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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 Premiere with Live Chat

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

 

Best Ways to Search for Photos with Google Images

Google offers a variety of ways to help you find and search for images. In fact, there are so many different ways it can get a little confusing. In this video and article I’m going to show you how to find images and photographs that apply to your family history. Who knows, we may even find an ancestor’s photo. I’m also going to show you how you can use Google Images to even help identify some of the images and photos you have in your family scrapbooks. These are my best image search strategies and they come my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 49 Show Notes

Follow along in the show notes below. The step-by-step instructions are available in an ad-free show notes cheat sheet which is downloadable in the Resources section at the end of these show notes. (Premium Membership required.)

How to Find Photos and Images with Google Images

When it comes to searching for images, part of the confusion comes from the fact that the search experience on desktop and mobile are a bit different. So, let’s start with running a basic image search on computer desktop. There are actually two ways to do that.

#1 Google search for images at Google.com on desktop:

  1. Go to Google.com
  2. Run a search
  3. Click Image results

#2 Search for images at Google Images on desktop:

  1. Go to https://images.google.com or go to Google.com and click Images in the top right corner (Image 1) 

    How to get to Google Images from Google.com

    Image 1: How to get to Google Images from Google.com

  2. Run a text search: Example: John Herring
  3. Images results will be presented

If I’m in a hurry, I’ll usually just search from Google.com because I’m probably over there anyway. But if I really want to find the best image, or I expect to do some digging, I go directly to Google Images.

How to Get the Best Google Images Results

Searching for a name is fine, but chances are there are and have been many people with that name. You’ll need to narrow things down and provide Google with more specific information about what you want.

There are a several excellent ways to refine and dramatically improve your results. The best place to start is by using a few powerful search operators.

The first search operator is quotation marks. By putting quotation marks around a word or a phrase you are telling Google that it must:

  • Be included in each search result,
  • Be spelled the way you spelled it,
  • And in the case of a phrase, the words must appear in the order you typed them.

You can also use an asterisk to hold the spot for a middle initial or middle name. This is important because without it, Google may pass over these since the name was presented in quotation marks which means its to be searched exactly as typed.

Notice in the following screen shot how this refined search appears. The search operators have made quite an improvement in the image results. I’ve located four photos of my great grandfather! (Image 2)

Google Images search results

(Image 2) Google Images found photos of my great grandfather

Google might restrict how many images it shows you. Click See more anyway at the bottom of the screen to reveal all the results. (Image 3)

Find more Google Image search results

(Image 3) Click to see more image results

You may need to scroll down to see even more results. Click an image to preview it. (Image 4)

Preview Google Image results

(Image 4) Click to preview Google Image results

Click the enlarged preview image again to visit the website where it is hosted. I’ve got my fingers crossed that since this website is hosting a photograph of my ancestors, it just might have more. And indeed, it does – genealogy happy dance! (Image 5) 

google image results

(Image 5) Old family photos found on this web page

 

How to Narrow Down an Image Search to Old Photos

One of the ways you can zero in on old photos is by filtering down to only Black and White images. This makes sense because most of our older family photos are black and white.

On the Google Images search results page click the Tools button. This will cause a secondary menu to drop down. Click the Any Color menu and select Black and White. (Image 6) 

How to filter Google Image results

(Image 6) How to filter Google Image results

Now all of your image results will be black and white. It’s easy to tell that most of these are older photos. (Image 7)

c

(Image 7) Filtered image results

Permission to Use Images Found with Google Images

If you want to use any of the photos you find, you’ll need to ensure that you have permission to do so. Start with the FAQ at Google Search Help. This page will help guide you through issues like Fair Use and how usage rights work. In the end, the best thing to do when in doubt is to contact the person who posted the photo and explore any requirements they may have regarding use of the image.

How to Use Google Images to Identify Images and Photos

Do you have unidentified photographs, old postcards or other images in your family scrapbooks or photo albums? Google Images just might be able to help!

Start by first digitizing the image (I use a flatbed scanner) and saving it to your computer hard drive. Then head to Google Images on your computer and click the camera icon in the search field. This will give you two options:

  1. Paste URL (we’ll get to that in just a bit)
  2. Upload an image (this is the one you want – click it)

Click Choose File and grab the photo you saved to your computer. Google Images will search the Web for that image. It may find an exact copy, or it may deliver visually similar images.

Notice on the Google Images search results page that Google has added keywords to the search field at the top of the page. You’ll also see a tiny version of the image you searched. The keywords may be rather generic such as gentleman, family, etc. Try replacing these words with more specific words about the photos and what you are looking for. For example, you could replace the word gentleman with your ancestor’s name in quotation marks, or replace the word family with the family surname and the town where they lived. Experiment and try different variations to see what provides the best results.

How to Upload an Image to Google Image Search (Reverse Search):

  1. Digitize the image and save it to your computer.
  2. On your computer, go to https://images.google.com or google Google Images.
  3. Click the camera icon in the search field.
  4. Navigate to and select the digitized photo you saved to your computer.
  5. Google will attempt to find that exact image. If not the closest visually. You will see words in the search field along with your photo. These words describe what Google AI noted about the photo. For example, when I upload a photo of Margaret Scully sitting in her rocking chair, Google note “sitting” and delivered old photo of people sitting. When I upload a photo of the John Herring family Google notes “family” and provides old photos of family groups. Neither Margaret nor the Herrings are well-known, so this isn’t a surprise. If I upload a postcard from an ancestor’s scrapbook of a well-known or famous location, Google will likely find additional copies on the web and provide background information on the location and a website address for it if there is one.
  6. You can revise this search by replacing the words that Google noted (i.e. family) with the person’s name of the surname. In the case of the John Herring group photo, I replaced family with Herring and then John Herring.

Remember the option to Paste URL? Use this when you find a photo on a website, (or if you have posted a photo on your own website or blog) and you want to find more like it. Right-click (PC – or Control Click on a Mac) on the image and Copy Image Address. Next, head back to Google Images, click the camera icon and paste the URL. Google will use that image to run your image search.

How to Search an Online Photo with Google Images (Reverse Search):

  1. Right-click on a PC (Control Click on a Mac) on the image on the web page.
  2. In the pop-up menu select Copy Image Address.
  3. Go to Google Images.
  4. Click the camera icon in the search field.
  5. Paste the image URL that you copied to your computer clipboard (on a PC use Control V on your keyboard.)
  6. Click the Search by Image button to run your search.

Searching with your own image or an image you find online can help you discover many more website that have the visual content you need. In this episode I searched using an Elevenses with Lisa viewer’s old photo and revised the search with the name of the town. This resulted in a wonderful assortment of websites to look at that also hosted photos from the same town and timeframe.

The initial Google Image results added the keyword gentleman to the search field. But you can see by the visually similar images it found that it was able to target photos that included more similarities than just gentleman. These photos also matched in other important ways (Image 8):

  • House
  • Porch
  • Multiple People
  • White dress
  • Old photo
best ways to find old photos with Google

(Image 8)

Who might have photos online of your family? Here’s just a short list of possibilities:

  • Archives
  • Libraries
  • Historical Societies
  • Newspapers
  • Genealogy Websites
  • Cousins
  • Social Media

How to Use Google Image Search on Mobile

The Google Images camera icon allows you to conduct reverse image searches. However, whether you use a browser app like Safari or Chrome to go to Google Images or you use the Google search app, you won’t find the Google Images camera icon in the search field. Google Images is different on mobile than it is on computer desktop. The main difference is that there is no camera icon for uploading images to search. However, there’s a little secret for getting around that problem.

On an iPhone / iPad you can switch your settings for the Safari app so that it behaves more like a desktop computer. And for our purposes, that means getting the camera icon in Google Images.

How to Search Your Own Image Using Google Images on an iPhone or iPad 

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Scroll down and tap the Safari app
  3. Scroll down and tap Request Desktop Website
  4. Tap the slide to activate All Websites
  5. Close the Settings app
  6. Open Safari
  7. Go to Google.com – if you’re signed into your account you can tap the apps icon (9 dots) and open Images or just google Google Images
  8. Now you have the camera icon in your search bar ready to reverse search images!

How to Reverse Search a Web Image on an iPhone or iPad (Reverse Search Images)

  1. When you find a photograph on a website in Safari, press and hold the image
  2. Tap Copy
  3. Go to Google Images (after changing your settings to Desktop Website)
  4. Tap the camera icon
  5. In the Paste URL field press and hold and tap Paste
  6. The web image URL will appear in the search field.
  7. Tap the Search by Image button to run your search.

How to Reverse Search an Image on Android:

  1. Open the Chrome browser app.
  2. Go to google.com.
  3. Tap the three dots at the top right to open the  menu.
  4. Tap to check the box for Desktop Site.
  5. The Google Images page will refresh and you will now have the camera icon ready to run reverse image searches.

How to Reverse Search a Web Image on Android (Reverse Search Images)

  1. In the Chrome browser, go to the web page hosting the image.
  2. Tap and hold on the image until the menu pops up.
  3. Tap on Search Google For This Image.
  4. You’ll be taken to Google Image results for that image.

Resources

 

 

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