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Help Is at Hand

During the pandemic we have needed to do most of our genealogical research from home. When online databases contain the records we need, all goes well. When those records are digitized but locked and inaccessible from a home computer, things do not go so well.

Family Search has many agreements whereby a researcher can look at a record only from a computer at a Family History Center. Yet these Centers have been closed for months.

I experienced the problem again when I needed the marriage record for Richard Ryan and Catherine Shea who were married in Illinois in 1879. Family Search has abstracted the record, but the image of the record was locked. Every genealogist knows it is better to look at the image of a record than an abstract of it.

I wondered whether to write to the county for this record when I remembered hearing that Family Search has instituted a free lookup service for those records we cannot view from home. I decided to try it.

Using an online request form (, I filled in as many of the fields as I could. One line asked for the image number, but how would I know that when I cannot search the Illinois marriage images? I left that line blank. For all the other fields, I provided as much information as I could to make sure the researcher could zero in on the correct record.

Once I submitted the form, I received a message saying I would receive a reply within two weeks.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my e-mail the next morning. There was a message from Family Search with the requested record attached. Not just the marriage record, but also the marriage license and an affidavit confirming the parties’ eligibility to be married. I also received the researcher’s notes. That’s what I call service.

I am delighted that Family Search has come up with a way for us to gain access to a closed record. The marriage return in this case contained the signatures of Richard Ryan and Catherine Shea.

Now I can compare Richard’s signature found here to the one on his homestead application to make sure I have the right man. No abstract of a record would allow me to do this.

Until the Family History Centers fully reopen, we are fortunate that Family Search is offering this outstanding service.


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