FamilySearch has digitized hundreds of record collections that are freely available online. Some digitized collections are indexed and searchable, while others are not. Indexed collections can be searched, while unindexed collections (labeled “Browse Images) can be viewed page-by-page from digitized microfilm images. Let’s look at how to browse to and access each type of digitized collection on FamilySearch.
First Thing First: Create a Free FamilySearch Account and Sign In
Viewing and downloading FamilySearch documents is free. You will be required to create a free FamilySearch profile and sign in to access FamilySearch’s records. FamilySearch requires that you sign in, in order to provide you with a secure browsing environment. Once you have created your FamilySearch account and signed in, you’re ready to find records by following the steps below.
Finding Digitized Collections on FamilySearch
To browse to digitized collections on FamilySearch, we will start from the Home page at https://www.familysearch.org/.
Next, scroll down to select “Browse All Published Collections” under the world map:
A screen will appear with a left sidebar, where you can select your country of research interest:
When you click on “United States,” the sidebar will expand to allow you to collect your state of interest:
You will then be taken to a screen showing all digitized collections for the state you selected:
Don’t Forget to Check the United States Collections!
The steps above show you how to browse to collections for the state of research interest to you. Did you know that there are also more than 100 overarching collections for the United States?
The United States collections include all United States Census collections, Census Slave Schedules and other Non-Population Schedules, Freedmen’s Bureau records, Freedman’s Bank records, Civil War Service Records, and many other titles of interest for your ancestor research.
To access these collections, you can follow the steps above, but instead of selecting your state of interest in the left sidebar, select “United States” to view the overarching United States collections:
As of this writing, there are 118 United States collections:
Is the Collection Indexed or Unindexed?
In the snapshot above, we see both indexed and unindexed (Browse Images) collections. Indexed collections can be searched, while unindexed collections (labeled “Browse Images) can be viewed page-by-page from digitized microfilm images. Let’s look at how to access each:
Collections that display a record count are indexed. These records are searchable.
When you click on the collection title of interest, you will be taken to the search screen for that collection:
Unindexed collections will be labeled “Browse Images” in the list of collections for your state of interest. These collections cannot be searched, but you can browse frame-by-frame through the images on the microfilm, just as you would when viewing a microfilm in a library or archive. The great thing though, is that you can access unindexed FamilySearch collections anytime, night or day!
Here, we will select the unindexed collection “South Carolina Probate Records, Bound Volumes, 1671-1977.” When you click on “Browse Images,” You will be taken the page for this unindexed collection. Here we will need to select to browse through the images in the collection:
When you click “Browse through 222,656 images,” you will be taken to a screen displaying all South Carolina probate records in bound volumes (hint: bound volumes in SC probate records include wills. Estate inventories are held in the collection “South Carolina Probate Records, Files and Loose Papers, 1732-1964”):
Let’s select Charleston. When we do, we will be taken to a screen where we can select which volume of Charleston probate records we would like to view:
Let’s select to view Wills, Volume 11 (1767-1771). When we click on the volume we wish to view, we will be taken directly to the images of the digitized microfilm:
Notice the grid icon in the left sidebar – this will allow you to display a grid of thumbnail images for each document in this digitized microfilm:
When we click the grid icon, the image grid pops up. Notice that the first few pages in the grid differ from the rest – this volume contains an index. Let’s click on the first page of the index:
The index page for the letter “A” pops up. Looking at the index for the will of Elizabeth Akin, we see that the will is on page 105 of this volume:
Let’s go back to the image grid icon to return to the image grid, where we can scroll down to find page 105 in this volume:
We can scroll down in the image grid and click on a few thumbnails until we locate page 105 in this volume:
Once we have found page 105, the will we’re seeking will be displayed:
See the toolbar in the upper right corner of the frame? Here is where you can print or download records of interest. You can also save this record to your FamilySearch Source Box, where it will be bookmarked for your easy access later. If you have created a tree on FamilySearch, you can also save this record to your tree.
If you click to expand the button that says “Tools,” a dialog box will pop up that will allow you to rotate the image, change the brightness and contrast, or invert the image from a positive to negative image before you print, download or save the image:
FamilySearch Source Citations
Let’s take a look at another convenient service FamilySearch provides – did you know that for many record collections, FamilySearch will generate an accurately formatted source citation for the record you are viewing? Let’s see how to access this feature:
Click on the “Information” tab below the image, then scroll down slightly until you see the source citation displayed. If you click on “Copy Citation,” your source citation for this image will be copied to your clipboard. How awesome is that?
See These Steps on Video
Here is a video tutorial, “Finding Unindexed Records at FamilySearch” by Amy Bowser Tennant of The Genealogy Reporter, that will take you through the steps pictured above:
Sharpen the Saw
Now it’s YOUR turn! Browse to a record collection for your area of research interest. Search an indexed collection and browse an unindexed collection. Tell us about your finds in the comments below!