Friday, March 15, 2024

Dear Randy: "Why Can't I Find Barnstable County, Massachusetts Probate Records on FamilySearch Full-Text Search?"

 After my blog posts about the FamilySearch Full-Text Search (see Testing the Full Text Search in FamilySearch Labs - An Immediate Success!!) last week, I had several emails from readers asking me questions like:

"Why can't I find Barnstable County, Massachusetts probate records on the FamilySearch Full-Text Search page?"

The short answer is:  "Because they have not used artificial intelligence to index and transcribe the names from the handwriting on the thousands of Barnstable County, Massachusetts Probate Records images yet."

1)  For instance, here is the Full-Text Search page for the keywords [+barnstable +massachusetts]:

There are 31,397 results when filtered for "USA, Massachusetts, Barnstable."  Of those, there are results for the following categiries:

* Adoption (692)
* Court (9,482)
*  Property (23,408)
*  Will (8,739)

That looks promising, but when you filter for "Will" you get only the 8,739 results: 

Of those 8,739, most of them are Bond records, Guardianship records and some post-1900 wills.  Maybe uers will be lucky and find their ancestors.  Or not.

2)  There have been probate records in Barnstable County, Massachusetts since 1686.  Using the "Record Year" filter we can see that there are records for these centuries:

By century, the records currently on Full-Text Search for Barnastable County Wills is:

*  1600 (5)
*  1700 (4)
*  1800 (4,893)
*  1900 (3,738)
*  2000 (6)

3)  So where are the Barnstable County, Massachusetts Probate Records?

They are still in the FamilySearch Catalog entries for Barnstable County, Massachusetts!  They were microfilmed decades ago, and digitized in the last decade, and the researcher can find them by doing it the old fashioned way.  Here is the FamilySearch Catalog page for "Probate Records, 1686-1894" for Barnstable County: 

And further down the same page are listings of the "digital microfilms" that comprise all of the available probate records:

There are 3 volumes of Index material (which help you find which probate records volume(s) your target person is in) and 102 volumes of Probate records for different year ranges.  Each probate records volume has between 500 and 600 images (each image has two pages), so 102 volumes adds up to approximately 102,000 pages of records.  

4)  To find useful information about a target person, the user will have to do the hard work of using the catalog digital microfilms to:

*  Find the target person in the Consolidated general index volumes
*  Copy down the volumes and page numbers for the records for the target person
*  Find the pages in the specific volumes for the target person
*  Copy, print or download the specific pages for the target person
*  Transcribe or abstract the contents.  

Just like we'e done it for decades at the county courthouse, the FamilySearch Library or local Centers, or online in the FamilySearch Catalog.   

Eventually Full-Text Search will use AI to find these records, index the names on the pages, transcribe the handwritten text, and provide us with more information about our ancestors.  

5)  The lessons learned here are:

*  FamilySearch Full-Text Search has not indexed or transcribed every probate record in every county.

*  FamilySearch does not have every probate record (or any record type) for every county - the digital microfilm for Barnstable County goes from 1686 to 1894.  

*  The user can use FamilySearch Catalog digital microfilm to find probate records (and many other types of records!) at home, or at a FamilySearch Library/Center (if the digital microfilm can only be viewed there).  

*  FamilySearch Full-Text Search, at this time with 100 million images, is useful but very limited. 100 million seems like a lot, but they have over 2 billion images already digitized.   Eventually it will probably have all of them in Full-Text Search, but it will likely take years to get there.  

*  This example probably can be duplicated for every county in the United States!

6)  Patience, grasshoppers!!!  Please don't assume that not finding something in Full-Text Search means that there is no record.  Users have to look in every possible location for records.  

As an example, has a "Massachusetts, U.S. Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991" collction that has volumes of Barnstable County Probate Records into the 1990 time frame.  And they are indexed (perhaps not completely).  


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1 comment:

Marian B. Wood said...

Excellent reminder that we have to do a lot of hard work on our own to discover genealogical documentation. TY for showing your methodology!