Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Searching for at #NGS2015GEN (Part 2)

I attended Crista Cowan’s class at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. The class was titled “Maximizing Your Search on” Last time I wrote about the first three things she does to maximize her search for records:

1.  Start by looking at hints.
2.  Next, look at suggested records.
3.  Then, initiate a search from your tree.

Today, we cover the fourth and final approach.

4.  Use the card catalog.

The fastest, easiest way to find what records are online is to use the card catalog. (I don’t think everyone at FamilySearch appreciates the role the card catalog can and should play in helping people find collections. But I digress.) At, hover over Search on the menu bar. On the popup menu, click Card Catalog. (I’m glad they still call it a card catalog. I know that bugs some people. If they won’t say card when no card is present, why do they say dashboard when there is no board present and it no longer prevents dashing? They don’t have a clue, so to speak. But I digress…)

Crista likes to sort the catalog in two ways. One is alphabetically. Another is by date added. That makes it easy to see what is new. (As she sorted it, “Oregon, Motor Vehicle Registrations, 1911-1946” popped up near the top. That reminded her that Ancestry is working on driver registrations. Since they include traffic violations, she can’t wait to look up her uncle who has a propensity for speed. That was just one of many comments throughout her presentation that had us all laughing. But I digress… Wait a minute. It was Crista who digressed this time.)

To show us how to use the catalog, she typed [Arkansas] into the title box and clicked Search. That returned 56 titles. Beneath the search button are various ways to filter the list. She clicked “Birth, Marriage, & Death.” That dropped the number of titles to 13. She filtered to marriage and divorce. That dropped the number of results to ten. has ten databases covering marriages in Arkansas.

[It has been several days since Crista’s presentation, so I’ve forgotten some of what she said between what I noted. Consequently, some of what you’ll see from this point forward are my own interpolations.]

Some people wonder why Ancestry would have ten Arkansas marriage databases. Why not just combine them? We now have worked with the state of Arkansas, Crista said. But some Ancestry databases are extracted by private individuals, some from original records and some from FamilySearch microfilm. Some of the original records might have subsequently perished and the records in these extra databases may now be the only place they are recorded. So Ancestry keeps these databases, but keeps them separate so you can see the source of the records and understand the database.

As she had done before, she held down Ctrl while clicking a title so that it would open in a new browser tab. When you get to a particular database, the search forms are customized for the particular database. Global search is generalized for most records. We know what we indexed, she said, so we create a customized search form. Death date is not listed on this search form because death date doesn’t appear on the marriage record.

An example database-specific search form.

But before you search, scroll down below the search form and read the information. In the case of Crista’s ancestor, she needed Carroll County, but the description told her the database didn’t include it.

An example showing source information and description for an database
One last thing to think about is the Place field. All have a type-ahead list. (See the Carroll County example in the search form, above.) Choose from that list and Ancestry knows exactly where the location is on a map and can perform searches in proximity to that place. If you type just anything, then it is treated like any other field that must match what is typed.

Here’s my counsel to you, Crista said. Do the other things first, but also use that card catalog.

To see a short, two minute interview of Crista Cowan, view DearMYRTLE’s “AmbushCAM - Ancestry's Card Catalog Crista Cowan.”

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