Research Tip: Searching for Towns in the FHL Catalog

Last week at the NGS 2010 conference, I grumbled to someone about something I disliked about searching for information in the Family History Library catalog.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I grumbled to someone who works  for FamilySearch with the catalog.  Because I happened to grumble to the “right” person, I ended up learning an important search tip that I previously did not know.

My complaint involved searching the catalog for place names to see what records have been microfilmed for that place.  If you search for the name of a town that has records cataloged under the name of that town, it obviously will come up as a search result.  But sometimes other towns or villages are included in the records of a larger town nearby,  and these names will not show any results if searched.

"Classic" Family History Library Search page at

For my searches, I used the current FamilySearch page at (more on the new “beta” site later). Go to “Library Catalog” under “Library” on the top menu bar.  Next I choose “Place Search” to find a locality.  As an example of my dilemma, if you search for the place name “Scheyern” in Bavaria, the result is  “Germany, Bayern, Scheyern.” Clicking for further details, you find that church records are available.  Drilling down further into the title itself, the notes section indicates:

Transcripts of catholic church registers of births, marriages, and deaths in the parish of Scheyern and the towns of Scheyern, Vieth, Mitterscheyern, Sulzbach, Paindorf, Niederscheyern, Hettenshausen, Triefing, Winden, and Ilmmünster.

However, if you search again under the place name of Paindorf or Niderscheyern or one of the other villages, the result for the Scheyern parish records will not show up and the result will say “No matching places found”.

This was my complaint.  But it pays to complain if the right people are listening.  I learned that if you search for keyword in lieu of place name, the appropriate record will be found (in the case of the town of Paindorf, there are records listed not only under the town of Scheyern but also Reichertshausen and Kemmoden).

Frankly, this was a revelation to me.  It may seem obvious to my readers, but I had never tried using a keyword search for place names before.  This is a very helpful hint, because many small villages in Germany, Poland, and other countries did not have a church of their own.  Instead, residents traveled to the next larger town and that is where the records will be located.

Beta FamilySearch page still under development at

I thought I would attempt similar searches in the Beta FamilySearch site since it will eventually replace the current FS site.  Randy Seaver gave the new site a big “thumbs down” in his review, FamilySearch Beta Library Search – FAIL, for several reasons.  One reason was due to a lack of information when performing a Place search, including the list of microfilm numbers.

I also tried the “Beta” FamilySearch site at  Under “Library Catalog”, the “Place Names” search still brings up the same information as the “classic” site, which means those smaller village names are not recognized in the results.

Under this Beta site, there is no keyword search.  Instead, I tried the option to search “Entire catalog”.  Using this search parameter, you will get the same results as the “classic” keyword search.  With one minor exception – no microfilm roll numbers, as Randy noted.

When it comes to searching the “Beta” library catalog for place names, I have to agree with Randy that the Beta site lacks the information found in the “Classic” site.  However, if you read the comments on Randy’s post, the “Beta” is still in development and not yet ready for prime time.  I am optimistic that this will be fixed.

In the meantime, enjoy the tip of using either a Keyword Search (on the classic FS site) or an Entire Catalog Search (on the Beta FS site) if you have towns or villages that you have not been able to find in the Family History Library Catalog.  If you hadn’t used that search option before (like me), then you may find that the town you are looking for really does have some records available!


2 thoughts on “Research Tip: Searching for Towns in the FHL Catalog

  1. HOW TIMELY! I just tried that this week. I was looking for Catholic church records yesterday. You know how many there are. I even entered the name of the church and got a list of all the churches with that name. Much easier than scrolling through all the Catholic churches in Chicago for example.

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