Using The FamilySearch Catalog has the largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world. If you are researching family history and only using or MyHeritage, you may be missing out on a great deal of free information.

There are so many items in the FamilySearch database, it’s easy to get lost. If you’ve created a free account, but only tried the basic search, you’ve likely overlooked some valuable documents.

Search the Records

If you’re new to FamilySearch, you may have tried Search > Records. This page allows you to enter an ancestor’s name, birth year, and location, among other things.

FamilySearch Records

However, this simple search will only return results if your ancestor’s name appears in indexed records. When a set of images is indexed, volunteers read through each page and manually type the information they see. Since volunteers are imperfect humans, they sometimes make mistakes.


Often, old documents are nearly illegible, so indexers do their best to guess any characters they’re unsure of.  You may see something like B?? R??s listed on an index. This just means the person trying to read the original writing had no idea what the rest of the letters were.

Alternately, an indexer may simply write the wrong letters.

Let’s say you are searching for Anna Kropf, born in Austria circa 1890. Maybe her original birth record had an ink smudge on it. The indexer mistakenly read and noted her name as Anna Krausz. Searching for Anna Kropf will probably not return the correct document.

The Wildcard Search

If you try a wildcard search, like Anna Kr*,  the asterisk will tell the database to return all records for Anna with a surname starting with Kr. You might get lucky and find the right document. But, even the best use of wildcard searches will not pull up a document that has not been indexed.

If you have identified your ancestor’s home village, the catalog search may be more useful than a a simple records search. If you haven’t identified your ancestor’s home village, I suggest reading Identifying Your Ancestor’s Birthplace or Austria-Hungary’s Changing Borders.

Search the Catalog

With a location in mind, we can use the Search > Catalog option.

FamilySearch Catalog

For this example, I’ll return to my great grandfather John Jaworski. In a previous post, I traveled to the Carbon County, PA archives and located John’s naturalization documents.

Carbon County Lansford Jaworski

Some localities still hold important records like these in county archives. Often, these documents are not available anywhere online, and obtaining them may require a bit of legwork.

Although John’s surname isn’t spelled quite correctly, his date of birth and other details match information on other documents. John has Falkowa, Hungary listed as his place of birth.

I enter Falkowa in the search box and get nothing.

Falkowa, Gmina Ciężkowice

This doesn’t mean Falkowa isn’t correct, it just means Falkowa doesn’t have it’s own record set in the FamilySearch database. Most likely, the documents are bundled with several other small villages in some nearby town.

Here is where most experts will direct you to gazetteers and village finders. Yes, these can be extremely useful, but are not always necessary. I like shortcuts, so here’s what I do next:

I Google it.

Google Falkowa

The first result is a Wikipedia page, and in the description it tells me Falkowa is in Gmina Ciężkowic, Lesser Poland. Often, there will be several villages with the same name, so we need to make sure this is the correct Falkowa. I bring up Ciężkowic on Google Maps. Falkowa is in the red outlined region.

Falkowa Larger Map

We’re probably close, but another clue might help make sure. I look at the birthplace listed on John’s brother Frank’s WWI draft card.

Nowy Sacz

Navy Szancz?

Here is a different view of the same region, again using Google Maps. We see Falkowa (the red spot) surrounded by the larger towns of Krakow, Tarnow, and Nowy Sącz.

This might appear to be the correct village, but we need to consider the time frame. I’m looking for the family of someone born in 1881. There were no mass-transit systems. These people probably walked everywhere or traveled by horse-cart.

5 Hour Walk to Nowy Sacz

Unless John’s parents moved sometime after 1881, this particular Falkowa is not likely to be the place of John’s birth. Frank’s reported birthplace, Nowy Sącz, is a city located in a county of the same name.  Perhaps Falkowa is a village within the county of Nowy Sącz.

Again, this can be accomplished with gazetteers, but that’s a topic for another post.

According to Wikipedia:

Nowy Sącz is a city in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship of southern Poland. It is the district capital of Nowy Sącz County as a separate administrative unit. Founded by the Duke of Cracow on 8 November 1292, New Sacz is one of the oldest cities in the Lesser Poland region, with a population of around 83,896 as of 2018.1

Another Falkowa?

Going back to Google, I search for “Falkowa, Nowy Sacz.” The first result is in Polish, but here’s the translation:

Falkowa – a housing estate in the eastern part of Nowy Sącz … During the Galician Autonomy, Falkowa was a commune. In 1829, Ignacy Brunicki bought the Cienava court from the Austrian partition along with its neighboring municipalities, including Falkowa, Ptaszkowa, Jamnica, Mystków, Mszalnica, Kunów and Kamionka Mała.

On August 1, 1934, a collective commune was created in Nowy Sącz , including individual rural communes, including Falkowa … On February 1, 1977, the collective commune was abolished, and its area was joined to the Chełmiec commune and the city of Nowy Sącz. Falkowa is now entirely within the city of Nowy Sącz. 2

So it seems this Falkowa used to be a commune (even smaller than a village) within Nowy Sącz county. Now, it’s the site of a housing development. It seems like we’re getting closer.

Back to the Catalog Search

I go back to FamilySearch and look up “Poland, Kraków, Nowy Sącz.” Several items appear and I look for any mention of Falkowa. The 7th item on the list is shown below.

(click on any of the pictures throughout this post to view a high-resolution image)

Falkowa Film


But what is this?

reel icon

The Dreaded Film Reel Icon

Anyone who has spent a lot of time using the catalog search will recognize the dreaded film reel icon.  Unfortunately, these items are not available for online viewing.

The microfilm reel icon indicates the records are only available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  My research into John Jaworski’s family was put on hold for a while, but I’ll get back to him in a moment.

Hungary: 1, Poland: 0

My Hungarian ancestors’ records have been viewable online for years. That’s why I have Magyars in my tree going back to the early 1700s.

FamilySearch Camera Icon

In the image above, both reels of Hungarian church documents have a camera icon. This tells us these items have been digitized and are freely viewable.  If I click on the icon, the entire reel pops up on the screen and I can scroll through the images until I find what I’m looking for.


The Locked Camera

Lock and Key icon FamilySearch

Often, instead of a regular camera icon, a researcher will find a locked camera. This lock can mean one of two things:

Only members of the LDS Church may view these images.


Anyone may view these images at a Family History Center.

VIP Access

Along with owning billions of genealogical records, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grants special permissions to its members. How do you tell the difference between the two types of locked images?

Try to click on the locked camera icon.

If this appears, you’re out of luck.

Locked LDS Images

Sign in to as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I assure you, this is not a challenge to see if you can successfully impersonate a Mormon.

Most active LDS members tithe 10% of their earnings to the church. These donations come with certain perks, like exclusive viewing rights to Bavarian baptismal records from the 1720s.

Hopefully, when you click on the locked camera icon, you’ll see this instead.

Viewable at Family History Center

To view these images, you just need to login at a Family History Center. There are hundreds of locations across the US.3 Go visit one sometime. The volunteers are very nice.

When viewing the reel at a Family History Center, you may save images to a USB drive (at no cost), or if you prefer, you can pay for photocopies.

Back to John Jaworski

I put the Jaworski research on hold for a while, but eventually I made a trip to Salt Lake City. At the Family History Library, I was able to continue my search.

The library holds about 2 million reels of microfilm. These copies are freely available to the public, but they must stay inside the library. Originals stay in the Granite Mountain Vault a few miles outside the city. There are a few dozen microfilm viewers next to the rows of file drawers.

I noted film reel #1982991 from my previous search and scanned the aisles until I found it.

File Cabinets

I loaded the film onto this nifty ScanPro3000, with a built-in USB port, and started scrolling.

When I got to this image, I knew I was on the right track.

Falkowa Page

Unfortunately, the records are not in order and it’s very time-consuming to locate specific documents. I saved many pages to my USB drive, to look through later.

Remember Frank Jaworski’s WWI draft card? He reported his date of birth was July 7, 1891. Below is the baptismal record for Franciscus Jaworski, born July 5th, in Falkowa and baptized on July 7th, 1891 at the Catholic church in Nowy Sacz.

Frank Jaworski 1891

I must mention there are very few Jaworskis in this set of documents. To be sure this is really John’s brother, we look at the names of his parents. Frank’s father was Joseph Jaworski (son of John Jaworski and Catharine Gorka) and his mother was Maria Buchała (daughter of Simon Buchała and Catharine Basiaga).

Frank Jaworski Death
Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906–1963, Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The same names are on Frank’s death certificate, and also on John’s death certificate.

pennsylvania death certificate
Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906–1963, Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The names, dates, and places all line up. Although John’s birth record has not yet been located, I now know the name of his grandparents.

But Wait, There’s More!

Not only did I find John’s brother’s birth record, but I also found his parents’ marriage record.

This one’s a little harder to read.

On October 20, 1880, Joseph Jaworski, age 22, married Maria Buchała, age 20, in Nowy Sacz. Joseph was from the nearby village of Mystków, and Maria was from Falkowa.

Jaworski Buchala Marriage

Bonus find: Maria’s brother’s marriage was recorded on the very next line.

Planning a trip to Utah?

Many of the documents on FamilySearch are digitized and viewable from home. Maybe the items you need are viewable from a local Family History Center.

Some, like the examples I’ve given, are not quite as easily accessible. Do you have a genealogical brick wall? Maybe a trip to the library will answer all your questions. Or maybe, you can find a local researcher in Salt Lake City to look up just a few records.







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