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. I am excited to use this site and be able to help non members I am working with when the situation stay home ends. This will be a valuable tool in our Temple and Family History calling. Thanks for all the efforts you put forth in moving along with the work.

  2. I think this is a wonderful site you have put together .It let’s us look and find our heritage. We are Christian and I know this is a great unselfishl site. I talked to 2 people today very Christian. I am proud to be a Christian

  3. I’m looking forward to using this way of searching. It seems a little like the “old way” of using microfilm. Could find whole multi-generational families!

  4. Thank you for continuous technical updates of FamilySearch platform. This is a stunning new advance in power to search a previously hidden 80% of records. Hopefully this can be more widely advertised as a roadblock busting tool for every frustrated geneaologist.

  5. Thank you so much for the historical images tool. Found a 1734 land warrant of my ancestor’s first land in America, along with a tax record of the time through this!

  6. I’m really glad you are making these online records more accessible. The old search was woefully inadequate for most people, and difficult at best for those who even knew how to use it, so thank you. However, it looks like it still is in need of some work to be even more helpful.
    Here is what I found when I looked up one of the parishes I have been working on in Switzerland. I typed in Lauenen, and got three options. If I click on the second one, it says No Results Found. That is not helpful–why is it even on the list?? If I click on the first one, I again get three options–different types of records in different time periods. So far so good. I click on the first option and I get images. Along the top is a list of the different sections (baptism records in different time periods). But they seem to be in no logical order. The side bar breaks has the list of records in the same illogical order. That would be okay if you could click on one of those time periods and go directly to that batch of records, but there is no availability to click there. So I start to peruse the record images. The first available image starts in 1868, which is NOT the first time period on the sidebar or list at the top. Moving ahead to image #32, we are now in 1708, which is NOT the 2nd time period on the list. I have to page through to image 213 until I get to 1806, which is the FIRST time period on the drop down list. What kind of sense does this make?? How much work could it be to let us click on the time period we want and go directly to that image???

  7. When searching for a death certificate, I found the following information on the list of deaths. This is for Jackson county, Minnesota, Otto Stenzel, who died 6-24-1897, then the following information: Book A page 87, line 13. How can I access that information? I did not find the certificate after scrolling through all the deaths . Can you tell me what the book number, page and line refer to?

  8. Es fantástica la busqueda que podemos realizar en los registros.Gracias.He podido encontrar datos que ni pensaba.Durante este período de pandemia, localicé la rama vasca de mi árbol.Ya pude pedir los registros de bautismo de mi bis abuelo(1856) y mis tatara abuelos(1830).

    Google Translate – Spanish to English: The search we can do in the records is fantastic. Thank you. I have been able to find data that I did not even think. During this period of pandemic, I located the Basque branch of my tree. I could already request the baptism records of my great grandfather (1856) and My great great grandparents (1830).