Last weekend (January 21 and 22), I spend a lot of time searching in the International Genealogical Index (IGI). If you're not familiar with this database, I highly recommend checking it out. Number one reason: it's free! Number two: many of the sources of information in this database are extracted from official records. Note of caution: I said MANY, not ALL...and there ARE errors. However, it's a great way to find clues as to which counties your ancestors' vital records (birth, marriage, death) may have been recorded in. Then you can order the actual records on microfilm to see for yourself (but that's a topic for another day).
So how did I access the IGI? I went to http://www.familysearch.org, which is the official website of the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (sometimes referred to as the Mormon Church...the preferential term is LDS Church, however). Using the search feature on the main page, I entered the following information in the corresponding search fields:
First Name: james
Last Name: york
Country: united states (you scroll down to get the correct country, or tap the letter "u" four times)
State: michigan (scroll down, or tap "m" four times... the "State" search field does not come up until after you've chosen the United States for your country)
Then I clicked the large Search button.
On the next page appeared 54 matches, from seven databases. I only wanted the IGI, so I clicked on its link (IGI/North America) in the box on the right side of the screen...the one titled "Sources Searched." I then viewed a page of the 13 results for James York in Michigan in the IGI.
My great-great-grandfather, James L. YORK, was born in Atlas Township, Genesee County, Michigan on 7 October 1867 to John H. YORK and Anna CROTHERS. I know this, because I have a copy of his birth record located in the Genesee County Birth Register Libers (books). You will notice that there are two matches in the list of 13 James Yorks that fit my ancestor: Number 1 and Number 6.
If you click on James York's name in entry Number 1, you will see James's birth information, along with a message near the bottom of the page: "Extracted birth or christening record for the locality listed in the record." This information is an extraction (an official viewing and copying of the main data of a record, which is usually double-checked for accuracy before being published) of the actual birth record from the Genesee County Birth Register Libers. Extracted records are usually (but not always) accurate, and are a more trustworthy source than submitted information (as we shall see). At the bottom of the page, you will see Source Information, with a linked number (1018921). This is the microfilm roll number. The Genesee County Birth Register Liber 1 (Volume 1) has been microfilmed and given the number 1018921. You can go to your local Family History Center and rent this roll of microfilm from Salt Lake City for $5.50 for 30 days. When it arrives, you can view the actual record of James York's birth.
If you click on James York's name in entry Number 6, you will see birth, death, and marrige information, including his spouse's name, listed. The message at the bottom of the page reads: "Record submitted after 1991 by a member of the LDS Church. No additional information is available. Ancestral File may list the same family and the submitter." This is submitted information, and I happen to know who submitted this. This information came from distant cousin of mine, who is a member of the LDS Church. He received his information from me when I shared my family tree data with him. In turn, he submitted this information to the IGI along with all his other data. While the information he submitted is correct, a problem arises when corrected or updated information comes along. There's no way to determine if submitted information you see on the IGI is incorrect or outdated. That's why I suggest you not use submitted information other than as a rough guideline. The extracted information is much more trustworthy, and you can always use the Source Information to help you access the original record to view it yourself.
If you are looking for an entire family, rather than an individual, you can go back to the main page and enter the surname (last name). Pick the country of your choice. You will not be able to further limit your search by state or province when you do a surname search. In other words, if I were researching my Sweers family, I would enter "sweers" (without quotation marks) in the Last Name search field, and choose the United States in the Country search field. The list I then receive is very long, as it lists not only the Sweers, but also the Swears, Swayers, and other similarly-spelled names. I want to keep this feature, even though it makes a longer search, because my Sweers ancestors used unusual spelling. If I wanted to keep it only on the Sweers spelling, I would click on "Advanced Search" on the main page, instead of clicking on the "Search" button. The Advanced Search gives me a choice to use the exact spelling.
Again, when I have my page of matches, I click on the IGI/North America results on the right side of the screen. I scroll through and look at the matches that are most promising, always choosing the extracted information over the submitted information.
Last weekend, I found new information on about 50 individuals that I was searching for. Some information was updated, i.e. I had only an approximate birth date, and then found an official birth date. Other information was additional, i.e. I found names of children for individuals that I did not have before. It was a lot of fun to search through the IGI and add more to my YORK, SWEERS, and CROTHERS families. I have a list of microfilm numbers now that I can order at my local Family History Center so that I can view the actual records myself at a later date.