FamilySearch has millions of genealogy records, but some of the collections don't have images of the actual record... or do they? Let's explore a way that you can sometimes find hidden records on FamilySearch.
Background of Some FamilySearch Online Collections
Long before FamilySearch had a website, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints compiled a database called the International Genealogical Index (IGI). This database was distributed via microfiche at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the local Family History Centers. The IGI had hundreds of millions of records. About half were submissions from individual researchers. The other half were abstracted from various vital records, church records, etc. These "extracted records" usually came from volunteers working from FamilySearch microfilm.
When FamilySearch launched its website, the IGI was one of the biggest databases available. But there were problems, mainly in that you couldn't tell immediately what was from a record and what someone had submitted as part of their tree. (That made it really hard to evaluate what you had found and to follow up on the clue.)
In 2011, FamilySearch phased out the IGI as its own separate collection. The entries from family trees went to what is now the FamilySearch Family Tree. The extracted records — the ones from vital records, etc. — were grouped together into various Historical Record Collections. These Historical Record Collections are available on FamilySearch.org today.
(I should note that not every "index only" collection on FamilySearch was created this way. However, this does provide a way of getting back to the image for many collections on FamilySearch.)
Finding the Actual Record
The cool thing about these collections is that even though they aren't directly linked to the image, the entries give us enough information that we can track it down. Here's how.
I searched for Minnie Haines who died in Calhoun County, Michigan between 1898 and 1900. I found a record in the collection Michigan Deaths and Burials, 1800-1995.
This entry gives us good information — date and place of death, age, birth date, parents' names, etc. However, it doesn't show the actual death record. How accurate is this index? Is there additional information that's on the record, but isn't in this entry? Fortunately, we have information that we can follow to get to the record itself.
Notice the "GS Film number." That's the number of the microfilm (1009292) that this was taken from. Further, it gives us a specific volume and page number (v. 2, p. 327) where we can find it.
Finding the Microfilm
With that microfilm number (1009292), we can look it up in the FamilySearch catalog. (When you're on the main search page, there's a tab for "Catalog." Otherwise, hover your mouse over "Search" and select "Catalog" from the menu that pops up.)
(Tip: I like to keep the results open on one tab in my browser and open up the catalog in another tab. This lets me go back and forth as I need to without having to re-do searches.)
Once you're in the catalog, click the option "Film/Fiche Number." That will allow you to enter the microfilm number you're looking for. In this case, I'm looking for microfilm 1009292.
When you do the search, you should get the title(s) on that microfilm. In this case, microfilm 1009292 is "Death records, 1867-1933; Death index, 1888-1996" from the Calhoun County, Michigan County Clerk. Click on the title.
Next, you'll get the detailed catalog entry for that title. This particular title is on several rolls of microfilm. When that's the case, look down the "Film" column for the microfilm you were searching for. (We're looking for 1009292.) We can see that this particular microfilm contains "Death records, v. 1-2 1867-1899."
Here's where things can get fun. See the "Format" column on the right? It tells you whether or not this microfilm has been digitized. We're in luck — the camera icon means that it has been digitized. When you click on that camera icon, you can see the images!
Don't get discouraged when you see that there are 721 images from this roll of microfilm. Remember that record that we found that gave us the microfilm number? It also told us the volume and page number: Volume 2, page 327.
This microfilm has both volumes 1 and 2, so I need to scroll down closer to the end of the images. When I have multiple volumes on one microfilm like this one has, I like to start with the images in the thumbnail mode, rather than single images. This lets me quickly scroll down the page to see where volume 2 starts. Once I see that, I can click directly into volume 2 and navigate the images as necessary.
NOTE: The image number does NOT equal the page number. We're looking for volume 2, page 327 (printed in the book). That isn't the same as image 327 of 721. That's why I like to start with the thumbnail view so I can get an idea of where volumes begin and end.
I found Minnie on image 705. (The record spans across two pages of the ledger. For the sake of legibility, I'm showing it in two images below.)
The actual death record gives us information that wasn't included in the entry on FamilySearch. It lists her cause of death ("Fall, Fracture of Skull") as well as "residences" of her parents (New York and Canada). (I put "residences" in quotes, as it really isn't clear if they mean residence or if they were actually recording the place of birth.)
The death record also shows that the FamilySearch record has an error. The death record clearly shows Minnie's mother's name as "Mary Stevenson," not "Maey Stevenson."
There's also information that's on the FamilySearch record that isn't on the death record itself: date of birth. The entry on FamilySearch listed Minnie's date of birth as 1857. The only thing on the death record is her date of death and her age (42 years). You do arrive at a birth year of 1857 when you do the math, but it isn't shown on the record itself. When you arrive at a date based on an age calculation, you should note it as "about <date>" or "circa <date>". The year could be wrong depending on when her birthday was or if her age is recorded incorrectly.
Bottom line: Always work your way back to the original record.
What If the Images Aren't Available?
Not all of FamilySearch's microfilm have been digitized yet. Further, there are some that have been digitized, but the archive or government agency with the original records won't allow open access to them. You can tell from the icon on the catalog page.
The microfilm icon means that it has not yet been digitized. You will need to look for a Family History Center or affiliated library that already has it in its collection or use it at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. (Or wait for it to be digitized.)
The restricted access icon means that you can only view the images when you are at a Family History Center or at a FamilySearch affiliate library. You won't be able to view it from home.
BONUS: This Works for Some Ancestry Collections, Too!
Some of Ancestry's collections are from a partnership with FamilySearch. When you come across a record on Ancestry that doesn't have an image, look for a reference to one or more FHL film numbers.
Using the steps above, I can go into the FamilySearch catalog and look for those two film numbers (252590 and 252591).