11 June 2017

FamilySearch, JewishGen and Litvak SIG: What are they hiding?

I like to keep up with records newly digitized by FamilySearch. A couple of years ago I posted an article about locating new record listings on a variety of websites - including FamilySearch. I assumed that their list accurately reflected their online holdings. Guess again!

Turns out that JewishGen and the Lithuanian-Jewish Special Interest Group (LitvakSIG) have some options for seeing indexed digitized records in their All Lithuania Database. They link to records digitized by FamilySearch from Family History Library microfilm. But, if one tries to locate the digitized records from the Historic Record Collections list on FamilySearch, one will not find them.

The All Lithuania Database

The All Lithuania Database is a cooperative venture between JewishGen and LitvakSIG). LitvakSIG, an independent  organization, works with researchers and archives in Lithuania to locate and index Jewish records. They also identify and index Lithuanian Jewish records that the Family History Library has on microfilm. Once LitvakSIG uploads indexes, they are available only to paid members of a one of their district groups for 18 months. After 18 months the records become available - for free - in the All Lithuania Database, which may be accessed via LitvakSIG and JewishGen.

The key concept behind LitvakSIG - and much of JewishGen - is that they provide indexes, but usually not digitized original records. Database summaries associated with each collection of indexed records should provide enough information for researchers to independently access the originals. Fortunate researchers who find indexed family records may have to contact archives in Lithuania or order microfilm from the Family History Library.

But recently, JewishGen and LitvakSIG seem to be following in the innovative footsteps of Jewish Records Indexing-Poland. During the last few years, this last group has worked cooperatively with Polish Archives to index and link to records that have been placed online by Polish archives. With just a few  clicks, one may be sitting in one's jammies looking, virtually, at records in Warsaw. Very slick.

So, Here's the Rub!

With regard to JewishGen and LitvakSIG, some records in the All Lithuania Database that were indexed from FamilySearch microfilm are now linked to records digitized and online at FamilySearch [I understand from Marion Werle that similar links may be found for LatviaSIG records on JewishGen.]. This great news! Unfortunately, one is unlikely to know about this unless one searches via the All Lithuania Database portal. 

For some reason, FamilySearch does not include these records on the long list of those collections that have been digitized. So, if one goes to their Historical Record Collections list, one will not see them. It ought to be listed between Liechtenstein and Louisiana, below - but, no.

To locate the Jewish Lithuanian records on FamilySearch  one must search their catalog for Lithuania and Jewish records. Metrical Books from Kovno show many film rolls. The vast majority have been digitized, as indicated by a little camera icon on the right side of the page. Those that have not been digitized are indicated by a microfilm roll icon.

Access via the All Lithuania database (JewishGen and LitvakSIG)

I located the All Lithuania Database by clicking the Databases tab on the JewishGen home page.

This took me to JewishGen's long list of databases. Scrolling down to Lithuania, I clicked on LitvakSIG "All Lithuania" Database. This took me to a search page on the LitvakSIG webpage.

For the case I was researching, I entered a surname as well as a community. Since I was searching a common name (Levin), I reasoned that specifying a town would limit results to those Levins most relevant to my research interest. 

I also specified phonetic search in both cases. This took into account the fact that original records were likely written in a different alphabet and that the town name may have been slightly different, as well. 

Results included records in several component databases within the All Lithuania Database. The following listing was included in the LitvakSIG "Lithuania Marriages and Divorces" list. 

To my joy, I found, not just an indexed record and a reference to a collection in a Lithuanian archive and a Family History Library microfilm, but, on the far left (red arrow), a hot link to FamilySearch (the website associated with the Family History Library). Note the information shown for the record number and year (blue arrow) as well as the microfilm item number and image number (red arrow). This information may be useful for finding the FamilySearch digital image of the original record.

Family History Library microfilms often contain more than one collection or collections that have been subdivided into "items." In this case, the far right column of the indexed record entry provides the microfilm number (2,291,760), item number (2), and image number (691). LVIA and Fond numbers in the last line would be terrific information if one decided to try to acquire the record directly from the Lithuanian archive. But, no need for that here. While on the All Lithuania Database results page, click the hot link (red arrow) and head directly to FamilySearch.

Note a few things:
  • the film number (004221369) shown, above, in the image thumbnail area and also in the detail, below, does not match the actual Family History Library microfilm number. The microfilm number (2291760) is acknowledged in the first image of the digitized roll.
  • from the FamilySearch thumbnail screen, one may look at thumbnails or switch to different views by clicking on one of the symbols on the right. The plus (+) will increase the size of the view. Minus (-) will decrease it. The solid square within a small frame allows one to toggle between numerous thumbnails and a single image. The broken square allows for full screen view.
  • in this roll, as shown in the thumbnail view above, the fourth image with a large numeral 1 indicates the start of item 1 on the roll. Item 1 will also end with a similar image and item 2 will start immediately after that. One may scroll through the images seeking those item numbers (as shown, below). 

Finding the record - Alternative 1

In this case, the easiest option is to search via the date of the record (1893) and record number (5). In the digitized record book, look at the first few pages after FamilySearch item 2. It includes images of the original book's index.

The index indicates that marriage records from 1893 will be found in record book pages 131 through 140. Navigating to page 131 (on FamilySearch, see image 682), finds a title page for 1893 records. Continue scrolling to record number 5 (circled in green, below) to find the Levin record. It is on record book page 136 (blue oval). Note that this image is number 691 (I've circled it in red). You may recall that the assigned number 691 was the image number identified in the right column of the All Lithuania Database search result for this record.

This alternative for record access may be a bit easier that alternative 2. But, one will not always be so fortunate to work with a metrical record book that contains an index. One may have to punt. So, here is an alternative browse strategy.

Finding the record - Alternative 2

As noted above, the database provided the film image number: 691. The image number, unfortunately, does not coincide with the FamilySearch digital image number because the digital images also count the microfilm roll number image and several administrative images at the start of each film. So, one may enter 691 to get close to the image on the roll, but one will still need to do a bit of browsing to find the correct page.

Above, I entered 691 and hit <new line>, which took me to an image showing 695. No "Levin" on this page. If I scroll back four images, I find a page imaged with the target number 691. Image 691 is actually on FamilySearch digitized image number 687. Levin, underlined in pencil on the page (and circled in red by me), is on this page. The first two letters are on one line and the last three on on the next. It helps, in this case to know what the name Левин [Levin] will look like in Cyrillic script.

The Up-shot

Why are these online digitized Lithuanian Jewish records not listed in the FamilySearch Historic Record Collections list? I have no idea (I will have to send a query to them, I guess). 

I have always assumed that past a certain point, as the digitized Historic Records Collection list gets larger,  FamilySearch would have to ditch the list and find a more elegant solution. Perhaps that is in the offing. But, right now it appears that some digitized records have not made the existing list. 

Bottom line? 

  • It is important to know how to search a website's catalog. That is true whether one is using FamilySearch, Ancestry, JewishGen, or any genealogy website. And don't just check it once and be done with it. Particularly with FamilySearch, it seems they are picking up the pace of digitization. One doesn't want to miss anything and ... one may be pleasantly surprised. 

  • Learn how to browse FamilySearch digitized microfilm for records of interest. FamilySearch is uploading digitized records at a fantastic pace and, in most cases, indexing has not kept up. Be flexible in one's browsing strategy. Each collection will have it's own peculiarities.

  • And, of course, note that indexing activities by Jewish genealogy groups are allowing us to locate our family records within newly online data sets. Don't forget to thank them with monetary contributions (JewishGen donation page; LitvakSIG donation page).


  1. Great post Emily. I have wondered recently if the reason so many records are digitized and in the catalog and not on the records search page is about licensing. I live in the same little town as several of the high ups at FamilySearch. Next time I run into one of them, I plan to ask about this. :)

  2. Good point, Amberly. This is a thought I have had, as well. I know that there are all sorts of different points of (dis)agreement with each contributing archive. I suppose it is possible that one might said to FS, "You may digitize, but not add the collection to your list." That seems very specific, however. Yes, I would love to know FamilySeach's reasoning.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Amberly.

  3. The All Lithuania Database (ALD) is solely a result of the work of LitvakSIG. JewishGen has nothing to do with this database. After the approximately 18 month lag time, the records translated (not merely indexed) by LitvakSIG are shared with the Lithuania Country Database of JewishGen.
    The majority of the vital records in the ALD are a result of an agreement made in 1999-2000 between LitvakSIG and the LDS / Family Search. They provided copies of all their microfilms of Lithuanian vital records to LitvakSIG. LitvakSIG translated and indexed all these records which are now searchable in the ALD.

    1. Dear Unknown commenter:
      Thank you for your comments/clarifications. In this post, I hoped to give Litvak SIG its (substantial) due for their work with FHL records. I certainly could have been more clear regarding translating/transcribing before indexing. To me that step prior to indexing records in a foreign language/foreign alphabet was understood. Mea culpa. I stand corrected. I do not think it is accurate to say, "JewishGen has nothing to do with this database." The database is accessible via not only Litvak SIG, but also JewishGen. I am sure, for many people, JewishGen is a major access point for the ALD.

      My intent in this post was to celebrate a wonderful resource (thanks, Litvak SIG!), note the important link between the indexed records and the online images, and explain how to navigate to the images from search results. Linking to images of the original records is definitely not for the faint of heart. I hope, as a result of this post, more people will use/revisit Litvak SIG's/JewishGen's databases and, then, take their searches to FamilySearch.


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