Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Browse unindexed microfilm online TODAY

FamilySearch is doing its level best to get things out to genealogists as soon as possible


Last Thursday in Ol’ Myrt described the process of registering to use the FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot test site in her blog entry titled “
View microfilm before it's indexed”. I received access at 8:36pm on Saturday, and immediately began exploring the site.
I have been dying to tell you all about it, but was restricted by a short confidentiality clause in the acceptance email.

By Monday afternoon three genealogy bloggers had freely offered opinions about how the site works, so Ol’ Myrt emailed the “powers that be” to ask if the confidentiality clause had been lifted. The answer is YES -- sort of.

While the FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot site isn’t open “officially” and has been confidential this past month, I have been authorized to go forth with blogs on the topic. “While your blog may receive a much higher readership than I was hoping to get right now…” an unnamed highly-placed FamilySearchLab source gave DearMYRTLE the go-ahead to speak.

Hopefully, FamilySearchLabs can learn how much traffic the system will support.

Caution is wise – Remember when FamilySearch.org first went live? For a few days servers were maxed out, and getting into the site was a challenge. No one could anticipate the overwhelming response.

Once the word gets out about FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot to view scanned microfilm images on the web, the place will be inundated, particularly as the collection grows.
But, site administrators can control full access by not granting permission to many individual researchers at one time.

Although some of items in this collection are searchable free elsewhere, remember this is a test site for looking at scanned images of microfilm. They have to start somewhere. At this point, it does not appear that all collections are linked in the
Family History Library Catalog. So during this testing period, the only place to find these FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot images is by going to: http://search.labs.familysearch.org/recordsearch/start.html

  • 1880 United States census
  • 1900 United States census
  • 1930 Mexico census
  • New York Passenger Arrival Lists (1892-1924)
  • World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942
  • Freedman Bank Records 1865-1874
  • England, Diocese of Durham Bishops' Transcripts ca. 1700-1900
  • Ohio Deaths 1908-1953
  • Ontario Deaths, 1930-1932
  • Texas Death Index 1964-1998
  • U.S. Social Security Death Index
  • Utah Death Certificates 1904-1956

If you participate as a “tester” you’ll be given challenges to find a specific individual in a specific collection. There are FEEDBACK buttons on the top of every page. Eventually, when the kinks have been worked out, this may be the actual method we’ll use to view online many of the 2-3 million rolls of microfilm that comprise the Family History Library collection, cataloged at
http://www.familysearch.org/ .

Unlike the prototype “film strip” method of navigation suggested in a talk titled “Sneak Peak” presented at the 2005 FGS Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference, the FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot works on a MENU SYSTEM to get you to a specific part of a 1,400 page collection of scanned images from microfilm. For instance in the following “images only” collection one is able to get to a smaller portion of the images as follows:

1. Login at: http://search.labs.familysearch.org/recordsearch/start.html

2. Choose
England, Diocese of Durham Bishops’ Transcripts ca 1700-1900.

3. Choose Durham (61,658 images) from a list of counties (equivalent of a US State) that includes:

  • Cumberland
  • Durham
  • North Durham
  • Northumberland
  • Unknown
  • York

NOTE: this page explains the records are “Church of England Parish Registers and Bishops’ Transcripts ca 1700-1900.” Additional guidance is provided on this page with topics headings of how to use the record, why the record was created, record history, record description, record coverage, record content [what to expect] & record reliability.

4. Choose South Shields (5,494 images) for the parish, the ecclesiastical subdivision of the Church of England) from among an extensive list of other parishes in the county.

5. Choose 1763-1805 (991 images) the year range.

Note the parish list shows two chapels (Holy and South) beginning in 1840, and a third (St Hilda) showing up in the parish by 1866. The segments
of this collection are divided thusly:

  • 1763-1805 (991 images)
  • 1805-1816 (718 images)
  • 1816-1825 (739 images)
  • 1818-1866 (683 images)
  • 1825-1833 (704 images)
  • 1833-1840 (227 images)
  • 1840-1848 Holy (213 images)
  • 1840-1848 South (6 images)
  • 1864-1867 Holy (42 images)
  • 1866-1883 St Hilda (682 images)
  • 1883-1891 St Hilda (489 images)

NOTE: Since some of these time periods overlap, researchers may end up reading every section of this collection to find references to an ancestor. This is no more difficult than waiting for your microfilm to arrive through the local LDS Family History Center and cranking the reel through the reader. Looking at the images through FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot is a significant improvement over the microfilm version because the FHL Catalog doesn’t necessarily provide this sort of overview. It should also be noted that each image in this collection represents a page from a church book, where 5-20 individual christenings, marriages or burials may be listed.

6. To quickly navigate through a large collection of images, forget the NEXT button. Type in a page number to jump ahead, by estimating where you might find an ancestor who was christened in 1775. I typed in 50, and clicked the GO button. That took me to 1772. Typing in 63 got me to January 1774, so I used the NEXT button to navigate over to image 70, where I located the January 1775 christenings.

Some of the smaller parishes have loose papers, which were either filed or microfilmed in seemingly random order. Ol’ Myrt remembers the advice of my friend Barb who says “read every page” of the census for an ancestor’s county. I think this applies to any surviving record group, such as these parish records of christenings, marriages and burials from a specific locality in South Shields, Durham, even if it is 991 images. We DO want to know about our family’s origin don’t we?

When you click to select a specific image collection, the page shows an image like this:Sample showing % complete on Family Search Record Viewer.

In this case the 1930 Mexico Census has 0% of records indexed, but 100% of images are available for immediate review at this site.

Sample showing “mini-viewer map” on Family Search Record Viewer.

When viewing an image using the FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot viewer, one can merely use the mouse pointer (which turns into a hand icon) to drag and drop a large image around the viewer frame. Alternately, a “mini-viewer map” in the bottom right portion of the FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot screen indicates the portion of the document you are currently viewing. Dragging and dropping the mini-map’s yellow highlight window to a different position causes the larger viewing area to reflect your preference.

VIEWER LOADS IMAGES QUICKLY. Once you’ve selected a specific collection, it is a quick click to progress to the next or previous page and compares favorably with other viewers. I am accustomed to routinely accessing scanned images with this DSL connection at Ancestry.com, HeritageQuestOnline, Footnote.com, GenealogyBank.com, Scotland’s People, Library of Congress, etc., using both a Windows XP and a Windows Vista computer.

HELPFUL INFO IS AVAILABLE. I liked the informative descriptions of collections and the .pdf form of a sample document, and how to use it. This is from the Utah death certificate collection:

Sample showing helpful description of parts of a typical Utah death certificate on Family Search Record Viewer.

A PRINT OF THE IMAGE DOES NOT INCLUDE A SOURCE CITATION FOOTNOTE. Nearly every page on the web does this in the header/footer area. Maybe this is an option that will be activated when this testing phase is complete?

SOURCE CITATIONS TAKE EXTRA EFFORT TO MAKE. While it is easy to print and save a specific document image, it is difficult to copy/paste indexed text to notes for an ancestor. This is will cause researchers to skip a vital step in providing a proper source citation when they find an image with the FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot viewer.

Note in the screen shot below, I could not select more than 1 field’s contents, in this case the GSU (FHL) Film number: 2259764.

Note inability to select more than the content in one field for bibliographic citation on Family Search Record Viewer.

I should be able to select everything in this abstract page from the word NAME to the actual death CERTIFICATE NUMBER on the bottom, copy it to my computer’s clipboard, and paste it in notes or sources for my ancestor Alma Oades [sic] Player. All but the most diligent researchers will pass up the chance to copy/paste anything more than film number.

CAN’T TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MULTIPLE ABSTRACTORS’ WORK IN THE INDEXING PROCESS. Remember that each FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot image eventually goes through the
FamilySearchIndex.org process, where volunteer person A and volunteer person B type what they see on a page. A computer compares the results & an arbitrator is called in to resolve typos and handwriting challenges. The final typed abstract of the original document is remarkably more reliable than anything I might type.

Since at least two typists and perhaps an arbitrator have abstracted the info from my ancestor’s original death record, this makes the information their work should become part of an ancestor’s notes. This will save time and prevent the inevitable typos if I were to abstract the same info on my own.

But alas, this inability to copy/paste more than one field at a time makes this a nearly impossible task. Contrast this with Alma Oades [sic] Player’s entry in the public version of in the Utah Death Index at the Utah State government website. Here I can freely copy the abstracted field labels and data in order to paste that info in my ancestor’s file in my genealogy management program.

I have a routine that includes copy/paste of source citation, including URL to notes at the same time I attach a saved copy of the document to my ancestor’s file. In this manner, when someone asks me about him, I’ll have all relevant data and images ready to share with the inquiring cousin.

The folks at FamilySearch are doing a marvelous job with the FamilySearch - Record Search Pilot viewer. If this is the final viewing mechanism, researchers will be very happy to see the images online instead of ordering microfilm through local Family History Centers. If the problem of copying and pasting abstracted data and source citation is fixed, we will be thrilled.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

(c) 2007 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.

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