29 May 2011

Features of FamilySearch Explained

This past Thursday, I drove out to Painesville's Morley Library for the monthly meeting the the Lake County Chapter, Ohio Genealogical Society. The attraction: a presentation by Alan Rabe on www.familysearch.org.

It was well worth the 45-min drive. Alan is the area director for the Family History Centers of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. That's not his day job; he took time off work to give the mid-morning presentation to about 45 members and guests.

Alan went online to demonstrate the features of FamilySearch's revamped website design. He explained that the recent design change was needed because the old design couldn't handle the vast amount of data that were ready to be added for access by LDS members and the general public researching their family histories. To use the proper technical term, the new website is designed for "scalability." That means the new design can handle the vast amounts of data that will be available through FamilySearch in the months and years ahead.

Alan took the audience through the four main components of the new design: Records, Trees, Catalog, and Books. 

To start, he demonstrated how users can simply enter a name to find what records might be available. If that yields too many results, he showed how to refine a Records search by using the Advanced Search feature. And even then if you get too many results, he also pointed, you can filter your results by a dozen different filter categories. I hadn't used the Filter function before, but when I got home, I found that it is easy to use.

The Trees section should be self-explanatory. In checking it out, I entered my test ancestor, Jacob Dingman, and came up with a tree from the Ancestry File collection. There is this disclaimer prominently displayed here: "Ancestral File is a collection of genealogical information taken from pedigree charts and family group records submitted to the Family History Department since 1978. The information has not been verified against any official records. Since the information in Ancestral File is contributed, it is the responsibility of those who use the file to verify its accuracy."

The Catalog section of the website has been converted into a Wiki. The text for the printed area guides that formerly were available for ordering from the Family History Library have been uploaded to this section of FamilySearch for your reference. This represents a big cost-saving step because it eliminates the cost of printing paper brochures--and because online materials can easily be updated. In fact, users are able to create a Wiki account and upload current information about local repositories and resources for everybody's use. 

In my opinion, the new design of the Catalog is much more user friendly than the previous approach. In addition to the locality guides, you can use the Catalog to find microfilms that possibly provide information that you are looking for.

I entered "Vesanto," the name of the parish of my paternal grandparents in Central Finland. Almost immediately, the search result, "Finland, Kuopio, Vesanto," appeared. Clicking on this, I learned that two microfilms are available of parish records are available for loan from the Family History Library. The rental fee is $5.50 for three weeks use at a nearby LDS Family History Center. A renewal is offered for the same fee. If you are really interested in studying this microfilm extensively, you can pay a third payment of $5.50 and the microfilm is considered on permanent loan to the Family History Center where you are viewing it.

The Books section contains a valuable and growing collection of historical books scanned by  The Brigham Young University Family History Archive. It includes histories of families, county and local histories, how-to books on genealogy, genealogy magazines, periodicals (including some international), medieval books (including histories and pedigrees), and gazetteers. I searched for the surname Dingman, and found the collection includes three ebooks that I will have to examine for possible info about my Dingman line. Check this section out--you might find a useful resource for an ancestor.

There are three other sections of interest: Learn (instructional materials and videos), Indexing (for volunteering to do indexing), and Family History Centers (a central directory to Family History Center and their hours).

I'm afraid this report doesn't do justice to the many valuable features of www. familysearch.org. I have been using it right along, but even so, I learned about many new features to explore going forward by attending Alan Rabe's demonstration.

No comments:

Post a Comment