Jan 17, 2020

Using the Family Search Catalog

January 17, 2020

Back in the days when many of the records held by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City were found on microfilm, most researchers were familiar with the FamilySearch Catalog ( ). It was the only way to locate most of the resources held by the Library. Nowadays, many of those records have been digitized and indexed, and it’s easy to merely plug in a name into the search field and forget all about the catalog, which is exactly what many newer researchers do.

However, the catalog is still a great way to search for copies of original records held by Family Search. It is searchable by Place, Surnames, Titles, Author, Subjects and Keywords. The most common way to search the catalog is by Place which means that you must know the location where an ancestor lived. Entering a location such as “United States, Colorado, Larimer,” will result in a list of all of the types of records that the Library holds for that location. Records are grouped under headings such as “Land and Property,” “Divorce Records,” “Vital Records,” etc. Clicking onto one of these headings will show the specific records that the Library holds, such as “Larimer County, Colorado, Index to Marriages” which is found under the heading “Vital Records.” Clicking on the specific record will reveal information about the record including the format in which the record is found. Many records are digitized and available online from home, but others may only be viewed at a local Family History Center, and still others are only available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Some records are still only available on microfilm or in printed book form.

James Tanner’s blog “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad . . .” ( ) is a good source of information about the FamilySearch system. Last week he published a column specifically about the FamilySearch Catalog that reminded me of exactly how important the catalog still is. He mentioned that FamilySearch digitizes many records long before an index can be completed for them. To make these records available as quickly as possible, the unindexed records are posted on Family Search as soon as they’re digitized, which is often before an index is ready. For the researcher, the only way to find these unindexed records is to make a Place search in the catalog, find a record set of interest and then search manually through the record set. For those of us who used microfilm, the search is similar to what we used to do with microfilm when we found a record set for a place and time and then searched through the records for the person of interest.

While it is a great time saver to be able to search records digitally on Family Search by typing in a name, not all records will be found that way, especially unindexed records. It’s definitely worth  the time to check the Family Search Catalog because there are often additional records available.


Carol Stetser

Researcher/Director at Large