Saturday, May 18, 2024

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Use FamilySearch Full-text Search

The challenge today from Randy Seaver for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun is valid for varying definitions of the word "fun."

Come on, everybody, join in and accept the mission and execute it with precision.

1.  Use the FREE FamilySearch Full-Text Search ( to find a record for one of your ancestors that is new to you.

2.  Share your results on your own blog or in a Facebook post.  Please share a link in Comments on this post if you write your own post.

I'm going to be a party pooper again, sorry.

Non sequitur:  Have you ever heard the party pooper song?
"Every party needs a pooper, that's why we invited you.
"Party pooper!  Party pooper!"

Okay, back on track.

First, I admit I had not tried to use the full-text search yet.  I hate blindly fishing around in records and much prefer to have an actual research plan.

That said, I did as Randy suggested and tried to find a new record for one of my ancestors.  I would have been happy to find a record for a relative on a collateral line.

No such luck.

I went to the link that Randy provided.  I noted that it said I would be browsing "US Land and Probate Records, Mexico Notary Records, Australia Land and Probate Records, New Zealand Land and Probate Records and US Plantation Records."  (I also noted that to the left it said, "Only two collections are currently available to browse . . . .", so something is out of date.)

I decided I would try to find something in the plantation records by using as a keyword one of the locations I am researching in the part of my family that was enslaved.  So I typed in "upatoi" (a location in Georgia) and let 'er rip.

I got a total of 24 results.  Okay, that's pretty manageable.

Then I looked at the filters.

I had options of Collection, Year, Place, and Record Type.

The first one I tried to use to narrow down my hits was Place.  The only option was United States of America, which applied to all 24 hits.  Okay, that's useless.

I looked at Collection.  That gave me choices of "Alabama, Wills and Deeds, ca. 1700s-2017 (1)", "Georgia, Wills and Deeds, ca. 1700s-2017 (4)", "Pennsylvania, Wills and Deeds, ca. 1700s-2017 (1)", and "United States, Indenture Records, 1600-2001 (18)."

As I was hoping to find information about plantation records, I chose the Georgia wills and deeds.

Boy, was I disappointed.

Nothing about plantation records.  Nothing even in the 19th century.  "Muscogee, Georgia, United States Will 1949", "Muscogee, Georgia, United States Will 1955", "Marion, Georgia, United States Deed, Mortgage 1965", and "Marion, Georgia, United States Deed, Mortgage 1960."

Okay, let's look at the indenture records.

Of the 18 records, 16 are titled "Riverdale Cemetery, Columbus, Muscogee, Georgia, United States Enslavement, Cemetery" followed by a year ranging from 1881 to 1952.  Two are "Georgia, United States Enslavement, Cemetery 1921", and you can see from the teaser text that they're the same item.  So none of these years is during the period of chattel slavery in this country, which officially ended in 1865.  And I don't understand why cemetery records are listed under indenture records.  But I gamely clicked on the first result to see what it would show me.

The first link said it was for 1881.  The page told me it was a full transcript from "Riverdale Cemetery.  Cemetery Records 1866–2000, Enslavement Records 1866–2000."  Um, say what?  What enslavement records begin in 1866, the year *after* slavery officially ended?  And the record itself was an obituary for a man born in 1881 in Alabama.  The obit mentioned he had celebrated his 50th anniversary, so figure he was at least 70 years old; that means that he died about 1951.  Sure, it's a record having to do with Riverdale Cemetery, but saying it's for 1881 is misleading at best and a train wreck at worst.  How is this supposed to be helpful to me?

I clicked on the first link for "Georgia, United States Enslavement, Cemetery 1921" to see if it was any better.  It was listed as a full transcript from "Georgia.  Cemetery Records 1866–2000, Enslavement Records 1866–2000."  Okay, same logic problem as the previous one.  This was also an obit.  This man was born in 1877 in Upatoi and died at 82, so it's from about 1959.  The 1921 that shows up in the link name?  "The aldermanic form was government was abandoned in Columbus in 1921."  Even less relevant than the first link I tried!

I then tried to cut down on the number of hits.  I had "upatoi" as my keyword, so I added "crawford" (one of my family names).  Silly me, I thought the search engine would search for records where both words appeared and cut down the number of hits, maybe even to zero.

I was wrong.

Instead of 18 results, I now had 6,760.  It would appear that adding a term causes the search engine to return results with either of the search terms, not both of them.  I did note that if you add a plus sign in front of a term, it will include that term.  When I searched for +upatoi and +crawford, I had no results.  Well, I did cut it down to zero!

I tried one last search.  I used "slaves" as my keyword.  I had 446,052 results.  I restricted the place to Marion County, Georgia, and the number of results dropped to 41.  The links were to wills and deeds ranging from 1846 to 1862 as far as the period of slavery was concerned, but several titles listed years after 1865 and even into the 20th century.  I clicked a link to one that was titled "Marion, Georgia, United States Deed, Mortgage 1936."  The image was said to be from "Marion.  Deeds 1845–1965, Mortgages 1845–1965."  It was actually from 1858–1859.  I did not find "1936" anywhere in it; the closest was "one hundred thirty six."

I went back to the search results page and added "kinchafoonee" (another location associated with the family), and the results stayed at 41.  Since my previous attempt at adding a name appeared to indicate that the search engine was returning results with either search term, I interpreted this to mean that none of the records for Marion County include Kinchafoonee in the text, or at least not with that spelling.  When I added a plus sign in front of each term, I had no results, so my interpretation appeared to be correct.

I never even saw anything with results that said they were from plantation records.  I suspect that the only way to get those is with the plantation owner's name.  Since I still have not found the name of a single slaveholder in my family, I guess I won't be getting far with those.  I did not see a way to focus my browsing on just one set of records included in the full-text search.

Obviously, the advantage of the full-text search is that it's creating a searchable database of words from handwriting, which is very cool, and that you don't have to wait for a real index.  On the other hand, it's like putting a search term into Google, which used to be great but has been getting worse for quite some time.  You get results with your search term (well, if you're lucky; nowadays Google routinely returns results with no appearance of your search term anywhere on the page), but the context could be anything.  An index gives you context.  And yes, I admit I am very biased, because I'm an indexer.

After this dismal experience, I am reminded of a study I read about many years ago.  Researchers observed people searching for information.  The people searching used an index or did a general text search, such as by using Google.

Even though search results were consistently better and desired information was found more quickly when using the index, the majority of searchers, when allowed to choose the search method, defaulted to doing a general text search the majority of the time.  When it was pointed out to them that the results were better with the index, the response was that it was simply easier to do the general search, and they didn't care that the results were not as good.  Me, I care.  My time is valuable.

I am very happy for Randy that he found five new records for his ancestor.  After seeing my search results, I think I'm going to wait for actual searchable indices for these record collections.  I get tired of beating my head against the wall after a while.

Addendum:  I decided to try one last time, with one of the unique surnames I am researching.  My aunt's paternal grandfather changed his name when he became a U.S. citizen.  He made up a name, which is unique to that family.  If I find that name, it's my aunt's family.  I searched for that name in the database and got a grand total of two hits:  my aunt's great-grandmother's will and her probate.  The reason the name showed up is because my aunt's mother (the granddaughter of the deceased) was named in the will under her married name.  Because it's a unique name, it allowed me to find the will, so that's a new record!  Yay, I found one, even if for my aunt's ancestor and not mine!  And now I know when her great-grandmother died, which is new information.


  1. The place search filter begins with US but then you can narrow it down further to a state and then down to a county. I have found records by putting in a watershed name and filtering down to the county. This is a game changer for doing FAN research.

    1. Every search I tried, the Place filter had only US and didn't narrow it down any further. Maybe it just didn't like me last night?

  2. Navigating the full text search takes some practice. there is a Time icon that can narrow the frame, but besides picking, say, the 1800s, you can further narrow down to a decade. Glad you found one new record that gave you something you didn't already know.

    1. I was able to narrow timeframes down. That part worked. My bigger problem simply seemed to be no records for the names I was searching. For example, no results at all for Burlington County when I tried some of my New Jersey names. And I understand that not all areas have had records digitized.

  3. It definitely offers a prodigious amount of data! I couldn't resist trying it, and found a number of real estate documents about property I didn't know my family had owned, so that was helpful.

    1. I am very happy that you found documents relating to your family! I'm sure I'll find something for my family eventually. :)


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