It’s Not Online? Maybe It is! Accessing Unindexed Records

“I can’t find it!” is a sentence I hear from readers who contact me, hoping to find records that link his/her ancestor firmly to the family tree.

Many, but not all, of these potential distant cousins are relatively inexperienced researchers.

Most of them do realize that not everything is online, but they also don’t understand that THE RECORD THEY ARE SEEKING MIGHT WELL BE DIGITALLY AVAILABLE.

I am always willing to make a quick search to help out a fellow genealogist and there have been many times where it has taken me less than ten minutes to find exactly the record that “couldn’t” be found.

There is a reason for that and it’s not that I’m a magician.

It’s because the person asking for assistance doesn’t have much research experience and doesn’t realize that MANY records have been digitized BUT HAVE NOT BEEN INDEXED or HAVE INCOMPLETE INDEXES.

FamilySearch is the first website that comes to mind and is usually where I find someone’s “impossible to find” record.

Once a person logs in to FamilySearch and chooses the SEARCH tab, a drop down menu opens:

It’s natural to choose RECORDS at the top of the menu and, if the record you want is available and has been indexed on FamilySearch, you will find it in your list of hits.

However, if you are fishing, hoping to find any and all records about an ancestor, or even looking for that one specific record, if it hasn’t been indexed, a RECORDS search with the person’s name will not be successful.

For example, let’s say I was looking for a death or burial record for John Scerbak, my 2X great grandfather who died in Udol, Slovakia in 1916.

John Scerbak was baptized in November 1836 in Udol, Slovakia, married Maria Patorai there in 1861 and lived in Udol until he died and was buried in the Udol village cemetery.

First, I entered his details in the FamilySearch records search box – name, year of birth, wife’s name and year of death.

I got three matches, although #3 is clearly a different person. Two matches are for my John Scerbak, but both matches are for baptismal records of two of their children, sons Michael and Stephen.

No death or burial record is in the match list, nor are matches for his baptism OR marriage to Maria Patorai.

Here is the baptismal record for Stephen Scserbak/Scerbak:

It is evident from both the title of this record collection and the image of the page containing Stephen’s baptism that these are original records.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think that maybe my Nana was wrong – that John Scerbak wasn’t born in Udol and maybe he didn’t marry there either. Maybe he married in the next village over.

However, Nana was correct. The answer is that ONLY SOME of the baptisms in this record set have been indexed.

If I didn’t know what year John Scerbak was born, I’d have to estimate and begin reading page by page through this church book.

Also, unless some deaths/burials have been recently indexed, to my knowledge, those records haven’t been indexed AT ALL.

Again, I’d have to be reading burial records page by page, beginning with the date of the last record in which John appeared. In this case, it was in the 1884 baptismal record of son Stephen, whose baptismal record I’ve shared in the above image.

That means I’d be paging through 32 YEARS of burial records. That’s exactly what I did:

John was buried on 22 February 1916 and probably died one or two days before.

One more tip – I “cheated” and used the baptismal record image of Stephen Scerbak to “enter” the Udol church book collection and knew from past experience that I could navigate through baptisms, marriages and burials using that method.

If I was unfamiliar with the record set OR if I got no matches to my search at all, I would instead have gone to the CATALOG selection in the drop down menu box (See purple arrow in the first image, above.)

My search terms would have been SLOVAKIA, UDOL, which FamilySearch expanded to SLOVAKIA, STARA LUBOVNA, UDOL, which brought up one match – the Udol church registers.

I clicked and the link to the Udol church registers opened:

I could then open the church book and begin my page-by-page search.

Before I end, I’d like to share one other quick tip. I’ve read hundreds of pages of court records from many different counties.

Court minutes and court orders often have an index at the front or the back of the book.

HOWEVER, I’ve found MANY MANY times that those indexes can be VERY VERY incomplete.

To summarize – If a record search by person’s name doesn’t yield the result you hoped for, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the record isn’t available online.

It may well mean that the record has been digitized, but NOT indexed.

Although reading a record set page by page is time consuming, that might be the only way you will access a record you really want! It’s well worth the time.





8 thoughts on “It’s Not Online? Maybe It is! Accessing Unindexed Records”

  1. You and I have similar search methods…I do love the Place search option at FS and use it a LOT as I’ve found so much by drilling down to record sets and then browsing them.

    Indexing at Ancestry is also frequently incomplete – I can’t count the number of times I’ve found a record I need by browsing when a person search doesn’t work. On so many images I’ve popped open the index at the bottom and noticed it ends about half-way down the page. I know I can attach to an Ancestry profile/fact with a web link (which I’ll do), but it’s yet another reason I stopped using RM TreeShare and began downloading each image separately and manually linking it to the appropriate person/fact in Family Historian.

    Learning the ins and outs of how each online repository works is at least half the battle when it comes to genealogy research.

  2. Some excellent tips, especially to enter a record collection via one record you’ve already accessed! Take care.

  3. Note also that the FamilySearch catalog has been frozen for over a year, as they are in the middle of a transition to a new system. Newly scanned records can only be found in Search->Images, in the same way, by geography.

  4. Strangely, one of my favorite things to do is browse unindexed records. Perhaps it harks back to the days of scrolling through microfilm? I find it interesting and challenging to navigate the images and I’m always thrilled when I find what I’m looking for.

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