Friday, January 13, 2012

Searching the Family History Library Catalog

Sometimes it takes perseverance to find what you are looking for in the Family History Library (FHL) catalog.  Yesterday I was searching for copies of the early tax lists (1832-1836) of St. Francis County, Arkansas and I almost gave up my search too soon.

I began my search on the FHL Catalog search site on the new FamilySearch web site at:  I searched under Place-names for Arkansas, St. Francis.  Under Taxation they had two records: one showed tax records from various years from 1867 to 1890, and the other was real estate taxes from 1889 to 1890.  Neither of those would help me.

Then I went to the Arkansas History Commission and State Archives web site at  They had lists of county records which they have on microfilm.  On each listing, they gave the Arkansas Archives microfilm number, plus the FHL number for each film.  Every film except two  – the two which contained the 1832 to 1870 St. Francis County Tax Books – had a corresponding FHL film number.  So this indicated to me that the tax records which I needed had not been filmed by the FHL.

Not being one to give us easily, I went back to the FHL web site.  This time I went to the old site found at:  I searched that catalog for St. Francis County, Arkansas and found the same results that I had found on the new web site.  I even looked under all of the categories in St. Francis County to make sure that I was not overlooking the film.

I gave up my search for a while, but I just kept thinking that a copy of that film had to be somewhere else besides in the Arkansas Archives in Little Rock.  It just didn’t make sense that all of the other films for that county were at the FHL except the tax lists.

I went back to the FHL catalog for the third time and searched using several different search terms to try to find the film with the tax records. None of these searches turned up the tax lists that I needed.  It finally dawned on me to look in the State of Arkansas records in the FHL catalog.

So, I searched for Arkansas and found 164 topics in that category, including Taxation.  Under Taxation, I found Arkansas Tax Records, 1821 – 1884, Arkansas, State Auditor.  I clicked on the title and on View Film Notes (I was still on the old FHL site), scrolled down, and there it was: Arkansas county tax records St. Francis County, 1832-1836, 1838.  The exact records that I need!  Now why did they make these records so hard to find?  Why are they not listed under the St. Francis, Arkansas list?  Why does the Arkansas Archives web site not have the FHL film number for the tax records listed like all the other films?  Had I not kept looking and looking, I would never have found this set of films.

I went back to the new FHL Catalog site and did some searching.  I searched under Titles for St. Francis County Arkansas tax, St. Francis tax, and Arkansas tax.  The only time I got the results for the early tax records for St. Francis County was when I searched using only the search terms Arkansas tax.  So, you have to be creative when searching the FHL catalog. Don’t assume that all of the county records are listed under that county.  I will remember from now on when looking for county records to also check the state records because not all county records are listed under the county.


  1. Way to persevere, Debbie! I might not have been so persistent, but with your reminder and these suggestions, I'll remember to look under the state as well as county any time I'm looking for those elusive records. Sometimes I get so frustrated with FamilySearch!

  2. Debbie, I too get very frustrated with the Family History Library catalog. Just when I was starting to finally make some sense of the ass-backwards was of searching through the old web page catalog they pull this new one out of a magic hat and I hate, hate, hate it!

    Genealogists have to bee bulldogs sometimes and just not let go until they find what they need! Good Post!


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