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Finding “Hidden” Records on FamilySearch


If you are reading this, you are most likely familiar with searching for records on FamilySearch.  What you may not be familiar with are three types of “hidden” records you can utilize on FamilySearch – images that aren’t indexed but are part of a partially indexed collection; browse collections; and digitized microfilm collections in the catalog.

Hidden Record Type 1:

Images that aren’t indexed but are part of a partially indexed collection.  I will use some Québec records as my example.  Let’s start with the Québec search page on FamilySearch:

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You will notice at the top of the page it reads, “Québec Indexed Historical Records”.  It is important to note that not everything in this list is completely indexed.  As I scroll down the page I can see a list of Québec records, which also includes larger collections that have Québec records in them.

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Only a few collections are showing until I click “Show all 21 Collections”.

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As I scroll down the list, I am looking for any collection that has a camera beside it.  That means there are images in the collection.  Close to the bottom is a collection entitled, “Quebec, Catholic Parish Registers, 1621-1979”.  It has a camera icon which means there are images in the collection and it lists that there are 79,535 indexed records in the collection.  The question I have is, are there more records in the collection that aren’t indexed?  I simply click on the collection to go to the search page.

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Once I am on the search page I scroll to the bottom.  The collection has a browse option at the bottom that reads, “Browse through 1,399,175 images”.  This means that in this collection of 1,399,175 images, there are a little over 1.3 million records that are not indexed.  If I click that “Browse through 1,399,175 images” button, I can search the records like digital microfilm.

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I get this list of parishes to help me navigate the images.  I noticed one today that I have never seen before:

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How’s that for a parish name?  😉

Here is a parish that I regularly search:

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I click on the parish name again and get this:

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Then I can click on one of the date ranges and get this:

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It is basically a digital microfilm.  This particular collection is tricky to navigate because it contains such a large span of years and the years are written out like this “one thousand seven hundred forty seven”, except they are written in French.  Despite it being a bit trickier to navigate, it is totally worth it.  I get faster every time, it just takes a little practice.

Any collection that contains images has the potential to contain more images than indexed records.  If everything is indexed in a collection, you will not see the browse option at the bottom of the search page.  MANY indexed collections contain images that are not indexed.

Hidden Record Type 2:

Browse collections.  These collections are also accessed from a main search page.

We will go back to the Québec search page and scroll to the bottom.

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These collections are labeled as “Québec Image Only Historical Records”.  Most locales have several of these browse collections.  None of the records are indexed yet.  I clicked on “Quebec Notarial Records, 1800-1920”.

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You will notice that I have no search box, just the “Browse through 4,956,093” images link.  When I click that I am taken to this page:

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From here I can select a location, I chose Iberville:

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Then I choose a range of documents:

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Then I am once again looking at a digital microfilm.  This particular collection would be hard to use unless I have a time frame and location in mind for the record I am seeking.  That information would come from other good research.

Hidden Record Type 3:

Digitized microfilm collections in the catalog.  This particular type of record is brand new to me.  In fact, I have no idea when FamilySearch started doing this.  They snuck it in recently.  I discovered this record type while I was using microfilm at the FHL in SLC.  I had a list of Estate Files I was looking for.  I had found 6 and went looking for the 7th file when something wasn’t quite right.  That led me to look at the catalog entry for the microfilm to double check the information I would expect to find.  I thought maybe I had written the microfilm number down incorrectly.  This is the page I went to:

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I scrolled down to find my microfilm number in the collection of 419 microfilm to see this list:

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Ummmmmm… see those little camera icons on the right?!  This entire collection was digitized AFTER I had made my list of microfilm to search just shortly before going to the library.  When I click the camera I get a digital microfilm that looks like this:

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What on earth?!  When did FamilySearch start doing this???  The craziest part is that the images aren’t on the South Africa search page, not in the same grouping you can find here.


Check the catalog, and check it again, and check it again.  I know that the rate of digitization far exceeds the rate of indexing but apparently FamilySearch can’t keep up with cataloging in an orderly fashion either?

One important last thought – FamilySearch often has images available that go away once the entire collection is indexed.  If you find an image that is important to your research, PLEASE, don’t assume the image will always be there.  Save a digital copy of that image.

And while we are on the subject of disappearing images, it is important to know that the contractual agreements that FamilySearch enters into with the owners of records can change at any time.  In fact, several collections that matter to me and my research are no longer available.  FamilySearch still holds the microfilm, but they are under lock and key because the contracts were renegotiated.


Have you been using these three types of “hidden” collections on FamilySearch?


16 thoughts on “Finding “Hidden” Records on FamilySearch”

  1. Great post, Amberly. Have you noticed they’ve also changed the information given in the Citations? An example: Click to go to the link takes you to death records: Décès 1853-1891. The citation shows the path as
    Rosport > image 52 of 510
    where previously FS included the batch name:
    Rosport > Décès 1853-1891 > image 52 of 510.
    I save the link as well as the path when citing the source. I would recommend this to all as links saved in 2013, as an example, now take me to the microfilm instead of the collection.

    1. Thank you Cathy. Yes! I have noticed changes to citations. There was a brief period when the citations were wonderful, in perfect form with all of the info including a link and the image number. They were at the bottom of every image if you opened the little arrow containing the citation. Now it’s not there. It’s always best to give yourself as much info as you can in your citation so you can get back to the record. In our increasingly digital genealogy world, it’s so easy to rely on links. But links aren’t source citations. I think I feel a post coming together… 😉

      1. The citations were wonderful and I could copy/paste them into the template I have for the collection. They also included the accessed date. Now I have to make sure the path is correct and add the access date. I don’t rely on links even though the FS people say the links will not change.

        I’ve been browsing some of the collections which are new to me and am seeing something like: No citation available.They must be working so fast getting the collections online that the citations have to take a back seat.

        1. I think you are exactly right. A while back I wrote this post:

          The LDS church is digitizing at a breakneck pace based on donations. Once they have another camera kit purchased, they can find a missionary couple to go digitize somewhere in the world. The focus has been very heavy on the digitizing side because once a record is digitized and stored in the granite mountain vault, it is safe. But it means that other areas, like citations and cataloging, aren’t able to keep up with the digitization. I’m so glad that FS doesn’t withhold those digitized records from us until they are properly cited and cataloged.

  2. Great post! Thanks so much. How frustrating that images disappear. I wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed. I do try to download images from FS that I consider important as soon as I find them, but I did not realize that they can often disappear. Thanks for the information, Amberly!

    1. You are welcome! One important thing to know about those disappearing records is that FamilySearch will accept terms like that if it means they gain access to additional records. It’s just a big bummer when the trade off only hurts your area of research.

  3. Thanks for this Amberly; lots of useful information. I really like FamilySearch, but find it really frustrating in so many ways. I suspect I am not using the search tools very well.

    1. You are welcome Su! I hope it helps. I think every website has it’s own quirks that can make it tricky to feel like you are searching effectively. Good luck. 🙂

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