Wednesday, 19 February 2020

More on FamilySearch's new digital image search tool

I've had a chance to play with FamilySearch's new digital image search tool (see, which allows users to identify many unindexed collections within its digital archive. It is a promising tool which may indeed allow you to locate materials you were not aware existed, but whilst the tool itself seems solid enough as a feature, an issue I have been finding has been with regards to the cataloguing of the items that you are searching for. Get ready for a few possible headaches!

As an experiment, being a native Ulsterman I decided to start a search for materials in Belfast.  From the home page, if I type in Belfast in the Place name box, there are two Irish options, and several overseas places called Belfast. For the Irish or Northern Irish Belfast, this is what we have :

Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom  1922-Present, Major City
Belfast, Ireland  1610-1922, Major City

Surprisingly, by using the first term, no records whatsoever are returned. However, in using the second term there are 125 collection results, with seemingly several thousand image results. So after centuries of identity struggle, FamilySearch has seemingly determined that Belfast is Irish and not Northern Irish. I can't for a single minute imagine that this should be at all controversial!

Most of the collections present are census images for the city, but in one collection, marked Belfast, Ireland, Cemetery Record, there are stated to be 402 images. They are presented as a series of images on a digital microfilm, but the collection title does not give much away. Upon clicking in the first images, I was surprised to see that it contained monumental inscriptions from 'Saint Matthews Church, Shankill Road and Jewish Burial Ground, Belfast, Antrim, Ireland' as copied by the 'Genealogical Board of the British Mission' and filmed by the 'Genealogical Society Salt Lake City, Utah, 1956'. Saint Matthews just happens to be a church my mother's Graham family attended, but in the mid to late 20th Century. The records are handwritten monumental inscriptions as collated in 1954, and a search has so far yielded no known family members.

But that wasn't the real surprise! On going further through the microfilm, the following monumental records were in fact found to be presented:
  • Saint Matthews Church, Shankill Road, Belfast, Antrim, Ireland
  • Jewish Burial Ground, Belfast City Cemetery, Belfast, Antrim, Ireland
  • Dunmurry 1st Presbyterian Church
  • Roman Catholic Church, Lisburn, Antrim County, Ireland
  • Allanvale Cemetery, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
  • Mounthooly Churchyard, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
  • Saint Machar Cathedral Church, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
  • Clarkston Cemetery, Airdrie, Lanarkshire, Scotland
  • New Monkland, Airdrie, Lanarkshire, Scotland
  • Clarkston Cemetery, Airdrie, Lanarkshire, Scotland
  • Broomknoll, Lanarkshire, Scotland
  • Old Monkland, Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Scotland
  • Paisley Abbey Church, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland
  • Saint Mary's Church, Saint Margaret's Church, and Saint John's Church, Cardiff, Glamorganshire, Wales
  • Lady of the Lake Church Cemetery Records, Windsor, Essex County, Ontario, Canada

So a digital microfilm entitled 'Belfast Ireland', ended up revealing images from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Canada!

When I did a subsequent search for 'Lady of the Lake' as a search term, many places in the United States popped up by that name, but not the collection above noted in Canada. A search of 'Windsor, Essex, Ontario' (and there are six catalogued variants of that by the way!) does reveal the same microfilm.

One other discovery I made was of a superb, but utterly impossible, series of annual record collections from 'St David's, Perthshire, Scotland, United Kingdom' containing what are noted as 'Abstracts of Copy Wills Episcopal Consistory Court' from the 1820s to the 1840s. Any Scottish genealogist looking at that will immediately note the problem - Scottish wills stopped being taken through the ecclesiastical courts at the Reformation of 1560, and there were no consistorial courts in Scotland in the 19th century! In fact, a quick look at the first images on one of the rolls notes that St David's was actually a diocese in Wales, not Perthshire in Scotland.

There is a LOT that this tool will help you to uncover - but the cataloguing itself may cause a few problems and omissions along the way. Be so advised!


You can pre-order my new book, Tracing Your Scottish Family History on the Internet, at (out April). Also available, Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet (2nd ed) at and Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry Through Church and State Records at Further news published daily on The Scottish GENES Facebook page, and on Twitter @genesblog.


  1. You are being a little harsh in your comments regarding Belfast. The descriptions you highlight show that Belfast is classed as part of Ireland prior to 1922 and Northern Ireland after 1922. This is consistent with the fact that Northern Ireland as a separate political entity did not exist prior to partition in 1922.

    You are right that there seems to be a problem with the cataloging of the images, which (from the searches I have done) are often unrelated to the headings ascribed to them.

    1. Perhaps 'flippant', rather than harsh! :) Should add that Partition was actually in may 1921 (the Irish Free State was formed in Dec 1922).


  2. The geographical terms used are problematic (and don't even seem to conform to FamilySearch's own way of displaying places); a check for Scotland returns some absolutely wild results - something going wrong with the identification of content.