May 11, 2016
The Search for our Ancestry (XXIV)
Searching on ‘Familysearch.org’
By Angelo Coniglio
The free Mormon site https://familysearch.org/ (hereafter called FamilySearch), has many options. New users should click ‘Create Account’ and register for free, then return to the main page and sign in. The ‘Search’ option appears near the top of the page, and throughout the site. Unlike searches on Yahoo! or Google, this site does not always let you search “globally” by entering a surname, or a keyword or phrase, to find all references to it. Even where information is ‘indexed’ and can be searched b individual’s name, remember everything is not indexed, and even when it is, there may be transcription errors. You must have an orderly approach to your searches, and I prefer viewing actual records, not transcriptions. Be forewarned that due to restrictions that may be placed on the LDS by certain towns or archives, some records may only be viewed after you sign in, and some may not be viewed unless you go to an LDS FamilySearch Center and use the computers there.
Until you’re more experienced, you should bypass options to start searching for ancestors by name, Some names are indexed and appropriate records may be found this way, but most are not. After you have become familiar with the site and the presentation of images, you may come back and try individual searches. But first, click on ‘Search’, select ‘Records’, and you’ll get to the page www.familysearch.org/search, where you’ll again be tempted to ‘Search for a deceased ancestor.’ Skip that, and instead click on the map on the right, headed ‘Research by location’; click on the drawing of Europe to see a list of countries, then click on ‘Italy’.
Scroll down the resulting page to ‘Italy Image Only Historical Records’ and find the town you want from the list that is alphabetized by province. Each list has a link to ‘Browse Images’, and then a list of towns. Clicking a town gives a list of types of record (in Italian). These include Nati (Births); Pubblicazioni (Marriage Banns); Matrimoni (Marriages); Allegati (Attachments to Marriage Records); Morti (Deaths) and Cittadinanza (records showing transfer of residency). Each type is followed by the range of years for which records are available.
The images that appear in these searches are versions of the Mormon microfilms that were photographed from the original records. As such, they are laid out like a microfilm, and paging through the images on-line is like rolling through on a film reader. The advantage is that you don’t have to start at the beginning of the film. If the site indicates, for example, that there are 1,237 images for a town’s civil marriage records for the years 1880 through 1891; to see records for the year 1886, you can estimate the location of that year’s records, go immediately to an image you think is close to that year, say image 600, and begin your search from there. The disadvantage is that you must search image by image, and searching with a slow browser can be tedious.
Many original records include indices after each year, or after a ten-year period. Once you’ve found the year you want, page through it to the end. In most cases, you’ll see an index (indice) of all the events in that category (births, or deaths, or marriages, etc.) Indices give the number of the record of the document for which you’re searching, making it easier to find a specific record. The details of these indices may vary by town or era. Some are simply chronological lists giving only a name and a number, in the order in which the events occurred. If so, you must look at every name in the index to find the number of the record, and then go back to the records to find the one you want. In some cases, the indices are roughly alphabetized by the first letter of the surname, or even by the first letter of the given name.
In the best indices, the list is fully alphabetized by surname, and may actually have a brief summary of the record itself: the record number and date of a child’s birth and its parents’ names. Italian and Sicilian civil marriage records after 1875 are displayed on FamilySearch with two records per image; birth records are three to an image, and death records are four to an image. You can count forward or backward by twos, threes or fours from any numbered record, to find the document you want. Follow the on-screen hints to enlarge, reduce or print the desired image. At least some knowledge of the Italian language is necessary. The indices use Arabic numbers, but the numbers on the actual records may be written out. Thus, for example, a number shown as ‘325’ in an index may be written as ‘trecentoventicinque’ (three hundred twenty-five) on the record itself.
Coniglio is the author of the book The Lady of the Wheel, inspired by his Sicilian research. Order the paperback or the Kindle version at http://bit.ly/SicilianStory