Most people — even those who aren't interested in family history — know about Ancestry.com because it advertises on national television.
But fewer folks know about FamilySearch.org, which actually has the largest collection of genealogical records in the world.
The force behind this remarkable collection is the Church of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church. The church founded FamilySearch in 1894, but it was originally called the Genealogical Society of Utah.
The church has millions of rolls of microfilmed records safely tucked in its Granite Mountain Records Vault, which is designed for preservation. Researchers can order any of those rolls of microfilm (for $7.50 each), and they'll be shipped to one of the church's local Family History Centers, where patrons can peruse and copy information on their families.
Slowly, the church has been digitizing those microfilm rolls and putting them online — and they are searchable for a remarkable fee of … $0. Yes, they are free.
At the FamilySearch website, researchers can search in the "Catalog" mode to see what microfilm is available on a particular place. For example, I entered "United States, Florida, Hillsborough" to find microfilm on a wide range of topics, including property deeds from 1846 and wills and probate records from 1847.
A click on the "Wills 1847-1930" took me to another screen that told me these records (662,980 images) have been digitized and are on line. So I clicked on the designated links and the pages of the original will book appeared on my home computer.
The second will entered was for a pioneer surname that will be familiar to most Hillsborough County residents: Whiddon. John Whiddon's will offered some insight into the man. He directed that his death be announced in the Christian Advocate and "that my friends attend my funeral as the last memorial of respect."
He instructed that his body was to buried in a "plain and simple manner with a grave enclosed with cedar pailings." He then left $500 to each of several charities and Bible societies.
But there always seem to be obstacles in genealogical research. If we return to the Search area of the website and select "historical records" and enter "John Whiddon, died 1847, Hillsborough County," we get zero results.
That's because — although the records have been digitized — they have not been indexed. Until all names in a document have been indexed, finding them is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Indexing records is a monumental task, which is why "Indexing" is one of four tabs that appear at the top of the FamilySearch home page. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can download software, select one of more than 300 projects and begin indexing. So far volunteers have indexed 1,355,046,297 records — BUT there still are 17,827,768 waiting.
Each July, FamilySearch conducts the world's largest known indexing event. During the 2016 event last month, 116,475 volunteers indexed 10.5 million records in 72 hours.
Since FamilySearch is so generous in making all these records available to genealogists, it seems only fair that we should pitch in and get them indexed. After all, we're the ones who will benefit from the effort.
So why wait until the 2017 indexing event? Take a look at the website (familysearch.org) and find time to help out a bit.
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Every family historian treasures photos but doesn't always know where to find them. The Florida History and Genealogy Library will offer a program on "Searching for Ancestor Photographs" at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 20 at the John F. Germany Library, 900 N Ashley Drive. The program will offer attendees guidance on discovering free sites, collections in library subscription databases, periodical and a variety of government resources. The program is free to the public.
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Are you finally learning how to use computers in your genealogy work? You can get help at the Sept. 11 meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Tampa Bay, 14041 Icot Blvd., Clearwater.
Clint Elbow's presentation of "Use of Computers in Genealogical Research " will focus on fundamental elements, search engines and genealogy software.
For information and directions, call Bruce Hadburt at (727) 796-7981.
Send your genealogical methodology questions and event announcements to Sharon Tate Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org.