Explore Historical Images Tool Unlocks Data in Digital Records

February 18, 2020  - by 
Young woman using a tablet to search for historical record images.

Have you ever tried searching for your ancestor’s name in online records?

FamilySearch, FamilySearch partners, and volunteers worldwide have worked to make over 3 billion records easily findable online with a very simple name search. But did you know that these indexed records represent only 20 percent of the historical records FamilySearch has available online?

If you haven’t found your ancestors by using the main search form on FamilySearch.org, it may be that their information is locked inside a waiting-to-be-indexed digital image. In 2018 alone, FamilySearch added over 432 million new record images to its online collections. But it can take years to catalog and index these images so they can be readily searched.

Fortunately, the tools for finding the record image you need online are improving dramatically. Well ahead of any formal indexing or cataloging, the new FamilySearch Explore Historical Images tool can help you find records about your ancestors more easily, even when their information is not text-searchable and seems to be locked inside a digital image.

An Image-Centered Search Experience

Explore Historical Images marks the beginning of a new and different search experience. With this tool, images produced from FamilySearch’s 300+ digital cameras worldwide is made almost instantly available.

Explore Historical Images helps you navigate to images of historical records that could contain information about your ancestors. Although you aren’t able to search for your ancestor by name directly, you are able to narrow your search by place, date, and other information that was captured when the image was taken.

To try out the tool, head over to FamilySearch.org, and click Search and then Images in the main menu. Then follow these steps:

1. Search for Records from a Specific Place

Start by typing in a significant place for your ancestor (for example, where the person was born, wed, or buried).

Screenshot of Explore Images search feature.

To narrow your search, you can also add a date (or date range), life event, and other fields (using the advanced search). Then click Search Image Groups.

Tip: As you are typing, click the suggestions for standardized dates and locations for more accurate results.

2. Pick a Record Collection to Browse

Explore Historical Images searches the basic information that was captured for billions of image-only records and gives you a list of relevant record collections.

For example, a search for “Delta, Millard, Utah” for the year 1994, I found collections of obituaries from the period 1933–2014. These images haven’t been indexed yet, but I can browse them to find my ancestor.

List of death records found with FamilySearch Expore Images tool.

Which Collection Do I Choose?

Explore Historical Images shows you the relevant record collections it finds. To learn what is in each collection, look at the basic information that was gathered when the images were taken.

Different columns may show you the place, type of record, dates, and volume information for the collection. You may find collections with vital records (birth, marriage, and death records), church records, civil records, military records, population counts, and more.

Tip: To toggle columns on and off, click the Show button in the top right.

In our example, the obituaries from Delta, Utah, show volumes that are separated alphabetically. Because of this structure, the correct record set was easy to find.

Screenshot showing menu options for Explore Images.

Tip: If you have too many results or too few, use the left side bar to narrow and broaden your search. Add or take away dates, use the map to see nearby locations, and click on location links to widen or narrow the area you are searching. Then click Update.

Showing map and sidebar options for image explorer tool.

Sometimes record collections in your results may appear to be the same at first, but you’ll find as you explore them that each one is unique. Even if the basic information isn’t very descriptive, don’t be afraid to click a result to see what it contains!

Looking at Denmark record images.

3. Browse Record Images

Once you pick an image collection, a browsing window shows you thumbnails of each image. Looking at these thumbnails, you may see indexes, section markers, or title pages that can help you learn more about what is in the record set.

Browsing record images using FamilySearch new tool.

In our obituaries example, the index at the beginning was organized by last name and showed the exact page that showed my ancestor’s record.

Finding a specific image using Explore Images.

Explore Historical Images lets you zoom in on each image and flip through images quickly. Using the image number box, you can skip through the images by any number to become familiar with how the records are organized. You can also use the arrow buttons to scan each image for your ancestor’s name.

Note: At first, the number of records that Explore Historical Images gives you to sort through may seem large. This feature will be refined over time to reduce the number of records you may need to browse if your ancestors are in the image-only collections.

4. Attach Relevant Records

When you find a record image that is relevant for your ancestor, use the blue Attach to Family Tree button in the upper right to attach it to your ancestor’s profile in Family Tree.

Attaching a record to the Family Tree using Explore Images.

As you add this source to your relative’s profile, you can also note important information on the image so you and others can read it more easily.

Leaving a note when attaching images using Image Explorer.

Explore Historical Images can help you discover new information about your ancestors that might not be made searchable online for years to come. If you haven’t been able to find needed records by doing text-based searches, try out the new Explore Historical Images tool. It may be that the record you need was only recently made available, and Explore Historical Images can help you find it.

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  1. Thank you!! This is a great feature! I’m excited to try it. Hope they show more about this at ROOTSTECH next week.

  2. Will you be able to see things that have been indexed already. For example if I know that someone was in the 1930 census but I don’t see the record (because the name was misspelled) will i see an image of that streets or buildings records in an image format?

  3. This is fantastic! I’m teaching a class tonight on searching unindexed records. Thank you for the information.

  4. A wonderful way to explore non indexed records possibly resulting in find a relative that is part of the 80% not indexed yet. Great source to find family ancestors.

  5. I’m excited to try this new way to search unindexed records however it is not working. Whenever I enter data in the fields (place, date, and life event) and try to search (search image groups), I get the following error message, “Not enough search parameters, try adding more.” Hopefully this issue is being resolved.

  6. In our obituaries example, the index at the beginning was organized by last name and showed the exact page that showed my ancestor’s record.
    Shepherd, Quin T page 5 Showing up on page 71 ???

  7. Start out with just the place, and then narrow down your search incrementally until the records sets that most likely would contain the information you seek remain.

  8. This news is amazing! Thank you for telling us about this new way to search. I am starting right now with all of my villages in Poland. Who knows when I will get up from my chair!

  9. I am so excited that this tool is available. I look forward to the thrill of detective work and Discovery.

    1. The Holy Name Cemetery Card images are only available at the LDS sites. With the non-gathering policy it seems that these should be opened to individuals at least in the short term. I know I can’t/won’t go to a communal place at this point in time. (Just following the rules).

  10. What is the quickest way to jump from the first image to, say, image 300 to see if I am close to the date I want?

  11. Many records are under restrictions by record custodians and available to be seen only at Family Search Centers or libraries. Will this collection of images include any of those restricted records, or will they continue to be limited for viewing only at FS facilities? There are indexed records where we can see an indexed entry with some of the information transcribed, but cannot see the image. Will unindexed records continue to carry the same restriction?

  12. Your records for the Azores are all kinds of messed up. They appear to be Mainland Portugal records with similar sounding parish names applied to azorean parishes, which is absolutely confusing.

    1. Please contact Family Search Support by phone, chat, or email. They should be able to help you with this concern.