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Not Everything Is Found By Searching For a Name


Name, date, place. That’s the way we learn to search websites for our ancestors. But is that always the best way?

If you’ve watched my Legacy Webinars you probably know that the answer to that question is no. Sometimes searching by a keyword is the best way to search. While the majority of content found on a genealogy website is found using a name, not all of the databases are indexed or searchable that way. Sometimes the content has to do with a place or event, for example image collections. There are other research techniques to help you  find what you need.

Here's one great example of why you need to expand your search beyond a name, date, and place.  

Browsing ArchiveGrid

ArchiveGrid FS

The other day I was looking at FamilySearch materials on ArchiveGrid. To do this,  I went to ArchiveGrid  and I clicked on Utah>FamilySearch-Family History Library. That presented me with a list of over 600 archival items held by FamilySearch. Now, you know that FamilySearch is not an archive, it’s a library. These items are manuscript items that were digitized and can be found in the FamilySearch Digital Library. One of the items that caught my eye was the birth register kept by Esther Sessions  (Esther Jane Tolman Sessions). Just looking at the title I knew this was most likely the record of a midwife and would include information that we family historians crave: names and dates.

Esther Sessions’ Birth Register

Cover of register

What’s found and not found in the register is  interesting. The first page of the register documents a death, not a birth. The single entry documents the death of a 3-month-old infant of what appears to be “La grippe” or the flu. While the top of the page says January 1901, the day of death on this entry is 17 March 1901. But what a great entry it is; we learn this baby’s name, age, race, and residence. An important record for a state [Utah] that didn’t mandate vital record registration until 1905.

The remaining pages of this register reflect the ledger’s title - registers of birth. However, they do not include the name of the babies they document. Instead there is the birth date, sex, race, color, parent’s names (but not mother’s maiden name), and residence. In some cases there is a notation with a number of months by the city of residence, perhaps indicating the length of residence but that would need to be explored further. If this register was indexed, it would be searchable by the parent’s name, not the child’s which is something to remember when we encounter a brick wall searching one specific person.

Example page 3 of 22

Esther ends her ledger by stating “I haven’t recorded any babies delivered by me that have arrived before the Dr has arrived.” It appears she has written the date “Nov 1854” before that statement which most likely is an error since she herself was born after that date but she died in 1957, so perhaps she meant Nov 1954.

Subject headings

Now one last point. I found this by just being curious and reading through the list of manuscripts owned by FamilySearch, as found on ArchiveGrid. If I had known about Esther, I could have found her birth registers by searching on the keywords “Esther Sessions” on the FamilySearch Catalog. In addition, as I look through this register it’s important to check the subject headings. If I click on those, I can find even more related works that could help me in my research.

FS Catalog

There’s More to Research than Searching by Name

The lesson here? Go beyond that name search. Explore by conducting a Place Search, use Subject Headings to find additional materials. Be curious, and browse through collections for a library or archive of interest. There are wonderful sources out there but you have to go beyond that name date, and place search.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


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That is great information to consider.
"Looking around the neighborhood"- in the right time period, may also uncover some hidden gems.

Many historical newspapers and magazines have been scanned and put on line, but not necessarily indexed. I have found that skimming through some of those coming from where I knew my relatives had lived at a certain time, has uncovered good stories about them, which gives more life and interest to the names -and helped to unravel some mysteries about why some people appear in family group photos. (who - knows/worked for/went out with - who, etc)

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