(I would not want to spend the time manually looking at the images of church records, for example, if I know those records have already been indexed.)
If you find the parish register(s) in the catalog, you can tell if they have been indexed to be name-searchable. The magnifying glass icon indicates that the records can be searched by name.
A couple of cautions -
some years in some registers may not show when you search because more recent records are protected for privacy reasons.
Also - the catalog is currently undergoing a re-work, so it may not be fully updated.
On the left an unindexed register and on the right an indexed register.
As Áine said, generally you can check the catalog for a magnifying glass. However, this is only a rough guide, for multiple reasons: one, the film or image group is labeled with the magnifying glass on every occurrence in the catalog, even if only a few of the images have been indexed, and two, information about newly-published indexes has not been added to the catalog.
If you know which film/image group your record should be in, you can randomly check images on that film to see if there's an index. If you click an image in thumbnail view and the "Attach to Family Tree" button goes gray, it means that there is at least one index entry associated with that image. In single image view, the button will likewise be gray, and there will also be entries on the Image Index tab at the bottom.
You can also replicate the action of the magnifying glass icon in the catalog: copy the image group number, go to Search - Records, click "more options", and paste the number into the film/image group field. If you get "no results", then that film has not been indexed.
Think carefully if you really need to search images.
I used to work with collections scanned but not yet indexed, but I found I was spending far too much time and effort for the results I was getting. Now I focus on indexed collections. I can wait.
I've been researching New Jersey Catholic records for some 16 years. If I had waited for them to be indexed, I still would not have seen my grandparents' marriage or my father's baptism, among dozens of other treasures.
@dontiknowyou, I got into genealogy twelve years ago. The very first indexes of the Lutheran church records in Hungary -- which I worked with for fully three-fourths of my ancestors -- were published less than a month ago. Are you saying that I should have spent the last dozen years doing nothing?
I am sure the images are provided so that those who want to search them can do so. If you know exactly where to focus you may be able to find the records you are looking for.
On the other hand, the same amount of time and effort put into the indexing effort would help many people too.
Its nice to have the choice.
@Mark Fredrickson The New Jersey Roman Catholic records I mentioned have never been available as an indexing project. If they had been, I would have added them to the indexing I already do.
Don't let the fact that a set of records (say for a particular parish) has apparently been fully indexed. There have been several reports of individuals, or a whole page / year, being omitted from an indexing project. So, it is always best to check for an original - if there is the availabilty, or if you have the time!
I certainly would not hang around until a collection was indexed: as pointed-out, you might have to wait years for that in some cases.
Are you saying that I should have spent the last dozen years doing nothing?
No, that is not at all what I am saying. I am sure you did think carefully about how to proceed.
Not everyone does think, though, and depending on the research project there could be years of productive work that can be done in indexed records while waiting for other records to be indexed. This often will save the research tremendous amounts of time. Browsing page by page through rolls of films is a very inefficient research method. Whenever possible, I try to get a good estimate of the date and location of an event before I look at images. That way, I can use the divide-and-conquer method to reach the correct image with least effort. Working from indexed records helps me develop those estimates.
Many professional researchers live by a moto: search smarter, not harder.
@dontiknowyou, even when working with supposedly-fully-indexed material, I find it necessary to eventually page through the images. I've found countless extra children in a family by doing that, because the entries had been missed, or so thoroughly misindexed that there was no hope of finding them by name. (For example, the godparents column was indexed in place of the parents.) Sometimes, these "extras" fill a nagging hole, but sometimes, they're a surprise, occurring in a part of the timeline that seemed reasonably complete.
I too eventually page through images, when necessary.
In my surname studies involving some surnames found in Eastern Europe, I encounter some contributors who apparently do nothing but page through un-indexed images, picking out certain families, yet neglecting most of the relevant information on the images. I think these contributors are essentially bookmarking skeleton profiles on Family Tree, and may be doing much more work elsewhere. If I work up those profiles, am I duplicating work already done elsewhere? Or is someone else simply waiting for others (me) to do their work for them?
When I read your post:
Think carefully if you really need to search images. I used to work with collections scanned but not yet indexed, but I found I was spending far too much time and effort for the results I was getting. Now I focus on indexed collections. I can wait.
I wonder if you ever actually enjoy your work on genealogy! I have sat all day in high-ceilinged record offices, delicately handling long rolls of parchment, in a hope of locating the villages where my ancestors are to be found in the Hearth Tax Returns of the 1660/70s. I wasn't in the least disappointed when, some years later, I found these records had now been indexed by a local society. I had not only enjoyed the privilege of handling these documents (perhaps I had been the first person to examine them since they had been placed in the Public Record Office strong room), but was able to confirm for myself that these records were eventually indexed quite well.
However, the other reason for seeking out the original documents (or microfilmed copies of such) is that many collections have been indexed so poorly. One collection I came across added the parish in question as the Residence place, instead of the place shown in the actual entry. From looking at the originals, I discovered some parents had brought their children to be baptised from up to a hundred miles away, so it was essential to consult the original document / image to have a correct idea of a family's parish of origin.
Of course, you are perfectly entitled to work in a way that suits your needs and time constraints, but I totally disagree that:
Many professional researchers live by a moto: search smarter, not harder
if that implies you believe a professional genealogist would favour the use of indexed records over use of the originals.
I would encourage all researchers to seek out the originals (usually images thereof, of course) rather than rely on an index which may have:
(1) Missed out many of the entries it is suggested it contains (sometimes covering a period of several years).
(2) Being so badly transcribed it would be almost impossible to find the person of your search from the name in which they had been indexed.
(3) Omitted detail essential to the process in confirming this detail really does refer to the family you are researching, rather than one of very similar identity.
Well said, thank you, @Paul W.
All of us do work in our own way and with our own goals, using our own methods.
Most Norwegian baptismal/birth records were indexed in the 1970's up through the year 1878. Only this year have indexes been added for later records. Unfortunately this later index was a rushed job by FamilySearch/Ancestry/MyHeritage and is not up to FamilySearches usual standards. The Norwegian archives has their own project going on to correct the index.
Currently I am searching for relatives of my wife from the island of Stord we have not located yet. To do so, I am going line by line through the birth records identifying each person, adding them to Family Tree if not already here, then making sure parents, grandparents, all siblings, and all aunts and uncles are in Family Tree properly connected and properly sourced. By the time I finish with the grandparents, about 80% of the time I have hooked into one of my wife's lines. It's not a very big island. I started with 1878 and have gone through 1892. I'm attaching a direct link to the Norwegian archive's scan of the original record even though many people have up to four indexed sources to the same document.
During the project I have found children missing from the indexes. I have also found a lot of records in the new index that I would never have been able to find without seeing the original record first and using the information there to try all sorts of creative searches.
Using just the index, I would never be certain I had found all of my wife's cousins. By using the original documents, I am completely certain that every single cousin born from 1878 through 1892 at Stord is in Family Tree.
In other words, I find that the indexes are certainly helpful, but are no substitute for original records.
An added bonus in the project I am doing is when I'm halfway through a family and suddenly FamilySearch pops up a possible duplicate that turns out to be someone whose's life in the United States and descendants are well documented in Family Tree but it is obvious that their family in the US has no idea how to find them in Norway or work in Norwegian records. When I can prove the connection with emigration, census, and other records and am sure they are the same people then merge them, I can add four to eight or more generations to their family. That is a lot of fun.
To mix metaphors, there is a time for picking low hanging fruit (indexes) and a time for gleaning the fields (original records). Which we do depends on our current experience, needs, and goals.
When I use a library I don't search for a book by scanning the stacks. I start by looking in the catalog or a finding aid. When I have a clear idea where in the stacks to look, then I go to the stacks. Increasingly, document collections are controlled access, compactorized, even off-site. Researchers must use indexes and finding aids and request specific documents be brought to a reading room for use by appointment.
I'm not saying don't consult original records or scans of them. I am saying indexes are powerful research tools, so make more use of them. Plan research to leverage them.