September 22, 2017

Breaking News: Microfilm Lending Expiration Date Extended

download backblazeI’ve heard from many of you since publishing my interview with Diane Loosle, Director of Patron Services at FamilySearch on the topic of FamilySearch ending its microfilm lending program on August 31, 2017. As fate would have it, just as the interview published, the unexpected happened – microfilm ordering capability ceased. That was when emails like this one started to arrive in my inbox:

Last Monday there was a computer software upgrade (or downgrade as I call it) in the FamilySearch catalog system which now prevents ordering of a mass number of microfilms ahead of the deadline this week…I am not confused about what is going on. I volunteer at an FHC and to date we have ordered some 600 films to complete our collection (these records will never be digitized.)  We have ordered all the vital records we can. We have more than 9000 films at our little FHC, but now we want to order the Naturalization records and the system says “Film #—- does not exist.”  This is happening on a global scale and even with films we already own. German, Lithuanian, Swedish, Chicago, Sacramento, Dallas, you name the city, this error message is showing up…Since you had a conversation with Diane recently, is there a way you can share this with her and find out how we can address this stumbling block. This is now a week old…
Many of you asked  me to reach out to Diane, which I did. And thanks to your involvement, I received the following from Diane this morning:

Diane Loosle, Director of Patron Services at FamilySearch

“There was an update to the software that had unintended consequences in that it broke the online film ordering systems connection to the FamilySearch Catalog. People were unable to order the films they desired for a little less than one week. This timing of course was very unfortunate. The situation has been remedied in the software so orders have resumed and because of this issue, the decision has been made to extend the film ordering deadline by one week to September 7th to make up for the week that the software was down. We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused people and are anxious to ensure that they are able to order the films they desire. We now need everyone’s assistance to get the word out to their friends that if they experienced this issue in trying to order they will be able to get their orders in now.

Thanks for your help on this Lisa. This was an incredibly unfortunate event with timing which couldn’t have been worse. This is of course and evolving situation at this point. I will keep you posted if anything else changes. The software that we use for this is quite archaic, a real dinosaur in the technology world. We are literally praying that it will hold up under the additional load. While we don’t anticipate any further problems, it is possible, so I will keep you in the loop should anything happen” -Diane

As you can hear, it was genealogical serendipity struck in an unusual, and unfortunate way. But as soon as FamilySearch became aware of the problem, they went into action. I’m pleased and grateful that they have extended deadline, and that they make millions of genealogical records available to us every day. And I’m grateful to you, our Genealogy Gems community for getting into gear and bringing the situation to the forefront.

Special Episode: The End of FamilySearch Microfilm Lending Program

Change is something we can always count on, but that doesn’t make it any easier, does it? Understanding why the change is happening, how it affects you personally, and what you can do to adapt, does. So, when FamilySearch announced the end of their long-standing microfilm lending program, I immediately sought out the key expert who can answer these questions for you. 

The End of microfilm lending at FamilySearch

 

FamilySearch’s Goal for Microfilm and the Family History Library

It seems like only yesterday I was interviewing Don R. Anderson, Director of the Family History Library about the future of the library and FamilySearch. Back then, in 2009, he made the startling statement that their goal was to digitize all of the microfilms in FamilySearch’s granite vault. (Click here to listen to that interview in my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast episode 16.) Fast forward to today, and we see that in less than ten years that end goal is within sight. We are also seeing the ending of a service nearly every genealogist has tapped into at some point: the microfilm lending program. Family historians have been able to place orders for microfilm to be shipped to their local Family History Center where they could then scroll through the images in search of ancestors.

On August 31, 2017, this service comes to an end.

Fear of the Unknown

It’s sort of scary to see this come to an end before every last roll of microfilm has been digitized and put online (just head to social media to read some of the concerns). It’s definitely been comforting to know that the records you need are just an order form and two weeks away.

I have always found that being armed with information helps alleviate fear, and so upon hearing the news, I reached out to FamilySearch to arrange a special interview with Diane Loosle, Director of Patron Services at FamilySearch. In this special Genealogy Gems Podcast interview, we take the time to really comb through what the end of the microfilm lending program means for you, and what your options are for records access going forward. I’ve been anxious to get this information into your ears and hands, and have spent the entire weekend producing this episode and transcribing it for you.

The Interview: The End of the FamilySearch Microfilm Lending Program

Lisa: One of the constant challenges for genealogists is gaining access to genealogical records that they need for their particular family history research. I imagine that you’ve had that challenge yourself. Thankfully, since 1938 the FamilySearch organization has been microfilming records around the world. They’ve been making these records available through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and through a tremendous lending program with their Family History Centers located worldwide. And that may be where you’ve gotten your hands on a couple of microfilms and records over the years. But of course, as the Internet has been more accessible over the last two decades, this is changing the landscape of record access. So more and more we are gaining access to digitized records online, and this has led to a really big change in the long-standing microfilm lending program.

Guest: Diane Loosle

I’ve invited Diane Loosle, the Director of Patron Services Division at FamilySearch, to talk about the change that’s occurred, what it means for you, and what your record access options are going to be going forward. Diane, thanks so much for joining me today.

Diane: I’m so happy I could come, and thank you for inviting me.

The Reasons Microfilm Lending is Coming to an End

Lisa: I imagine that you’ve been very busy with the changes. I know that the last day of the microfilm ordering was August 31, 2017. And you know FamilySearch has been digitizing records for years, so we are going to be shifting from microfilm to digitization. Why is right now the time that the change is happening, where you’re actually discontinuing the physical microfilm lending?

Diane: This is such an exciting time Lisa. We’ve been looking forward to this day for many, many years because when you think about the fact that you can get access to these images immediately in your home, for the most part – there are some that you have to access through a center or library, but the majority are in your home – that’s pretty wonderful. And so we are moving to a place where all of our fulfillment for your needs for your records is going to be digital and that’s what this change is all about.

So the reason that it’s happening now is that, a couple of different reasons. First, we have moved through a lot of the microfilm and have had those digitized and they are up online. So it was a good point with that.

We’ve also seen a huge drop in the orders of microfilms. So there’s not very many being ordered now, so that kind of lined up.

And then also our supplier. We have a single supplier for vesicular microfilm, and I think that’s important to understand that we’re talking about a certain type of microfilm because we use that type to make the copies and send them out to you. We have a single supplier, and that supplier has been kind of raising prices and giving us the indication that they would rather not be in that business. And so with all those things together, and the fact that we would like to take the resources that we are currently using to duplicate films, and send them out, and ship them and all of that, we’d like to take those resources and move them towards bringing you more records digitally.

It seemed like the right time to make this decision to finally finish it. Now we do have some of the collection that has not been completed of course, and I think that’s what’s causing most people concern is, “What happens? Can I get access to that during this time that you are still finishing it off?”

Lisa: Exactly, and you know I have visited the distribution center for your lending program, and it was massive and it looked really complicated. And then when you add on the idea that the access to the actual film itself is changing.

FamilySearch Microfilm System 2

I just got a camera from my uncle, and it’s got 25-year-old film in it. It took me all day to find a local store that could develop it for me!

So, it’s like a perfect storm of a lot of technological changes, which is exciting, because as you said we can access things from home.

Digitization and Publishing Limitations

I know that when it comes to the microfilm that you guys have, the goal has been to digitize all of it. But explain to folks what the limitations are in terms of, do you have the rights to lend it, do you have the rights to digitize and put up online everything that you have microfilmed?

Diane: Right. So we are always limited by the rights associated with the collections because the record custodians stipulate those when we do the agreements. And in microfilm, we’ve been circulating things. Our intention is to circulate digitally everything possible legally for us to do. And that’s the majority of the collection.

Now in the process of doing this, what’s happened over the years is that laws have changed around Data Privacy, particularly in Europe and some other locations around the world. And as we’re going through and reviewing all of these, you can imagine these thousands of contracts for this process, we’re discovering that there are some that because of the changes in the Data Privacy laws, they really should not have been continuing to circulate because of those changes.

So those would then in the future be restricted because of the Data Privacy issues. And those are usually very modern records, those that have living people in them.

So there will be a set of records that maybe you could have gotten on microfilm previously that you would not now be able to get digitally. But that’s because they shouldn’t have been in circulation anyway because of the data privacy changes. But for the most part, what we’re circulating microfilm-wise you will have access to digitally.

Now, about 20% of the collection you have to access through the Family History Library, or through a Family History Center or affiliate library because of the contracts we have. And that was also true with the microfilm of course, and now it’s true with the digital images as well, based on the contracts, so there will be a certain set that is in that category.

Family History Center Affiliates

Lisa: Help us understand what affiliate centers are.

Diane: Affiliates don’t have to return the film they have. Affiliates are usually public libraries or Family History Centers in an LDS chapel. Local leadership will decide. So if they keep them, you can still access them. And the Family History Library in Salt Lake City will maintain a large microfilm collection as well. Go to familysearch.org and in the right corner, you’ll find the Get Help link (and click Contact Us). Search by zip code for affiliates near you. They will appear on a map. Libraries have extended hours compared to Family History Centers.

get help link FamilySearch

The best way to find out where the films are still located, both physical and digital, is the FamilySearch Card Catalog. Many people aren’t that familiar with the card catalog. Look for the Camera icon, then click to go to the document image.

camera icon FamilySearch

Lisa: Let’s dig into that a little bit. So we’re talking about, you mentioned the term “affiliate centers” and I know that there are some locations which aren’t technically affiliates. Can you help define that for us? How do we figure out, before we make the jaunt over to the local family history center if that’s one that actually can still have some of the microfilm. Help us sort that out.

Diane: So if you go to any center or affiliate library out there, and I’ll tell you how to find those in just a minutes, they can keep whatever film they already have on hand. There’s nothing that’s saying that they need to send it back. Now that is dependent on decisions made at the local level. So, you know, the leadership of either the affiliate library, which is normally in a public library, or a family history center which is often in an LDS chapel, the local leadership there will make a decision about, you know, the film and what happens to them in the future, but we’re not asking them to send them back. So you’ll still be able to access them. And the library here in Salt Lake will maintain a large microfilm collection as well. So, it will still be available that way.

Now the way that you find these locations is if you go into FamilySearch, up in the right-hand corner there’s a Get Help link, and the Get Help link lets you get in touch with us. And then you can search actually using your zip code to find which centers and affiliate libraries are near you, and both will appear on the map that appears. So, uhm, you can find out which ones are near your location.

The affiliates are, as I said, often public libraries, so they may have extended hours beyond what the family history center might have because the family history center is often as I said in a chapel and manned by volunteers. And so they may not have as many hours as your affiliate libraries may have.

Diane Loosle quote

How to Identify Where the Films are Located

Lisa: So whatever they may have had on hand when the lending program came to an end, they had the option to decide if they were going to hang onto it, or if they were going to send stuff back. There’s going to be some just at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Do we go into the card catalog to identify where the existing films are still located?

Diane: Yes, so the best way to find out what’s available both digitally and where the films might be physically located is through the FamilySearch Catalog on familysearch.org. So if you go to Search on FamilySearch, and then Catalog, you can look up your location, look up the records your interested in, and it will tell you where those can be found.

FamilySearch card catalog

Now, if it’s available digitally, and actually most people I’ve talked to where they would have this concern about “oh goodness, I’m not going to have access to my films!”, when I’ve talked with them, and we’ve looked them up, their records were already available digitally, they just didn’t know it. So, if you go in the catalog and look it up where it lists the microfilm, there will be a little camera icon out to the right-hand side, and if you see that little camera icon, you can click on that and that takes you straight in to the digital images for that record.

Now we publish those, we do about digitize about 1,500 microfilms a day at the vault. And we publish those pretty immediately up on to the website through the catalog. You will not find those through the Historical Records part of FamilySearch under Search Records. They’re just through the catalog, so there’s a much larger collection available through the catalog than what you see in the Historical Records section.

How Films are Prioritized for Digitization

Lisa: When we get notifications, I know I get your press releases and such on the new records that are coming out, does that include those? Because we do publish every Friday kind of a run down for all of our listeners out there, what the newest records are that are coming online.

Diane: It does not currently. That publication only includes things that are published online in the  Historical Records section of the website. However, with this change, we’re looking to change that so it will include those being published to the catalog. Now the challenge with that is the volume! Because 1,500 films a day is a lot.

And these films, because the way that we did this initially, we prioritized all of the films that had been ordered in the last five years to make sure that those were available digitally, so it’s been kind of piecemeal a little bit.

So, you might have two or three films in a full collection that have been digitized and the rest maybe not, at this point, and so trying to help you understand what is and is not available through that publication. We’re still working through the details. But the intention is, as we go forward, will be to prioritize filling in those collections where maybe one or two films have been digitized and the rest have not yet. We will go through and make sure the whole collection has been digitized. And then we are going to introduce a process where you will be able to let us know if there is a film that you absolutely need. You can let us know, and we will work that into our prioritization and try to get that to you as quickly as we can. You know if you think about how long it took to get a microfilm to be delivered to you once you ordered it, you can think about it’s kind of the same time frame when it might then be available to you digitally.

How to  Request that a Microfilm be Digitized

Lisa: How could they be contacting you to make that kind of request?

Diane: We are working on that process right now, trying to finalize it. So there’s kind of two options we’re looking at at the moment: One, you would contact us through our support line, the Help Line. The other is that we would just have a form up that you would fill out. Now the form is going to take more time to get established and up. So we may go out of the gate with not as ideal of a process, but we want to make sure that we can let us know, so we’ll be clear about what that is as we get closer to September 1st.

Lisa: When we get into the catalog, have you already flagged which ones are going to have restrictions, they are just not going to be able to be digitized? Because I think some people might be thinking “Maybe I should just hold on and wait, over the next couple months maybe they’ll get to this one, I’ll put in a request.” But I imagine that’s going to be a big job if you have to go in and try to flag every single one that you know you’re not going to have the rights to digitize. Tell us how you’re going to deal with that.

Diane: Well, that has not occurred and would be pretty impossible to do at this stage, just because of the volume of what we’re dealing with trying to go through. We’re doing it as we go to digitize the films. And so, we discover it as we go, as opposed to knowing it ahead of time.

Lisa: So if they put in a request, you pull it out, go ‘OK well let’s look at doing this,’ and then realize, no, this one’s not going to be able to do it. Then at least they would get that information?

Diane: Yes, they would. Well, what would happen is we’re working on a way so that in the catalog you would be able to identify that. So for example, a request actually came from the community out there that we be able to distinguish if a record can be viewed in my home, or if I have to be at the facility to view it, or if there is some other restriction on it. And so, because of that feedback, we thought “So let’s see if we can figure out a way to help people understand that.” Now, these things probably won’t be ready right out of the gate. But we’re looking for ways to make it simpler for you to understand what the challenges are with the record that you’re trying to access.

Gaining Access to Microfilm and Some Restricted Digitized Records in Person

Lisa: Sure. So, if we’re looking online and we see a record, and it’s not been digitized yet, would we at this point, until you get more formalized processes going, would you still encourage people to get in touch with the Family History Library in Salt Lake City? What other options are they going to have to gain access?

Diane: So first what I would do is I would look, because we’ll maintain the film inventory, so we know where the films are located, so I would first look and see, is this film available somewhere near me? Or if I have an opportunity to come to the Family History Library, and the film is there, great. But, so first look and see if you can locate it, then you can let us know through the channels that we’ll have available to you what the film is, and then we’ll put it into the list to be prioritized to be digitized. But I would always encourage folks to look and see if they are located near where that film already is because that would be much quicker for them to get access to that.

Lisa: If Salt Lake City is the only place, then, of course, this really whittles down to the big fear of everybody, is “Oh that one film I’m going to need, it’s only going to be in Salt Lake City and I can’t get there.” What other kinds of options might a person like that have?

Diane: Well, so I think that there are some options available to them because we have a large group of professional researchers who come to the library every day, and those folks could probably be useful to you in looking up those records and getting copies of whatever is needed. So that’s one option that people could take to do that.

The majority of what we’ll have, I don’t think the case would be that the only place you can get it is the Family History Library. If we do have a fair number of collections that are in that category as we finish this process off, then we’ll look at ways to provide some access where we can. But that access would probably be in a digital way as well. So that would be my suggestion, that they reach out to those who are here every day and could take a look at that. And I think you know there are other websites where you can get access to professionals as well, or just good samaritans, you know, that want to help you out.

Lisa: Absolutely, and there are lots of those. Finally, are there any records that the people listening are going to completely lose access to?

Diane: The only ones that would be in that category is because of data privacy. So, if there was an issue with, you know, a law changed, that made it so that we could no longer provide access to those. But that would have been true in the microfilm world as well.

Lisa: Exactly. So really, it really doesn’t change in that respect. We’re not losing records, we’re changing up how we access them. And I think you’ve helped shed a lot of light on kind of what the process will be and it sounds like you have a big job ahead of you.

“We’re not losing records, we’re changing up how we access them.” Lisa Louise Cooke

Shifting Resources to Meet the Goal

Lisa: How quickly do you think it’s going to help once the lending process is let go of, that the resources start going to all of this other work now that you have to do on the digital side?

Diane: I think it will move pretty quickly for us to, you know, start to do more with the resources we have. For example, we’re collecting around three million images with three hundred camera crews out there, about a week. So, that’s a lot! And we want to shift a lot of resources. Another place we’d like to capture more is with Africa and the oral genealogies project that we have, and gain more access there. So, we’ll be shifting to those. And then, of course, the vault is moving at a pretty good clip already, with about 1,500 films a day, so I think we’ll be able to keep up pretty well with the demand that’s coming at us from people. But, we’ll evaluate that as we go, and determine if we need to boost up more there or not, to be able to move more quickly for folks.

Empowering Genealogists to Learn More

Lisa: Any other questions that I didn’t think about that you’ve been hearing online, in social media, that you’d love to give us some input on?

Diane: Well, we have had some questions from some of the affiliate libraries about how do they get the access? So that’s been happening online a little bit. And so we just want them to know that we’ll be reaching out to them via calling all of them actually, and helping them through this process of setting up the things that they need to technically to be able to get access to the images digitally. So that’s definitely something they should know.

The other thing is that we have a lot of people who don’t actually know how to use the catalog [laughs] because you know they’ve grown up in a search world, or looking at the historical records the browsable images, and a lot of people don’t understand that there’s a lot of different ways to access the records on FamilySearch. So you have Search, which is a very small percentage of the collection actually, compared to the whole, and then you have the Historical Records that are only browsable, and that you can go in and look at the images browsing, and then you have everything that’s been published through the catalog. So there’s kind of three places that they need to look. So I think that’s the biggest piece I’ve seen: people just don’t know. They’re not aware of where to find those things. And you know eventually, it will be nice, maybe when those things come together. But at this point in time, they’re separate. And that’s because we wanted to ensure that you would maintain access. If we could just publish them quickly and maintain access for you, that’s the best in our minds.

Lisa: Absolutely! Well, I know that Sunny Morton here at Genealogy Gems is going to be joining us in future episodes talking more about just those different areas. And I love the way that you kind of laid it out for us because I think a lot of people weren’t that familiar with the differences. And she’s going to be helping us get a little savvier in that ongoing research.

Diane, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me, and to answer some of the questions. I know that you know that the emotions that run high are only because people are so passionate about family history, and they are so appreciative of what FamilySearch has done. It’s been an amazing resource that you guys provide to the public for free, which is just absolutely invaluable. And I know that I have a lot of confidence in where you guys are going because you always are out there looking forward. How far out into the future you guys look and you plan for is just phenomenal! It’s not just about us accessing records, it’s going to be for generations to come, and I love the fact that you guys are really laying the groundwork for that.

Diane: Well, thank you, Lisa! We are all about getting you access to records so that you can find your ancestors, and we will always be about that. I’m glad that I could come and help people to understand what’s happening and hopefully be a little less concerned about the change. I know it’s difficult, but it’s a wonderful change too.

Lisa: Thanks again Diane!

Diana: Thank you, Lisa!
Check out this new episode!

Ohio Genealogy Research and the Virtual Courthouse

I have thoroughly enjoyed having Amie Tennant as a blogger for the past year. In her final blog post for Genealogy Gems she takes us on a tour of her home state’s digital records. Then she will be turning all of her attentions to her own genealogical certification. Thank you Amie for all of your helpful and thoroughly enjoyable posts!  – Lisa Louise Cooke  

Ohio genealogy research goes digital. You can now virtually walk into any courthouse in Ohio with the click of the mouse. Check out the amazing browse-only databases at FamilySearch for Ohio and other states, and take your family history research to the next level.

Ohio genealogy courthouse records
I use FamilySearch.org to search courthouse record books all the time. In particular, the Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996 now have nearly 7 million digital images of county record books such as wills, estate files, guardianship records, naturalization records, minutes, bonds, and settlements. In fact, many other states have their court record books online at FamilySearch, too. So, why haven’t you noticed before?

Browse-only Databases vs. Indexed Databases

Ohio genealogy guardianship recordYou may have read our previous post on step-by-step instructions to using browse-only databases at FamilySearch. If you didn’t, you should know that when you are searching for records at FamilySearch using the traditional search fields, you are only searching for records that have been indexed. In other words, there may be thousands of records you need on the site, but you won’t find them. They have not been indexed by a searchable name, place, or date. Instead, you need to go in the virtual “back door.”

Step 1: First, go to FamilySearch and sign in. Next, click Search at the top right. Now you will see a map of the world. Click on the desired location. I have chosen the U.S., but you can choose any country you are interested in.

Step 2: Once you choose your desired country or continent, a pop-up list will be available and allow you to choose the state (or country) you wish to search in. In this case, a list of the U.S. states appears and I clicked on Ohio.

Ohio genealogy at FamilySearch

Step 3: The system will direct you to a new page. You will first see the Ohio Indexed Historical Records. These are the records and collections that have been indexed and are searchable by name, date, and place. Though these are great, they are not the record collections I want to share with you today.

Instead, scroll down until you see the heading Ohio Image Only Historical Records. You will notice several databases such as cemetery records, church records, naturalization records, etc. All of these are browseable. That means you will use them like you would microfilm.

Step 4: I want to bring your attention to a specific record collection, so scroll down even further until you see Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996. Click it.

Ohio genealogy probate records

At the next screen, you will see you can browse the 6,997,828 Ohio probate records and you are probably thinking, “What!? I can’t possibly browse through nearly 7 million records!” But, you can, so go ahead and click it!

Step 5: At the new screen, you will see everything is broken up into counties. Click on the county you are interested in researching. You will next see a list of possible record books available for that county. Each county will vary, so where you may find guardianship records available in one county, you might not find them in another.

Ohio Genealogy Research at the Courthouse

As a refresher, courthouse research is often imperative to thorough genealogy research. Here is a helpful chart of the type of information you may find in these types of court records. Be sure to remember: records and the amount of information they contain change overtime.

Ohio genealogy records

More on Courthouse Research Techniques

Ohio genealogy courthouse researchAre you looking to understand the value of courthouse research and how to use those records to overcome brick walls in your family tree? Try this video class taught by Judy Russell, available to download from the folks at Family Tree Magazine. “From confusing legal jargon to busy clerks and inconsistent records from one county to another, the courthouse can be an intimidating place to conduct family research. Learn to carry yourself with confidence in the courthouse and fight through obstacles to discover important records about your ancestors.” Click here for Courthouse Research Tips and Tricks, and use coupon code GEMS17 for 10% off at checkout! (Valid through 12/31/17)

Also, read 4 Ways to Power Up Your Courthouse Research Skills from our own Sunny Morton.

SSDI Search – How to Find Hard to Find Ancestors

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) search is not necessarily as straight forward as you might think. We’re going to explore what SSDI records are, their range of availability, and how they compare across the Genealogy Giants records websites. 

SSDI Search

If you’ve been dabbling in genealogy research for a while, then you are very likely familiar with the Social Security Death Index, more commonly referred to as the SSDI. But even experienced researchers have questions, like the one that Marti sent me recently:

From Marti in Texas:

Hi Lisa!!

Thank you so much for all your helpful resources on your website!! I just listened to the SSDI Working Backwards podcast episode (Family History: Genealogy Made Easy episode 3) and my grandparents passed away in 2012 and 2014. Do you know when the last time the index has been updated, I cannot locate them.

Thank you so much!!

This two-fold question is a good one. While many genealogical record sets have privacy laws that dramatically restrict more recent records from being available, the SSDI is not one of them. But even if the records are available, there may still be times when we have trouble locating our relatives.

Whenever you run into a road block finding ancestors in a record collection, do what good detectives do, and go back to the beginning. In this case, let’s learn more about the collection itself.

Social Security Death Index Background

The Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt. By 1937, more than 30 million Americans had registered. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains around 90 million records of deaths and they are publicly available online.

Some data goes as far back as 1937, but most of the information included in the SSDI dates from 1962. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Some of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.

It’s important to know that the SSDI does not have a death record for everyone. It’s also very possible that you may occasionally find an error here and there if something was reported incorrectly. But don’t let that stop you from tapping into this major resource! It’s a wonderful alternative source for finding people who were counted in the 1890 census (which was unfortunately mostly destroyed) because they may still appear in the SSDI. Also, those who were born before vital records registration in their home state began, may also show up. Remember, working folks just had to live past 1937 to have been possibly included. That means some people could have been born sometime in the late 1800s.

Now that we have a handle on the history of the SSDI, let’s look at who has it and how recent their records are.

Where to Find the SSDI

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is available on all of the ‘big 4’ genealogy records websites, which we here at Genealogy Gems refer to as the Genealogy Giants.” The links below will take you directly to the SSDI search page for each.

  • FamilySearch
    (Current as of February 28, 2014)
  • Ancestry
    (1935-2014)
  • MyHeritage
    (It is not stated how current the database is, but a search for 2014 did retrieve results)
  • Findmypast
    (No dates or citation provided, but a search for people who died in 2014 did retrieve results)

In Marti’s case, she will want to search every single one of these websites for her ancestors. The good news is that they all appear to be up-to-date, but that doesn’t mean they are all exactly the same. The same collection of genealogy records can appear differently from site to site for a number of reasons such as accidental omissions, variations in the power of their search engine, differences between indexers and scanners, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) inaccuracies. These may or may not affect the SSDI, but the point is that you can’t go wrong searching each one of the Genealogy Giants just in case. And since SSDI search can be conducted for free at all of the Genealogy Giants, it doesn’t cost you anything to do so.

A quick way to find all of the websites that include the SSDI is to Google SSDI genealogy. Here’s a link to the results.

SSDI Search Head-to-Head Comparison

Genealogy Giants quick reference guide cheat sheet Big 4Another excellent reason to search the SSDI on multiple websites is that each website displays the information a little differently. And as you can see from the chart below, when it comes to the Genealogy Giants, there are definitely differences.

SSDI Search Comparison
It’s interesting to note that Ancestry is the only website that provides information about the year that the Social Security number was issued. It isn’t exact, but it’s more than the others offered in my search for Alfred H. Sporan.
 SSDI search results
genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheet

The differences between the 4 major websites can be sometimes subtle or quite dramatic. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses, as well as free versus subscription offerings, is key to successful research that is both efficient and cost effective.

The quick reference guide Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites is a must-have for anyone serious about getting the most out of free and paid subscriptions.

The author of this 4-page full color cheat sheet, Sunny Morton, is Contributing Editor here at Genealogy Gems, and she’s packed this guide with everything you would ever want to know, and many things you probably didn’t know that you needed to know. You can pick up your copy here in our store.

SSDI Search and Beyond

There is another database at Ancestry that is worth keeping your eye on. It’s called the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index and it shouldn’t be missed! Currently this covers 1936-2007, but who knows, they may update it in the future. It includes even more information. It was first released in 2015. Read more about it here at Genealogy Gems.

Gems: Share Your SSDI Search Experience!

I invite you to take a moment to share your SSDI search experience in the comments below.

Have you had any surprises?

Did you find a difference between the records found at different websites?

We want to hear your story, because we all benefit from each other’s experiences.

Surname Research for Free: Guild of One-Name Studies at FamilySearch.org

Sometimes you find yourself sorting through tons of people with the same last name to see which ones belong on your family tree. This surname research collection at FamilySearch can help you see what other researchers may have spent years compiling about thousands of family groups.

surname research

There’s a valuable free but much-overlooked online collection for surname research at FamilySearch.org. These are the family trees of nearly 3000 members of the Guild of One-Name Studies, who are studying nearly 9,000 different surnames. Their resources are strongest for the United Kingdom, where the Guild was founded, but you’ll find members all over the world.

What makes these family trees unique?

There are a couple of things that make these family trees unique:

1. These trees don’t just focus on a mostly-vertical line of ancestors for a single person. Members of the Guild collect everything they can about a particular surname and all its variants (hence the name of the organization). These efforts help organize and connect people with the same surname. Sometimes they help trace the origin of a surname. They can help people explore the variety of spellings and locations associated with different names.

2. These trees are often more fully researched and cited than your average online tree. The Guild takes pride in supporting its members in doing accurate, cited research; keeping their online databases updated; and responding to questions from others about their surname research.

Of course, always use caution when consulting others’ trees. Consider their content to be hints or suggestions until you prove them otherwise yourself. Scrutinize the sources they cite, many of which, say the Guild, aren’t available online elsewhere.

Explore the Guild Surname Research Collections

To explore this helpful free resource, follow the step-by-step instructions below:

1. Go to FamilySearch.org and click Search, then click Genealogies— not Records. (You may also click here to reach that landing page directly.)

2. Enter the surname of interest.

3. Click where it says All next to the Search button.surname research with Guild of One-Name Studies

4. Select Guild of One-Name Studies.

5. Run the search. Click on search results to see:

A. The individual’s name, personal details and (scroll down) associated sources and citation details.
B. The individual’s place in a Guild family tree. Explore this family tree by clicking on someone’s name and seeing their information pop up to the left, where you can also click “View Tree” to see that person’s relatives.
C. Search for names within this tree.
D. This shows you what surname study the information comes from. In this case, you’re also given a link to a separate, associated website for that study.

6. Repeat to learn more about other surnames in your family.

More on Surname Research

If you are interested in learning even more about surnames research, read Social Network Your yDNA with Surname Projects by our own Diahan Southard, and learn how surname study organizations are taking their research into the 21st century with DNA surname projects.

Also, learn more about utilizing DNA in your genealogy research with these 10 DNA quick guides from Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard. They can be purchased in a bundle in either print or digital format.

FamilySearch Indexing in Another Language: A Call to Arms

According to an article on the FamilySearch blog, 90% of all indexed records on FamilySearch are those for English-speaking countries. While this is super exciting for me and my family tree, many of my friends are unable to trace their family histories past their great-grandparents. Why? Because the records in their native country have been digitized, but not indexed.FamilySearch indexing international records

FamilySearch Indexing in These Easy Steps

I have been indexing at FamilySearch for years and you can join me! Just follow these simple steps:

  • Go to www.familysearch.org.
  • Sign-in and click on Indexing and choose Overview fromFamilySearch indexing icon the pull-down menu.
  • Click on Get Started, which will direct you to the Get Started page. You will need to download the indexing program directly to your device.
  • From your desktop, open the FamilySearch Indexing program by clicking on the icon.
  • Sign-in again and click Download Batch at the top left corner.
  • Choose a project to work on.

If you feel you need some further instruction, watch these helpful videos below:

FamilySearch Indexing: How to Start

FamilySearch Indexing Training: Video 1

FamilySearch Indexing in Another Language

FamilySearch indexing French records

Training for French Language

FamilySearch is looking for three kinds of people:

  • Fluent, native speakers of non-English languages living in their native county or in an English-speaking country.
  • People who have extensive training in a non-English language.
  • English speakers who are willing to learn how to index specific types of non-English records.

I know what you are thinking…you hardly passed French 101 in high school! But, you can do it.

There was recently a very successful Italian indexing training initiative in the U.S. It more than doubled the worldwide number of individuals working on Italian records. You can be a part of the growing need for French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese record sets.

Training guides and videos have been created for the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian languages. As we accomplish the work for these places, FamilySearch will add more languages. The videos and guides will help volunteers to learn how to index specific types of records. Click here to learn about this language learning initiative and to get started.

What Else Can You Do for FamilySearch Indexing?

If you have friends or family who are fluent in another language, ask them to join you. Share this post with your friends on Twitter and Facebook to get the word out. Does your teen need some service hours for graduation, Girl/Boy Scouts, or other organization? This is a unique service project that even teens can do and that will be meaningful to many.Facebook_Logo

We would love to hear your stories of successes in indexing. Leave a comment below or post to our Genealogy Gems Facebook page.

More Gems on Indexing

Volunteer Gem: He Indexed Milwaukee Journal Obituaries Himself!

Want to Help Index De-Classified CIA Records?

FamilySearch Indexing Event July 2016 – 72,000 Global Volunteers Wanted

familysearch indexing event for the worldThe FamilySearch indexing event is coming up in July! It is a rewarding volunteer activity for yourself or your family. Here’s how to participate in this event–and how to get started indexing genealogy records for FamilySearch.

You may have heard a lot of people talk about indexing, but have no idea what it is. In a nutshell, indexing is when a person views a digital image of a record and then types (abstracts or transcribes) the information they see. For example, if you were indexing Ohio birth records, you would see an entire page of a birth ledger.

Then, you would read the lines and type the name, date of birth, sex, and parents’ names into a spreadsheet that is provided to you. Now, the Ohio birth records are searchable by name, date, and other criteria. This is a great help for researchers all over the world and anyone can easily find the records they need without the hassle of traveling or ordering microfilm.

familysearch indexing event of Ohio birth recordJoin the FamilySearch Indexing Event

This year’s FamilySearch indexing event will be held Friday, July 15th through Sunday, July 17th. The goal is for 72,000 people all around the world to come together and index at least one batch of records during that 72 hour period.

To participate, go to www.familysearch.org and sign-in. If you haven’t created an account, go ahead and do that now. It is free and you don’t have to worry about spam email and unwanted solicitations.

Next, click on Indexing at the top right of the screen and choose Overview from the pull-down menu.

step one of familysearch indexing event

You are directed to a new screen. Now, this next step is important. In the near future, you will be able to participate in browser-based indexing. However, it is not available right now. Instead, you will need to download the indexing program to your computer by clicking Get Started.

You will see the Download Indexing button. Go ahead and click it. The program is free. Follow the directions and then open the program on your device.

You will need to sign-in again, then click on Download Batch at the top left corner of the screen. A pop-up window will appear with a list of projects that need to be indexed. Scroll through and find one that interests you. You might notice that there is a project name, description, level, and points column. The project name and description are self-explanatory. The level indicates how difficult the records might be to index. You can choose projects that are listed for beginners, intermediates, or advanced. The points column is also based on the difficulty level. Points are adjusted for degree of difficulty (since some projects are much more challenging than others.) All records receive at least one point, but more difficult indexing projects may give anywhere from two to ten points per record. Points provide a way for you to track your personal indexing contribution to FamilySearch as well.

familysearch indexing event projects

Once you have completed indexing your batch, you will be prompted to run a review. This is just a way to make sure you didn’t forget anything or make a typing error. Now that the batch is reviewed, return your batch by clicking File and choosing Submit from the pull-down list. Congratulations! You have completed indexing your first batch!

Join the FamilySearch Indexing Community

For even more support and tips in your indexing endeavors, you can “Like” the FamilySearch Indexing Facebook Page and for a quick and easy overview of why the FamilySearch indexing event is important, watch the video below.

Share this fun project with your friends and family. We hope that many of you will join us as we make this indexing event one for the record books!

Volunteers neededMore Genealogy Volunteering Gems

Volunteer Gem: He Indexed Milwaukee Journal Obituaries Himself!

Want to Help Index De-Classified CIA Records? National Archives Citizen Archivist Projects

Help Index Old Maps: British Library and David Rumsey

Browse Only Databases at FamilySearch are Easy to Use

browse only databasesBrowse only databases at FamilySearch are easy to use and may hold the key to the genealogy brick wall you have been working on. Don’t be scared off because the records haven’t been indexed. Let us show you how to take advantage of these great records!

Each week, we bring you our We Dig These Gems! New and Updated Genealogy Records series. Sometimes, we include FamilySearch databases that are not yet indexed. These collections are referred to as browse only. Have you been disappointed when you realize the database you are most interested in is only able to be browsed?

 

Browse Only Databases at FamilySearch are Easy to Use

You may be thinking, “Good grief! I can’t possibly browse thousands of records!” and we don’t expect you to.

Browse Only Databases are Easy to Find

Most of us search for genealogy records at FamilySearch by typing in some key information at the home page.

How to Browse Database

When you use this method, you are only searching for records that have been indexed. In other words, there may be thousands of records you want on the site, but you won’t find them. They have not been indexed by a searchable name. Instead, you need to go in the virtual “back door.”

Let’s imagine you want to search probate records in Auglaize County, Ohio. You would click the little map in the vicinity of the United States and choose “Ohio” from the pop-up box.

How to Browse Database

At the Ohio research page, you could do a general search of the Ohio collections. Again, this is only searching records that have been indexed. Instead, scroll down until you see “Ohio Image Only Historical Records.” Look at all these databases you might have missed!

For our example, continue to scroll down until you see the database titled “Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996” near the bottom. Click on it.

Browse_Only_Database_4

You will notice right away that there is no way to “search” this database. Many people give up at this point, after all, who has time to search nearly 7,000,000 records. Click on it anyway!

Browse_Only_Database_5

The next screen has been broken down by county name. Choose the county name “Auglaize.” You are then directed to a page listing the volumes of records for Auglaize county that have been digitized.

Bonds, settlements, wills, estates, and so much more! It is as if you are standing in the courthouse probate office surrounded by volumes and volumes of records you need. Pick the volume you want to search by clicking the title.

Browse_Only_Database_6

“Open” the pages of the book and search like you would as if you were flipping the pages of a book or scrolling through a roll of microfilm.

Browse_Only_Database_7

Friends, we want you to get excited about all the new records that are coming online, even if they are browse only databases. Share this tip with your genie friends and for more tips and tricks to help you in your genealogy journey, sign-up for our newsletter by entering your email address on this page.

More Genealogy Gems on Records and Databases at FamilySearch

We Dig these Gems! New Records for Australia, Philippines, and Iowa and Indiana

We Dig these Gems! New Records for California, England, Australia, and Italy

Using the U.S. Public Records Index for Genealogy

The Secret to Pairing FamilySearch and Pinterest for Family History

Pinterest for family history link pins to FamilySearch treeFamilySearch Family Tree plus Pinterest for family history adds up to cousin bait like you’ve never seen. Here’s a little-known technique to utilize both sites together for great results.

There is a little known secret: Pinterest and FamilySearch Family Tree can work together to reel in new cousin connections.

Pinterest is a free, online bulletin board where you can collect content that you find on the web. It’s a kick-back to the old days when we found pictures of our favorite home decor or recipes and tore out the pages of the magazine. Do you remember doing that? No longer do we need to tear out pages and file pictures and articles of our favorite things in old binders. You can use Pinterest to keep all of your items organized and accessible at the click of the mouse.

Pinterest is not a piece of software or something you download. All you need to do is go to www.pinterest.com and sign-up using your email or Facebook to create a free account.

 

FamilySearch Family Tree works similarly with their “Memories” section. The Memories section allows users to collect and store family photos, documents, stories, and even audio. But that is just the beginning! Pinterest provides you with a way to put these items to work for you. Photos, documents, and stories you post on a FamilySearch memories page can be pinned to your Pinterest board.

Why is this so groundbreaking, you ask? When potential cousins Google your common ancestor, the list of results will include your Pinterest board, like the search example below that finds my own Pinterest pins:

Pinterest for family history google search results

Then, when they click that great photo of grandma or the WWII story of great-grandpa on Pinterest, they are automatically directed back to your FamilySearch Family Tree where they can see your pedigree chart…for FREE!

(You don’t need an account to see, use, or search within the FamilySearch Family Tree. If you were to try this technique using images you have uploaded to a subscription site such as Ancestry, those clicking from Pinterest would simply land on the log-in page to Ancestry. Without a paid subscription, they go nowhere. How frustrating!)

How to Connect Your FamilySearch Family Tree with Pinterest Pins

1. If you haven’t already set up a Pinterest account, you will need to do that first.
2. Create a board specifically for the purpose of family history. I chose to create a board for each of the surnames that I’m actively researching. I would love to make some connections with other genealogists on these! “Bowser Family of Clark County, Ohio” and “Cole Family of Lee County, Virginia” are two examples. (Notice, I added a county name and state. I wanted to be sure I attracted people who searched by surname and/or place name.) Do not add any pictures to your boards yet.

Pinterest_CousinBait_4 pinterest for family history
3. Create or log in to your free FamilySearch Family Tree with names and dates of your ancestors.
4. Click on an ancestor for whom you want to add a memory. At the “Person” page, click on “Memories” near the top. This will take you to the memory page where you will upload the photos, documents, and so forth for your specific ancestor.

Pinterest_CousinBait_2 pinterest for family history

5. Add a title and an accurate, thorough caption. An example of a title might be a full name or a story title like: “When Her Baby Died.” A caption needs to include more details: “Lillie Amanda West, Clark County, Ohio. Wife of George Henry Bowser and daughter of Edmund West and Lavina Wilson. Picture taken ca. 1897.”

6. Once you have uploaded everything you wish with your titles and captions, go back to the FamilySearch Memories gallery page by simply clicking on “Memories” again. If you hover your cursor over a picture, document, or story you uploaded, a little “Pin It” box will pop up. (Important Note: FamilySearch reviews all items uploaded to the Memories section for inappropriate content. Because of this, you may have to wait a few minutes before your items are able to be pinned.) Now, click “Pin It” and follow the prompts to pin the item to the Pinterest board of your choice. You will need to copy and paste or create a new caption for your pin. Click the little pen below the picture to edit the caption. (Remember, this caption will be what you want to be Google-searchable, so pack it with names and words that you think your long-lost cousins might type into the Google search box when searching for those ancestors. (Need help with Google search terms? Lisa Louise Cooke’s book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd Edition is your go-to resource.)

Pinterest_CousinBait_3 pinterest for family history

Cousin connections often bring to light new and exciting pieces of your family’s story. Try using Pinterest and FamilySearch Family Tree today as cousin bait to find long-lost family members anywhere in the world.

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The Power and Preservation of Oral History

tribal quest oral historyHow can you preserve a family’s history when it exists only in the memories of tribal storytellers? Visit the tribe and capture its oral history, as MyHeritage is doing with its Tribal Quest initiative.

MyHeritage recently announced a new global initiative to record and preserve the family histories of tribal people living in remote locations around the world.

Their first project is in Namibia. Next they plan to move on to Papua New Guinea. Check it out in this brief video:

MyHeritage is even recruiting volunteers who want to travel to these places and help out. You can learn more at TribalQuest.org.

FamilySearch published an article a few years ago about similar work they’ve done in several African nations. “Most African tribes have a designated ‘storyteller’ who is responsible to memorize the tribe’s oral traditions, including names of ancestors going back six to thirty generations,” it says. “FamilySearch works with chiefs and local volunteers to visit these storytellers and record the information they have been charged to remember in their heads. Sometimes the interview is audio or video recorded.” FamilySearch enters what they learn into a GEDCOM (the universal family tree file format) and put it on FamilySearch.org for others to use.

How far have YOU gone to capture your family’s oral history? Probably not to a remote tribal home! Why not use the resources below to help you with your next oral history project?

More Oral History Gems

ancestors have so much to say oral historyRecord and Share Oral History with Free MyHeritage App

Easy Family History Writing Project: Publish a Q&A (Oral History)

Premium Podcast 134: Lisa’s Tips for Recording Oral History Interviews on Your Mobile Device (Genealogy Gems Premium website subscription required)