27 July 2012

Visiting a FamilySearch Center

      It is pretty amazing how often new indexes and images are added to FamilySearch.org and how many indexes and images are already online. Even so, at some point in your research you will need to order microfilm if you want to see a particular record that hasn't been digitized or search through records that have yet to be indexed. All microfilm is kept at the Family History Library (FHL) and at the "Vault" in Salt Lake City, Utah. Fortunately film can be ordered and delivered to a FamilySearch Center (FSC) near you. Most FSCs are located next to a Mormon church, others are public libraries that have made agreements with the FHL. The former are considered church property. You do not, however, need to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use an FSC. They are free and open to the public.

      I have not been lucky enough to visit the FHL yet. If you are planning a visit you've probably been reading every blog post about the library and making a list of items from the catalog. You may also want to listen to the Genealogy Made Easy podcast episode about the main library. If you've visited the library please leave your suggestions or a link to a good blog post about the FHL in the comments. My top two suggestions are:
1. Microfilms can be ordered but books never leave the premises. Put any books that haven't been microfilmed at the top of your list.
2. "Films listed in the catalog as "Vault" films need to be requested and may take up to three days to retrieve. For larger vault film requests of 15 or more films, please give at least one week notice." (from FamilySearch.org; Click HERE to order films before your trip.)
After the jump: Visiting a local center

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      Before ordering microfilm do a little research and find a Family Search center that will suit your needs (click here to find one near you). There are centers in 80 countries but they are not all the same. To give you an example, the first FSC I visited (3 years ago) had no WiFi, no Ancestry Library Edition, no readers with digital copying capability, and only one reader connected to a copy machine. If there are a few libraries in your area it could be worth a little longer drive to one that fits your needs. Microfilm cannot leave the premises so once you've placed an order you're stuck with whichever FSC you choose until you place another order. So here are some questions to ask before ordering microfilm and being committed to a specific FSC.
1. Is there WiFi? (If you're bringing your laptop.)
2. How many microfilm readers have the ability to save images digital images?
    (If you prefer to save to a flash drive or email images to yourself.)
3. What is the cost for copies? (If you prefer paper copies.)
4. What items are in the permanent collection? 
    (This may be available online or may only be a print out at the main desk.)
5. What days/hours is the center open?
      As to that last question, the hours should be posted on the FamilySearch website but since FSCs are run by volunteers those hours can, and often do, change. Depending on where the center is and where the volunteers live weather can play a factor in the center being open. If the weather is bad (heavy rain or snow) call first. 
      Since my first FSC visit a portal has been created so that all FSCs have access to the same subscription websites. The current websites you'll be able to access on an FSC computer are:

  19th Century British Library Newspapers Database               Genline Family Finder (Sweden)
  Access NewspaperARCHIVE                                                Godfrey Memorial Library
  Alexander Street Press                                                       Heritage Quest Online
  Ancestry.com Library Edition                                               Historic Map Works Library Edition
  ArkivDigital.net (Sweden)                                                   Origins.net
  FindMyPast.co.uk                                                               Paper-Trail.org
  Fold3 (formerly Footnote)                                                   World Vital Records

      The volunteers behind the desk may or may not have knowledge about genealogy research. Even if they can't help you with your research they will probably know the regular visitors to the library and may know someone who can help. 
      If there is a sign in book be sure to sign in each time you visit. More visitors can equal more funding from the church which could mean more films in their permanent collection or even updated equipment. I have signed in and of course all my contact information is on microfilm requests and I have not received any unwanted email, phone calls or visits from the LDS church which brings me to what is probably the biggest hesitation about visiting an FSC for non-Mormons. "Won't they try to convert me?" No. Even though it's church property proselytizing is prohibited. The church does not want anyone to feel like they aren't welcome. Still, it is church property so smoking is prohibited on the grounds, you won't find a coffee or soda machine in the building and I would recommend dressing appropriately. No need to cover up completely. Jeans and a t-shirt are fine but your shortest shorts and a tube top would be disrespectful. On your first visit you'll get an idea of what is acceptable. 
      If you're going out of town and happen to be going to an area your ancestors were from check out the FSC there. Most centers have a permanent collection pertaining to local history: books, microfilmed records and maybe even newspapers. Some centers may even have periodicals either because the library subscribes or because church members have donated their past issues.

      When you find an item on FamilySearch.org that does not have an image attached look for the line in the index that says, "source film number". That is the number for the microfilm you may need to order. I'll get to why I used "may" in a moment. 
      You'll need to keep track of microfilm that you have ordered and that you want to order. You don't want to waste time and money ordering and searching a microfilm that you ordered and searched six months ago or last year. Also, you don't want to have to re-order a film because you were looking for Great-Grandpa Fred when you should've been looking for Great-Great-Grandma Alice.
      There are many ways to organize a list of film numbers. I strongly recommend making a list on your computer so you can easily insert a line of information and easily keep items in some sort of order. You can organize them by microfilm number, title, state, or whatever but stay consistent. I keep mine in Excel. In my list are the following details: microfilm number, county/state, title, priority ranking and a note about what I am looking for. If I can't remember where I put my keys yesterday I'm certainly not going to remember why I ordered that film 2 weeks ago or why I put it on my wish list 6 months ago. You'll need the title just to double check you received the correct film. It's rare but mistakes do happen. I once received the wrong film in a box that had the correct film number. When I find the record I'm looking for I change the note to show what I found and an identifying marker (page #, certificate #, etc.). 
      Back to why you may not need to order the film. In most instances digitized images have been linked to the transcribed details. (Example. You'll need to sign in to see the image. No credit card needed.) That is not always the case. Before ordering a microfilm check to see if the film has been digitized. This may take some effort as images are being uploaded faster than they can organize them. Take the film in the image above. That record is for the baptism of Librado Dimas Perez at La Inmaculada Concepcion in Matehuala, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Sept. 2, 1849. Clicking "Search collection" and "About this collection" leads to pages that give no indication that the images are online. So I tried doing a film number search in the catalog. Still no indication that the film is online. Going back to the home page I scroll down to 'browse by location'. I click Mexico then the state of San Luis Potosi. The first result is a collection titled, "Mexico, San Luis Potosi, Church Records, 1586-1970" and there is a camera icon next to it. So I click "Browse Images". There's a list of cities and Matehuala is an option so I click it. That brings up a list of churches, La Inmaculada Concepcion is there so I click it. That brings up baptisms, confirmations, deaths and marriages (all in Spanish) all sorted by year. It may take some time but I will be able to find the image without having to order the microfilm.
      For more information about FSCs the episodes of the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast listed below have interviews with Margery Bell, Assistant Director of the Oakland Family History Center in Oakland, California. A few things are a little out of date, not surprising when you think about how fast things change on the internet and these episodes are from early in 2009. Just a couple of the updates: all film is ordered online now and the current website was in the BETA phase when these podcasts were made. I recommend listening to the entire 46 episode series, especially if you're a beginner. I've listened to the entire series multiple times.
Episode 17: Family History Centers
Episode 18: Family History Centers Part 2
Episode 19: Family History Centers Part 3

Note: I've called the centers FamilySearch Centers throughout this post because that's what they're called on the FamilySearch.org website. They are also referred to as Family History Centers because they are branches of the Family History Library.         

Be sure to check out last week's post on using the FamilySearch website.

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  1. Thanks for all of this information! I have not visited an FSC but would like to. I didn't know where to start, but this will help!

    1. Glad to help! I was a little nervous before my first visit so I figured other people might feel the same way ;-)

  2. I suggest that you include a link to an explanation of the online Microfilm Ordering system now that it is out of Beta, or add a section about it to your great post. I recommend that you make the point that it requires a credit card, either Visa or Mastercard, or PayPal. Also point out that a PayPal account does not necessarily require a credit card to open - users can buy a PayPal debit card at many retail outlets or drug stores. Many people have opted to stop using credit cards altogether.

    1. The online ordering seemed pretty self-explanatory to me but if I see questions on the boards I visit or get any questions here I'll create a separate post about it. It's great that they accept PayPal. I see a lot of people complain that Ancestry.com doesn't have a PayPal option so it's good to see FS thought of that.
      Thanks for reading!