Friday, February 21, 2014

Family History Hints, Part 10

It's so nice when records are indexed and we can easily search for our ancestors by just entering a name, date, place, and maybe additional data. But not everything is indexed and explaining this to those who don't understand, or haven't had experience with, the difference between doing a simple search in a few minutes and a lengthy page-by-page browse that can take hours or even days, was necessary when we worked on Genealogy Roadshow. Once I did so, they could comprehend why finding one ancestor might take a few minutes but finding another might take considerably longer.

Los Angeles Family History Library. Photo by Gena Philibert-Ortega

            What is the difference between Searching and Browsing to find ancestors?

When you want to find something on the Internet, the common practice is to Search for the item, picture, location, etc. by entering a descriptor in the search box of your preferred search engine (e.g., Yahoo, Google, Bing, etc.). We do the same thing for information about ancestors, though we often use specialized searches in particular databases on a variety of websites (FamilySearch, Ancestry, Fold3, GenealogyBank, etc.). This works fine when the materials have been indexed and the names are in the search engine; but what about the times when the records may be up on line but are not indexed? How do we find the people then?

This is where browsing comes in. In the “old days,” we browsed Census and other records by using microfilms. We scrolled from image to image, searching for the name we hoped we would recognize. And many of us still do that when images are not digitized and on line (most often, we head to Salt Lake City and the Family History Library, the largest records repository for documents from all over the world; but there are other repositories with microfilmed records - the National Archives, various libraries around the world, etc.). Today, many of those images are up on the Internet (most likely database collection: FamilySearch - the Family History Library’s on-line repository), but the names are yet to be indexed (yes, many are, but many are not) and we need to browse the images one by one to find the will, deed, or other document that we hope is there (when there is no index, we cannot be sure that the record is there at all, but it might be the best possible one to connect a person to a family so it’s worth the browsing). Some of these records are separated into location batches (e.g., by County within a given State) and that helps a great deal (presuming we know the location) and some of them include a type of index within the digitized records. (Note: in cases where a family lived in one area for a long time, we may need to check two or even three different counties in a single state for a single town because county lines are changed over the years, so we need to know that history as well.) These records are often difficult to decipher because many of them are over 100 years old. This can take a great deal of time.

Now, if the records we are browsing through are created in a non-English speaking country or from a non-English writing entity (e.g., the Catholic Church in any location - records are in Latin), then we are required to translate, interpret an older style of writing (Old English, Gothic German, etc.), while hunting the desired ancestor. The farther back we go in time, the more difficult the records are likely to be to interpret (not only because of the writing style, but the degradation of the documents affect their legibility).

So, there you have it: why we are thrilled with people who index old records and why we sometimes can be found banging our heads against the wall. But we shall recover to search (and browse) another day.

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