Genealogy is not supposed to be an internet activity. With the advent of Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org, it seems that all you have to do is type in your great-grandpa’s name, and “voila!”—Your family tree back to Charlemagne is right before your eyes. But don’t believe everything you read on the internet. You really need to verify that information to see how correct it is. Family trees are only as good as the person who uploaded the information.
Sites like Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org collect records from various sources, index them, and make them available online. Sometimes you get a look at the actual record, sometimes you see a transcription of that record, and sometimes all you get is the index information. In the last situation, the actual record may be available in the county and state, but you would have to write for a copy.
Familysearch.org has many records indexed and available for searching. But Familysearch.org also has unindexed records that are available to view. You can find the state, county, and record set of interest, then search it for yourself. If you are lucky, the book will have an index at the front or back. Most of the time, I’m not lucky, and I have to click through page after page of the book. This is the actual record book, though, so it’s the next best thing to actually visiting the county courthouse and doing the search in person. Let me take you through the steps to view unindexed records.
First, go to familysearch.org. You can make a free account, and you will need to do this to see some record sets. Go to SEARCH, then RECORDS, and look for the words, “Research by Location.”
Hover over the country you would like to search, and click. We will search in the United States.
Click the USA, and a list of states will appear. Choose the state of choice. In our example, Maryland has been selected. Click the state name.
The next page will list “Maryland Indexed Historical Records.”
These are records that you could search for from the opening search page. If your ancestor’s name was recorded in a record set that has already been catalogued and indexed, then you will find him or her easily.
But scroll down a little more. Find the “Maryland Image Only Historical Records.”
These are the records that have been digitized but not yet indexed. They are searchable, but you must do it the old-fashioned way—one page at a time! For this example, we will choose the Probate and Court records (seen above) and “Maryland Register of Wills Records, 1629-1999.”
Browse through 1,933,787 images. That says almost two million images, some with multiple pages.
Next screen will be a county selection page.
My research takes me to Charles County. After you click on the county, the available records are listed.
Choose your book and browse.
Hopefully, you know the book and page for the record you want, or you know the date of the record. I have searched these records by first finding the record address at the Maryland State Archives, then matching that to the Familysearch sources. Other times, I have actually started at page one and flipped through each image until I find the name I am looking for. It is tedious, but quite rewarding when that record appears before you in the almost illegible handwriting of our colonial ancestors.
I chose the “General Index of Probates 1665-1962. I am searching for the McAtees. I want to go to M. I look at the first few images to get a feel for the book: is there an index? This book is a large index, so I need to jump to M. To do this, I search for a random image number, then see if I am close to M or not. I add or subtract the image number until I find the page I want. Again it’s tedious, but this type of search may reveal a record others have missed simply because they did not take the time to look. I have already searched and know that M starts on image 343.
Now, browse through the names. Take notes on the date, but also the book (or liber) and page (or folio) numbers. After you find the book and page number, go back to the records list and find the book. Repeat your search until You have found the record.
Image 344 shows that Benjamin McAtee has a record in book W.D.M.15 page 336.
Back out to the Charles County list of records and choose Wills 1825-1833 vol WDM15. This particular volume is almost image to page. On image 337, we find the will of one Benjamin McAtee.
Options to print or download are available in the upper right corner.
Familysearch has unindexed, image-only records for most counties in all states. Maybe you’ll be lucky to find the record you’ve been waiting for…right at your fingertips…for free!
All images were from Familysearch.org. “Maryland Register of Wills Records, 1629-1999.” Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2016. Citing Prerogative Court. Hall of Records, Annapolis.