Family History Episode 24 – Using Marriage Records in Family History

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished March 25, 2014

family history genealogy made easy podcast

with Lisa Louise Cooke

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh24.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 24: Using Marriage Records in Family History

So far in this podcast series you’ve made a lot of progress. You’ve set up your genealogy database, talked to your relatives, gotten familiar with the Family History Centers and you have your research worksheet to lead you in your investigation backwards in time, through death records and the census.

In today’s episode we’re going to continue working backwards down the records aisle looking for marriage records. Marriage records are a type of vital records, meaning they provide vital statistics for a person’s life. They can be a rich—even vital!—source of genealogical information.

Marriage records, like death and birth records (which we’ll be covering in an upcoming episode) are primary sources. This means that the record was completed at the event or very close to it by someone who was present at the event. That means it’s a pretty reliable source.

There are two types of marriage records: civil records which are recorded with the local government, usually at the county level, and church records, if the marriage took place in a church.

Update: Many government and church marriage records have found their way into major genealogical databases (www.Ancestry.com, www.FamilySearch.org, www.FindMyPast.org, www.MyHeritage.com, etc). Look for indexed records and—if you’re lucky—digitized versions of the actual record. (If you find only indexed records, use the process below to find copies of the actual record.)

Civil/Government Marriage Records

You need to determine where the marriage took place in order to figure out the proper civil authorities to contact. Usually that’s the clerk in the town, county, district or parish where the happy couple said “I do.” In the U.S., chances are it was at the county level, but if you’re not sure, do a Google search on the name of the county and the phrase “vital records” or “marriage records.” Chances are one of the first search results will be a link to the website for that county and hopefully the specific page that will tell you how to request vital records. There you should find specific instructions about how to make the request and any fees involved.

3 Tips for Obtaining Marriage Records for Genealogy

  • Tip #1: Be sure and follow the instructions to the letter because otherwise you will likely have your request returned to you unfilled and asking for more information which just wastes time.
  • Tip #2: As with Death Records, it isn’t necessary to order a certified copy because you are not using it for legal reasons, just information reasons. Certified copies cost more and usually have more requirements to applying for them.
  • Tips #3 Request a complete photo copy (which is sometimes referred to as a LONG FORM) rather than a SHORT FORM which can be a brief transcription of the record. There may be clues in the original record that may be left out (or mistranscribed) in the SHORT FORM.

If all this sounds cumbersome there is an easier to request marriage records and that is through Vitalcheck.com (see below). While it costs more you can order the records quickly and easily online.

If you’re looking for civil records in England or Wales, those records have been officially recorded by local District Registrars who reported to the General Registrar Office since July 1, 1837. These records are probably easiest to access, particularly if you are not in the UK, through FindMyPast.com, which does charge a fee for each record.

Types of Civil Marriage Records:

  • Marriage application. I can’t guarantee they’re available in every county, but it’s definitely worth asking!
  • Marriage license. This record often holds the most genealogical value. It will include their names, ages, residences as well as perhaps their race, occupation, age, and perhaps their parents’ names.
  • Marriage register record. This confirms the marriage actually took place. This may be just a signature and date from the official who performed the marriage, and may be a small section at the end of the marriage license information. (The latter type of record may also be called a “marriage return” or minister’s return.”
  • Marriage certificate. While this record is part of the process it isn’t available through the vital records office. It would have been kept by the couple and will involve some looking around and asking relatives to see if it still exists.

Tip: A marriage license alone does not prove a marriage. A couple could easily apply for a license but never go through with the big day.

Church Marriage Records

Start looking for these records at the Family History Library (www.familysearch.org).

Other places to look:

  • The church if it still exists. Search for their website. Contact the church office and ask if they have records for the time period you’re looking for. If they no longer have the records ask where they are being archived.
  • Check in with the closest local library and ask to talk to the reference desk.
  • Search the WorldCat catalog (see Links).
  • Check the US Gen Web site for the state and county where the marriage occurred (see Links). These sites are run by volunteers and each county has a different variety of records and resources available. Contact the local genealogy or and historical societies and ask for their help.

Other records to look for:

  • Banns of marriage records. Look for a record of the banns in the church minutes or church bulletins.
  • Newspaper marriage announcements. Tip: Keep in mind when you’re searching a newspaper database and you find a listing for what appears to be the right family in the right area but the date is way off, be sure and check it out because it just may be a republishing of the news you were looking for! (Learn more about newspaper research in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers.)

Links/Updates

FamilySearch. To search for marriage records by place, click on Search, then Catalog, then search by location. You’ll find both government and church marriage records listed here. Look at the county level for U.S. government records; look at the municipal level or under the Church records category for church marriage records.

USGenWeb

WorldCat

VitalChek

Episode 204

The Genealogy Gems Podcast

Episode #204

with Lisa Louise Cooke

Canadian expert Dave Obee shares the story of the Canadian home children tips on newspaper research. Also in this episode:

New site features at MyHeritage, including improved DNA ethnicity analysis (it’s free?upload your DNA!);

An excerpt from the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Fannie Flagg about The Whole Town’s Talking?and a great summer reading idea;

A detailed get-started guide to British Isles research: Terminology and census/civil BMD record tips from Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists

Why so many weddings are traditionally held in June.

[display_podcast]

Download the show notes

NEWS: DNA AND CATALOG UPDATES AT MYHERITAGE

MyHeritage.com: DNA ethnicity estimate updates and new collection Catalog

View an example of the new ethnicity analysis presentation here: https://vimeo.com/218348730/51174e0b49

3 top uses for the new MyHeritage catalog (with additional details and commentary)

MyHeritage Quick Reference Guide (Newly-updated in 2017)

 

Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites. This brand new, comprehensive guide helps you answer the question, “Which genealogy websites should I use?”

MAILBOX: BOOK CLUB COMMENTS

Visit the book club here.

Companion video recommendations:

Genealogy Journey: Running Away to Home video (click here to see the book)

You Came and Saved Us” video with author Chris Cleave, Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Alan Cumming on Who Do You Think You Are? Episode summary

Not My Father’s Son  by Alan Cumming

For more information: www.nwgc.org

 

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. In the works: soon RootsMagic will be fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you’ll be able to sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.

Learn more or sign up for Backblaze here.

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/.

INTERVIEW: DAVE OBEE

Continuing our celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday!

Dave Obee is an internationally-renowned Canadian journalist, historian and genealogist. Dave is a columnist for Internet Genealogy and Your Genealogy Today (formerly Family Chronicle). Dave has also written about family history for Canada’s History and Your Family Tree in the United Kingdom.

Put Dave’s books on your shelf – you can get them here.

Finding Your Canadian Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide

Counting Canada: A Genealogical Guide to the Canadian Census

Destination Canada: A Genealogical Guide to Immigration Records

Making the News: A Times Columnist Look at 150 Years of History

Canada research tips:

Look in newspapers for ship crossings, notable people sailing, approximate numbers of passengers etc.

Don’t just rely on search engines for digitized newspapers. Browse the papers where you find some hits.

Canada Home Children: Watch and Learn

 

Forgotten, an award-winning documentary (watch the trailer here)

Childhood Lost: The Story of Canada’s Home Children documentary (watch it on YouTube)

 

LEGACY TREE GEM: ENGLISH PARISH RECORDS

Visit Legacy Tree Genealogists: http://www.legacytree.com/genealogygems

Read a companion blog post on English parish records, with several image examples and links to the resources Kate Eakman recommends.

Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance.

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: FANNIE FLAGG INTERVIEW

The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg

Genealogy Gems Premium website members may hear this entire conversation in the upcoming Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #148.

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users

LINK IMAGE TO: http://lisalouisecooke.com/get-app/

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus audio content for this episode comes from Melissa Barker, the Archive Lady, in honor of International Archives Day on June 9. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

 

Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.

 

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

 

PROFILE AMERICA: June Weddings

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PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor

Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer
Check out this new episode!

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 235

Federal court records are wonderful because they are so packed with genealogical information. But knowing which records are available and where to find them can sound daunting, and that stops many genealogists from ever tapping into them. In this episode our aim is to fix all that. Professional forensic genealogist Michael Strauss is here to pull back the curtain and introduce you to these valuable records.

You know Michael from our Military Minutes segments here on Genealogy Gems. He also recently introduced us to descendancy research on Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 174. The response to that episode was terrific. Many of you wrote in to say that it opened up a new avenue of research for you. This episode promises to do the same.

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke
November 2019
Download the episode mp3

GEM: Federal Court Records with Michael Strauss

federal court records for genealogy

Where are Federal Records Found?

Federal Court Records are initially held in the custody of the national federal courthouses where the events occurred.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was founded in 1934.

National Archives, Washington DC (Archives1)
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20408-0001
Toll-free: 1-866-272-6272
Email: archives1reference@nara.gov

Regional Archives – about a dozen across the country – hold record geographically by area. View the locations here at the National Archives website.

Are all the records catalogued on the National Archives website?

  • Master federal indexes are not yet online. Indexes are found at the location/level where these record files were created.
  • Each of the federal courts are found in record groups (RG).
  • Get the finding aid for the record group online at the National Archives website. That will point in the right direction as to where to get the indices.
  • Resource: Finding Aids at the National Archives

Types of Federal Courts:

The Federal Court System of the United States was established under the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 76) on September 24, 1789. Click here to read more about the role and structure of the federal courts at the United States Courts website.

District Courts:

Trial Courts of the United States. Their jurisdiction include:

  • Admiralty
  • Equity
  • Bankruptcy
  • and Naturalization

These courts began at different times dependent on the geographic area and when the states were created.

Circuit Courts:

Originally established in 1789 as three courts and later expanded to nine courts by 1866. Circuit Courts have jurisdiction over all matters (especially criminal) covered by Federal Law. Abolished in 1911 and taken over by District Courts.

Circuit Courts of Appeals:

Established under the Federal Court System by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1891 (26 Stat. 826), by acquiring the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Circuit Courts and later the U.S. District Courts. They have different geographic jurisdictions than the regular federal courts.

Supreme Court:

It is recognized as the highest court in the United States operating as an appeals court. Although a criminal case may have first been heard at the local level, it may have escalated to a federal court. Therefore, there could be federal records on that case.

Application for the Genealogist:

Michael has found that some of the richest records in the federal court system have come from the criminal court records. Our ancestors did get into trouble upon occasion. Michael’s grandfather was arrested in the 1940s and he was able to obtain those records.

Searching for Federal Records

Is it worthwhile to head to the National Archives and generally search to see if an ancestor has records? Or is it best to identify a case first, perhaps through a newspaper article, and then go to the National Archives location that would have the records for those identified cases?

No one is wasting their time going and searching the records. It’s a great way to get familiar with them. However, identifying a case through other records first can lead you quickly to the federal records. (Michael first found his grandfather’s case in a newspaper article.)

Types of Federal Court Records:

Dockets: Lists of cases heard by the court. Sometime referred to as court calendars.

Minutes:

Brief daily accounts of all actions taken by the court.

Orders:

The specific judgments or orders of the court. An example would be an order granting citizenship.

Briefs:

Legal document arguing why one Party should prevail on a case.

Mandates:

When a Defendant obligates themselves to engage in activities in exchange for suspension of sentence. Frequently seen in Criminal Court.

Case Files:

All the loose documents relating to the case bundled together.

How to Find Records at the Archives:

  1. Review the finding aid
  2. Request the Index and find the name and corresponding file information
  3. Request the record

An appointment is not required. They will pull the records as you request them. Record groups are pulled at different times. For the most part you will have the opportunity to view the original documents.

Record Groups:

The National Archives is set up by record groups, such as:

Records of the U.S. District Court – RG 21

Records of the U.S. Supreme Court – RG 267

Records of the U.S. Court of Appeals – RG 276

Records of the U.S. Court of Claims – RG 123  (Claims against the US. Individual citizens could actually file claims against the US)

Request the individual record groups separately.

Bankruptcy:

Bankruptcy Acts were passed by Congress usually after business disturbances or financial recessions.

Bankruptcy Act of 1800

This act followed the business disturbances of 1797.

The first national bankruptcy act was approved on April 4, 1800 (2 Stat, 19.) It provided for an effective period beginning June 2, 1800 and continuing for 5 years.

It applied only to merchants or other related parties. The act provided for compulsory or involuntary bankruptcy, but not for voluntary bankruptcy. Because of its limited applicability the act was repealed on December 19, 1803, just months before its expiration date.

Bankruptcy Act of 1841

This act followed the business panic of 1837.

The second national bankruptcy act was passed on August 19, 1841 and was to take effect on February 1, 1842.

The law allowed voluntary bankruptcy to all debtors, but limited involuntary bankruptcy to merchants, bankers, factors (an agent or commissioned merchant), brokers, and traders.

It eliminated the requirement of the consent of the creditor for a discharge. The bankrupt filer, however, could obtain his discharge through a jury trial if the jury found that he had surrendered all his property and had fully complied with the orders of the court.

Bankruptcy Act of 1867

This act followed the post-Civil War recession of 1866-1867.

On March 2, 1867, Congress approved the Nation’s third bankruptcy act to assist the judges in the administration of the law, the act provided for the appointment by the court of registers in bankruptcy.

The registers were authorized to make adjudications of bankruptcy, to hold and preside at meetings of creditors, to take proofs of debts, to make computations of dividends, and otherwise to dispatch the administrative business of the court in bankruptcy matters when there was no opposing interest.

In cases where opposition to an adjudication or a discharge arose, the controversy was to be submitted to the court.

Bankruptcy Act of 1898

This act followed the business panic of 1893 and the depression that followed. We are currently under the umbrella of this fourth act.

In 1889 The National Convention of Representatives of Commercial Bodies was formed to lobby for bankruptcy legislation. The president of the Convention, Jay L. Torrey, drafted a new Bankruptcy Bill otherwise known as the “Torrey Bill.”

In 1898 Congress passed a bankruptcy bill based on the previous Torrey bill. This Act also called the “Nelson Act” was passed July 1, 1898, (Ch. 541, 30 Stat. 544.) It was the first United States Act of Congress involving Bankruptcy that gave companies an option of being protected from creditors. Previous attempts at bankruptcy law had lasted at most a few years. Its popular name is a homage to the role of Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota.

Bankruptcy files are in the custody of the National Archives and now stored offsite at the National Archives branch in Kansas City, MO. Researchers should contact the Archives directly to conduct searches. Some indexes are still maintained at the regional archives.

Bankruptcy Records Examples

1) Two pages from the Bankruptcy File of Percival L. Strauss of Bethel Twp. Berks Co. PA.  1 Page is the petition and the second page is a page from “Schedule A” which lists the debt owed by the bankrupt.

federal court bankruptcy record

Petition by Debtor: Percival L. Strauss

Creditors Bankruptcy record

Schedule A – No. 3: Creditors Whose Claims are Unsecured (Percival L. Strauss)

2) Tintype of Percival L. Strauss-circa 1872 within a few years of filing Bankruptcy.  

Percival L. Strauss

Percival L. Strauss. (Courtesy of Michael’s cousin Harry B. Strauss of Myerstown, PA)

Biographical information:
Percival Long Strauss (Son of Benjamin Strauss & Rebecca Long)
Born: December 16, 1830-Upper Bern Township, Berks Co. PA
Died: Mohnton, Berks Co. PA
Married: April 9, 1855-Bethel Township, Berks Co. PA to Malinda Smith (12 Children)

May 18, 1867 (Page 3, Column 6), in the Berks & Schuylkill Journal newspaper the entry reads: “P.L. Strauss of Bethel Twp. Berks County, PA Class #13 License paid $10.00 to conduct store (merchant).” 

This is the business he had at the time of his bankruptcy filing on May 27, 1867 in Philadelphia, PA in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Types of Information Found in Bankruptcy Records:

  • Lists of creditors (name, address)
  • Amount of money owed (the debt)
  • Specific information about the items for which the debt was incurred
  • Total dollar amounts

Follow the Federal Record Trail:

Information found could lead you to additional records. For example, if your ancestor filed for bankruptcy due to debts associated with his business, you could go back to the local level to look for records such as a business license, newspaper articles, etc.

Lisa suggests searching Google Books for digitized items such as county histories, almanacs, catalogs, merchant association books, etc. Here’s an example of a bankruptcy notice found in Google Books (which is free) for Michael’s ancestor Percival L. Strauss

Bankruptcy notice in Google Books

Searching for Percival L. Strauss bankruptcy notice in Google Books

 

Bankruptcy notice in Google Books

Bankruptcy notice (Oct. 9, 1868) found in Google Books

The National Archives has been consolidating all of the bankruptcy records. It is going to be the Kansas City, MO branch of the National Archives, which currently has the Patent files.

Examples of bankruptcy cases:

  • Bankruptcy Act of 1841 – Edgar Allen Poe filed bankruptcy in 1841.
  • Bankruptcy Act of 1898 Act – Dean Martin in New York

Amendments to the most recent bankruptcy act include:

1933: The “1898 Bankruptcy Act”

Amended to include railroad reorganization, corporate reorganization, and individual debtor arrangements.

1938:  The “Chandler Act”

Amended the earlier 1898 Bankruptcy Act, creating a menu of options for both business and non-business debtors. Named for Walter Chandler.

1978: The 1898 Bankruptcy Act

Replaced by The Bankruptcy Reform Act. This Act is still used today.

Writs of Habeas Corpus:

Habeas corpus is a court order from a judge instructing a person who is detaining another to bring the detainee before the court for a specific purpose.

It was often used during the Civil War for soldiers under the age of 18 years and in reference to runaway slaves.

Writs can be found in most case files. They usually involves a petition, transcript, order, and the writ when ordered by the Judge. Contact the National Archives regarding RG19 for records pertaining to this set of documents and indexes.

Fugitive Slave Act:

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850. It was one of the controversial acts passed down by law. Runaway slaves could be returned with the help of the Federal Government.

Records can include:

  • Petitions
  • Affidavits
  • Testimonies
  • Documentation of ownership

Records are typically found in the court of original petition and the court with jurisdiction over the area where the slave escaped. Search under the slave holder’s name.

The Confiscation Act of 1862:

Passed by an act of Congress on July 17, 1862, the full title is “An Act to Suppress Insurrection, to Punish Treason and Rebellion, to Seize and Confiscate the Property of Rebels, and for Other Purposes.”

This Act gave the power to take the land and businesses of persons who served the Confederacy. Records include case files include; petitions, orders of the court, proofs of public notice, and notices of seizure

Example: General Robert E. Lee. The act covered land under Union Control. Lee lived in Northern Virginia, and his home was confiscated. The file has a complete inventory of his house. The location is now the Arlington National Cemetery.

Federal Criminal Records

Criminal records could include cases covering:

  • Treason
  • Assault and Battery on the high seas
  • Conspiracy to over through our government
  • Smuggling
  • Forgery
  • Counterfeiting
  • Carrying on a business without a license
  • Not paying taxes

Naturalization Records:

Records were created:

  1. at the federal level
  2. at the local level – local court at the county level

1790: The first national act created a two-step process:

  1. Declare your intention to become a citizen
  2. File your petition for citizenship

Your ancestors may not have finished the process, and they may have filed both at local and federal levels.

Naturalization Record German Genealogy Records Bust Brick Wall

Petition for Naturaliztion

 

Resource: The Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

Family History Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

 

Episodes focusing on the Naturalization process include:

Episode 29: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 1

This episode begins a 3-part series on U.S. immigration and naturalization records. Learn about passenger arrival lists in the U.S., little-known certificates of arrival and naturalization records: how to find them and what’s in them.

Episode 30: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 2

In this episode we focus on passenger departure records created in European ports. He also talks more in-depth about U.S. naturalization records.

Episode 31: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 3

In-depth discussion of passenger list annotations and the immigrant’s experience at Ellis Island. Unlock the meaning of those mysterious scribbles on 20th-century passenger manifests!

Learn More with Michael Strauss:

Visit Michael’s Website: Genealogy Research Network

Register for Michael Strauss’ week-long Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) 2020 course called Court #2 A Guide to Treasures Found in Federal Records.

Hear More from Michael Strauss: Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

Gain access to the complete Premium podcast archive of over 150 episodes and more than 50 video webinars, including Lisa Louise Cooke’s newest video The Big Picture in Little Details.

Become a member here.

More Reading:

Black, Henry Campbell. Black’s Law Dictionary. Sixth Edition. St. Paul: West Publishing, 1990.

Burton, William C. Burton’s Legal Thesaurus. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1998.

Chapin, Bradley. Criminal Justice in Colonial America, 1606–1660. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983

Eichholz, Alice ed., Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources, 3rd Ed Provo: Ancestry, 2004.

Evans, Barbara Jean. The New A to Zax: A Comprehensive Genealogical Dictionary for Genealogists and Historians. Second Edition. Champaign: B.J. Evans, 1990

Neagles, James C. and Lila Lee Neagles. Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor: A Guide to Naturalization Records. Logan: Everton Publishers, 1986.

Rapaport, Diane. New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians. Burlington: Quill Pen Press, 2006

Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family Historians. San Jose: CR Publications, 2004.

Schaefer, Christina. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.

Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Luebking. The Archives: A Guide to the National Archives Field Branches. Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1988.

Thank you to Michael Strauss for contributing to these notes and sharing his expertise!

This free podcast is sponsored by:

MyHeritage

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Visit www.MyHeritage.com

Rootsmagic

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. Visit www.RootsMagic.com

 

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Discover the FamilySearch Wiki WOW Factor! (Beginner Tutorial)

Show Notes: The FamilySearch Wiki is like a free encyclopedia of genealogy! In this FamilySearch Wiki tutorial, discover the wealth of information the Wiki has to offer, and learn the secrets to navigating it with ease. We’ll also cover the number #1 reason people get frustrated when searching the Wiki and how to overcome it.

Watch the Video

RootsTech has set the class video to “private”. You can watch it on their website by going to the video page in their on-demand library. You may need to sign in to your free FamilySearch account in order to watch it. 

Enjoy this special free tutorial video which was originally presented at the RootsTech conference. Download the ad-free Show Notes cheat sheet for this video class. (Premium Membership required.)

What is a Wiki?

A wiki is a website that

  • Allows collaborative editing platform for users
  • doesn’t require HTML editing
  • has links to both internal and external resource pages
  • The FamilySearch Wiki is a lot like Wikipedia. It’s basically an encyclopedia of information. But the exciting part is that it’s specific to genealogy. This means you don’t usually have to worry about including the word genealogy in your searches.

What Does the FamilySearch Wiki Do?

The FamilySearch Wiki is focused on providing information for genealogy research such as:

  • how to find data
  • where to find data
  • how to analyze and use the data

What are the sources of Wiki content?

  • Original material was added from the old Family History Library research outlines.
  • User added material in their areas of genealogical expertise. The Wiki is constantly being updated by LDS missionaries and other volunteers as new material is discovered or released.

Don’t worry about Contributor info.

You’re going to see many things about wiki creation and management. Not everything is relevant to you when just wanting to find information. In fact, the majority of the Help section is geared to people creating, editing and maintaining pages. Don’t worry about being a contributor. Enjoy being a user.

2 Ways to Access the FamilySearch Wiki

  • Going directly to https://www.familysearch.org/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.
  • Logging in at the FamilySearch website. In the menu under Search click Research Wiki. By logging in and you’ll have access to additional features like participating in discussions, posting and creating watchlists.

The FamilySearch Wiki focuses on records, not ancestors.

Keep in mind that the purpose of the Wiki is to explain where genealogical materials are located and how to get access to them. The Wiki does not have individual ancestor information. If you want to find records, start by deciding specifically what kind of records you want.  Identify when and where the ancestor lived at the time the record was created. Then head to the Wiki to figure out what records are available and where they can be found. 

The Wiki links to:

  • Materials that available at FamilySearch.org or any other online genealogy website.
  • Materials that are not available at FamilySearch.org or any other online genealogy site.
  • Materials that were previously unknown or newly made available online.
  • Strategies and techniques for finding and researching genealogical records.

Types of Searches

Topic Search: When searching for information on a specific topic such as probate records, type the topic into the Search box. As you type, a list of pages with the topic word or words in the title appears below the Search box. If one of the listed pages is the desired topic, highlight and press enter. If you don’t pick from the drop-down list you will get a results list of every page that includes the topic.

Vital records Search: FamilySearch recommends using the Guided Search for info on vital records.

Location Search in the search box: When only the name of any country, state in the U.S., province in Canada, or county in England is typed in the Search box you will be taken directly to that Wiki page. For example: If Texas is searched the result is the Texas, United States Genealogy page.

Page Title: If you happen to know the exact title of the Wiki article you want, type it in the Search Box.

How to Overcome the #1 Search Problem

Many people will search for something like marriage records, Randolph, County, Indiana, and they will get a list of results. The results 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.

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. 

Pre-filled suggestions will appear 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.

If you’re looking for marriage records but you don’t see them listed 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.

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.

The FamilySearch Wiki Search box

You can run three main types of searches:

  1. Single key words,
  2. phrases,
  3. and search strings. 

Resource: Wiki Search Help Page

Search Operators

  • Quotes: Odd Fellows – 49 results versus “Odd Fellows” – 32 results
  • Minus sign
  • OR
  • Word stemming applies: car will also find cars
  • Intitle:Dunkards
  • subpageof:”Requests for comment”
  • Numrange doesn’t work on the wiki
  • Use Google site search to search using Google’s engine and search operators!

Map Search

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. 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.

Location-based FamilySearch Wiki Pages

If you’re really new to research in a particular location, start with the guided research link on the location’s wiki page. You may also see links to research strategies, record finder, and record types.

Getting Started section – links to step-by-step research strategies and the most popular records.

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. There you’ll find out how to contact or visit the current county courthouse. Look for Boundary Changes on the page. Use your computer’s Find on Page feature by pressing Control + F (PC) or Command + F (mac) on your keyboard to more quickly find words like Boundary on the page.

Exploring Record Collection Pages

Many record collections have their own page on the Wiki. As you type, these pages will populate in the drop-down list. Example: German Census Records. Take a moment to read through the page and you’ll discover some important information that will save you time and headaches, such as:

  • When censuses were taken
  • National versus local censuses and their various levels
  • Censuses in areas where boundaries have changed over time
  • Various types of census forms we may encounter
  • The purpose behind the creation of census records in Germany
  • The kind of information we can expect to find in the German census
  • Other types of records containing similar information
  • Resource articles (including a handout from a past RootsTech)
  • Wiki articles describing online collections

There are a couple of actions we may want to take before going on to search for records. Here are a few:

Click on the Category to see what else is attached to this category – in this case we see some example images that are helpful in interpreting German census forms.

Click the Cite this page link in the left column if we plan to reference the page elsewhere.

Click Printable Version in the left column if we want a printable or PDF version of the page.

Explore related pages by clicking the What links here link in the column on the left. Notice it also shows if there are any other users watching the page.

Learn more about using Family Search

Videos at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:

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