The wealth of records on FamilySearch is constantly growing—sometimes so quickly that even experienced researchers aren’t aware of everything that’s available. There’s no way one article could cover all of FamilySearch’s record collections. Instead, I’ve chosen to highlight a few of the most exciting collections: some are newly released and growing collections, and some are tried and true collections. (If you didn’t know record collections could be exciting, that’s because you haven’t tried these yet!)
1. Italian Civil Registration Records
Civil registration records, which are vital records kept by the government, are some of the most important records for discovering families in Italy. These birth, marriage, and death records as well as unique state of the family records as early as 1806 and can provide details needed to link families together. Although this collection is still a work in progress, there are already many of these records online, and FamilySearch currently has 25 cameras filming more. Only a small percentage of these records have been indexed so far, but many are available for browsing. Browse the collection here. Choose Italy from the map, and type in your ancestor’s hometown, or use the box under “Find a Collection.” Check back often as more records are being added all the time.
2. US Marriages Records
At RootsTech in 2016, FindMyPast announced the US Marriages Project, a partnership with FamilySearch, which will be the largest collection of US marriage records in history. This will be done by digitizing and indexing marriage records covering 350 years for over 2,800 US counties and will include 450 million names. Although the collection will be found in its entirety only on FindMyPast and on FamilySearch for LDS members with FamilySearch accounts and at family history centers around the world, many US marriage records are already digitized, indexed, and available for everyone at FamilySearch. Try searching for marriage records in your ancestor’s county to see what’s available. If you don’t find what you’re looking for now, try again in a few months since this collection is still growing.
3. Freedmen’s Bureau Records
Just last summer, FamilySearch, in conjunction with the National Archives and Records Administration, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the California African American Museum, completed the Freedmen’s Bureau Project in which included indexing and making available online the genealogically important portions of the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. Created in the aftermath of the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau helped the recently freed slaves adjust to their new lives. The records include nearly 1.8 billion names in marriage, hospital, school, and land records as well as labor contracts, affidavits, letters and other items. Although their usefulness extends to anyone with ancestors in the South in that period, they are particularly valuable in helping descendants of slaves link back to the pre-Civil War era.
4. Census Records (US and Beyond)
Anyone tracing their US family needs to know that FamilySearch has the indexed US census records—the most used collection on FamilySearch. US Census records began in 1790 and are available through 1940 (later census records are still protected by privacy laws). These aren’t the only census records available on FamilySearch; the index for the British censuses are also available here; although, to see the actual images, you will need to go to FindMyPast where fees may apply. Other countries, such as Canada, Argentina, Denmark, the Netherlands and some states in Germany kept at least periodic census records that are now available at FamilySearch as well. Many US states also took occasional censuses. To see what FamilySearch has, type “census” in the search box for the historical records collections.
5. FindAGrave and Billion Graves
You may be familiar with these popular, free websites that help you locate cemetery information about your ancestor. But did you know that FamilySearch has these records on its website too? A search for your ancestor in FamilySearch can bring up a possible match with basic information. To learn more and possibly see a photo of your ancestor’s headstone, follow the link from the search results to the free site.
6. Social Security Death Index
For important leads on more recent ancestors, the Social Security Death Index is a great place to start. It includes information on deceased people who had social security numbers. The earliest records date to 1937 but records are sparse until 1962. You can find records dating up until three years ago. Records often include birth and death dates and the last place of residence that was on file with the Social Security Administration.
7. England and Germany Vital Records Collections
For Germany, FamilySearch has records for births and baptisms, 1558–1898; deaths and burials, 1582–1958; and marriages, 1558–1929. For England, FamilySearch has records for births and christenings, 1538–1975; deaths and burials, 1538–1991; and marriages, 1538–1973. I’ve lumped these all together since they come from a similar background. The important things to know about these collections is that they are huge—the Germany births and baptism collection alone contains 45 million names—but they aren’t anywhere close to complete. This means that the records don’t contain all the information in that category in that country. Many of these records came from the LDS Church’s extraction program and were previously part of the massive IGI (International Genealogical Index). Information often came from church records but is generally found in these collections only as extracted records, without images available.
Of course, this is only scratching the surface of what’s available. Try a search for your ancestor to look at all possible indexed matches or refine your search further by searching a particular record collection. With billions of names in just in the collections described here, chances are good you’ll find something new about your family!