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BIG news from FamilySearch at RootsTech

FamilySearch today opened public access to an experimental search function that can search every word of text — including every name — even in handwritten documents that haven’t been indexed by the hordes of volunteers who generally go through records to make them searchable by name.

It’s using artificial intelligence to read the handwriting and return results in thousands upon thousands of record sets that aren’t yet every-name-indexed on FamilySearch — and would never otherwise be every-word-searchable.

FamilySearch search tool

No, it’s not every record FamilySearch holds. Right now, it’s limited to US Land and Probate Records and Mexico Notary Records.

No, it’s not perfect. FamilySearch says so repeatedly.

No, it’s not a finished product — it’s a work-in-progress. It’s called an experiment for a reason.

But yes, oh yes, you can trust The Legal Genealogist on this one: BOY is it ever a gamechanger.

Accessible through the link at, users first need to sign in to FamilySearch, then choose Expand your search with Full Text, and turn on the Experiment.

You can enter a search term — a town, for example, or part of a land description, or any word you think a document might hold — in the keyword field. But you can also click on the More Options link and have the option to add an ancestor’s name. (Tip: put it in quotes. A search for “Gustavus Robertson” returns only records with that full name found. The same search without the quotes returns every record with any Gustavus and any Robertson.)

Once you do the basic search and get a list of hits, at the top are filters to narrow down the results: by Record Year, Record Type, Record Place and Collection. You can narrow a search location right down to the county level.

Now FamilySearch warns in big bold letters that “This is an experimental Labs product and is not guaranteed to always be available. When using it, you may encounter some errors and limited data. FamilySearch support is not currently available for this product.”

That being said, there are such goodies to be found.

I did a search for my second great grandfather, Gustavus Robertson, under the name he usually went by: “G B Robertson.” It turned up deeds in two Mississippi counties where I know the family lived. One set of county records suggests that he might have been an acting justice of the peace for a time — something I didn’t know and I’ll have to follow up on — and the other turned up a deed for land I didn’t know he had any interest in.

And that was just one quick search.

Folks, this is a gamechanger.

This is what we’ve all been hoping artificial intelligence could do for us.

This is what’s going to make all those billions of records images that FamilySearch holds truly accessible.

This is so much fun.

To FamilySearch, kudos. And more, please!!!

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “GAMECHANGER!!!,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 29 fEB 2024).

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