keep it with your own research records, you are welcome to do so.

Jenni Salamon, Ohio Memory’s Digital Services Manager says that if you want to post something on social media, simply include a link back to the Ohio Memory site so others know where it came from Ohio Memory. If you want to use an item for a formal publication or commercial use, contact Ohio Memory. Copyright varies by item and research is required.

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