Using FamilySearch Historical Records

Using FamilySearch Historical Records
Domhnall na Moicheirghe and Juliana de Luna

European parish records of christenings, marriages and deaths extracted and collated as part of the website (hereafter called "FamilySearch Historical Records") are a "de facto" no-photocopy source of name documentation. They are useful for 16th century names throughout Western Europe as significant numbers of parish records survive from 1500 onwards. Also, onomastic dictionaries tend to focus on the earliest cites for names, so later cites may be excluded for space, even though a name might still be popular in the 1500s.

FamilySearch Historical Records are a great source for late period names from anywhere in Western Europe because the search is online and easy to use. Especially for England, there are so many records in there with many different spellings that not finding a particular spelling of a name in FamilySearch suggests that spelling wasn't common and may not have been used at all in the late 16th century.

The FamilySearch Historical Records

The FamilySearch Historical Records are hosted on the genealogical website and consists of the former International Genealogical Index (IGI) and additional records added to the FamilySearch website. There are two main types of entries on the Family Search website:

The first is User Submitted Genealogies, which is family information contributed by members of the LDS church. This section is not suitable for documentation, because it is genealogical research, which could be excellent or terrible, and generally modernises and standardises name spellings. Their own web site says "The quality of this information varies. Duplicate entries and inconsistent information are common. Always verify contributed entries against sources of primary information."[1]

The second part is the Historical Records, which is mostly suitable for documentation (see below for the list of approved batch numbers). In this, two community members have transcribed information from an existing source, often a scan or photograph of a parish record, though sometimes a Victorian transcription of an older source. If the two transcriptions do not agree, an expert will look at it and decide which is right. That means that they're at least as dependable as the other sources we use, and we consider those transcriptions reasonable documentation for the spelling and dating of a name element. Since they are predominantly extracted from parish records, the former term for these in the College of Arms is “IGI Parish Extracts” which has recently been replaced by “FamilySearch Historical Records” to reflect the broader collection of historical records now available.

FamilySearch Historical Records as SCA name documentation

The FamilySearch Historical Records are a "de facto" no-photocopy source because, although they're not listed in Appendix H, the June 2011 LoAR Cover Letter states that a summary of the FamilySearch result including the batch letter and number on the name form is sufficient documentation and additional printouts are not required.

Pelican Queen of Arms has declared that batch numbers starting with B, C, J, K, M (except M17 and M18), or P are generally acceptable, and batches that are all digits, begin with M17 or M18, D, F, H, L, or T are not acceptable. All other batch numbers will be evaluated on a case by case basis. See the June 2011, September 2012, May 2013 and January 2014 LoAR Cover Letters for details of the relevant precedents.

Using the FamilySearch Historical Records

So, how do you use them?

  1. Go to (opens in new window/tab)

  2. Check that the default “RECORDS” is selected in the top bar.

  3. Enter the name element you're looking for into the first name or last name box as relevant. If you want to search for an exact spelling, tick the nearby checkbox. [2]

  4. Under "Search with a life event" deselect “Birth” and select "Any". This opens up the date field without limiting the search to particular records. Enter "1000" to "1600". [3]

  5. Click "Search".

  6. The search results will appear. Note the countries of origin as you want to match the language/culture of your given name and byname, so for names used in more than one country, some entries will be more appropriate than others.

  7. Check the batch numbers (see above for the generally acceptable batch list).

  8. Summarise your documentation on the name submission form. Even a single result within our time period from an acceptable batch number is sufficient. If there are more hits, don’t include more than the first 3 to 5.[4] The essential information you need to copy across to the summary is: Name, Gender, Date, Place and Batch Number.

An example summary for the last name <Hastyngs> using an exact spelling search:
FamilySearch Historical Records:
Frauncis Hastyngs Female 27 Oct 1555 Saint Margaret,Westminster,London,England M00160-1
Margaret Hastyngs Female 16 Apr 1553 CASTON,NORFOLK,ENGLAND C04357-1
Franciscus Hastyngs Male 24 Jul 1596 NORTH WALSHAM,NORFOLK,ENGLAND C04662-1
Thomas Hastyngs Male 28 Sep 1600 WITTON NEAR NORTH WALSHAM,NORFOLK,ENGLAND C04066-1
Isabell Hastyngs Female 22 May 1611 BRAUNSTONE,LEICESTER,ENGLAND C03439-1
Although this summary shows five entries for a broad example, since all the entries document the exact spelling being submitted, any one of these entries would be sufficient documentation, and this summary could certainly be limited to only the entries dated before 1600.


[2] If you really want to show off, you can look for both name elements at once, but this is only likely to work for very common names.

[3] If limiting to 1600 doesn't work, try extending the range to 1650. Names documented between 1600 and 1650 are allowed under the rules, but obviously documentation before 1600 is preferred.

[4] If you’ve got lots of hits and you’re not documenting in a hurry, it can be fun to try finding the one entry that is closest in time and place to the documentation of the other name elements.