Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday Mailbox: Collection Coverage

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

Thank you for your dedication to your blog. It is one of a few I follow and I enjoy reading your insights.

I am a family historian focusing primarily on British research, but my question/suggestion is likely more broad and will apply equally well to other areas. In doing my research, my first-stop go-to resources are the England Births and Christenings 1538-1975 (69 million records) and England Marriages, 1538-1973 (16 million records) databases on

One question I have always had, and which has not been satisfactorily addressed by the family history libraries, is how do I know what is NOT included within these databases. For example, If I do a place search in the family history library catalog and search for church records in Horsham, Sussex, England and its surrounding areas, how do I determine what microfilms are included in the aforementioned databases, and which ones I need to search manually? Ideally each database would include some information indicating from which microfilms the information comes from and/or each microfilm would include a direct link to corresponding databases. I've seen a few of those links, but not enough to convince me their implementation is widespread.

A post addressing how to determine this would be great. Alternatively, if no method exists, a post pointing this out could prove helpful as I'm sure your blog has a healthy readership amongst product managers in FamilySearch.

Rob Martin

Dear Rob,

Thank you for reading my blog.

Many of these large collections spanning entire countries and hundreds of years originated from the old International Genealogical Index (IGI) and coverage is extremely spotty. Some parishes were never filmed. Some films were never indexed (“extracted”). Some items or volumes on films were skipped. Sometimes burial records were skipped. Sometimes individual entries were thrown away (because of matching user-contributed data in the IGI). I don’t think it ever happened in the British Isles, but I have heard rumor that there are cases where females were extracted first and FamilySearch hasn’t gotten back to the films to extract the males.

FamilySearch needs to provide coverage tables, particularly for these collections.

FamilySearch knows it needs to. User requests for this information are received on a regular basis. It isn’t as easy as one might think. FamilySearch has indexed hundreds of thousands of microfilms and digital images. Coverage tables for a collection might be many thousands of rows long. For English church records, each row needs to identify a record volume by parish, denomination, record type, years covered, number of entries from the volume, and corresponding microfilm numbers, if any. Holes like those described above need to be noted. Creating and presenting in usable fashion such large tables is a huge undertaking.

I don’t know if FamilySearch is making much progress right now. FamilySearch has historically placed little value on listing its sources, (see “FamilySearch Values Sources?”). Given such low priority and such huge cost, such efforts seem to take second place to other projects.

For Ireland Deaths, FamilySearch has posted a limited coverage table in the wiki article, “Ireland Deaths, Coverage Table.” Such coverage tables have been posted for a several additional collections.

For those doing United States research, portions of the 1998 PVRL for the United States have been scanned and posted in the FamilySearch wiki article, “International Genealogical Index Coverage.” (The PVRL—the Parish and Vital Records List—provided a list of all the extracted sources included in the IGI.)

No doubt you are aware of Hugh Wallis’s website. Albeit outdated, it provides some coverage information for the British Isles.

The FamilySearch Catalog (formerly, the Family History Library Catalog) knows if a film has been published in a record collection. Look up the locale in the catalog and check records of interest. For example, for Shustoke, Warwichshire, England, the entry for “Parish registers for Shustoke, 1538-1950” indicates in red text that a record collection (an “index”) exists. Click the link to jump to that collection. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every film for that title has been indexed, but that at least one has.

Another approach is to use record search. Once you’ve looked up the locale in the catalog and determined film numbers of interest, search for the film numbers in historical records. Currently, this is done by clicking “Film Number” in the “Restrict Records By” section. Enter a film number and nothing else. See how many matches are given. For example, a search on film number 198752 returns 3,219 matches. Remember that not all items on a film were extracted. In this example, all the results are from Shirley (item 1); none are from Shustoke (item 2).

Since records acquired now are never published on microfilm, a search on the parish name is required.

Good luck,
--The Ancestry Insider


  1. To compliment Hugh Wallis’s website, are you aware of the excellent "FamilySearch: a Guide to the British batches" by Steve Archer of Archer Software at

    Trevor Rix

  2. Yes!! It is really not as easy as one might think. FamilySearch has indexed hundreds of thousands of microfilms and digital images.

    Content Writing Services


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