One of the things the LDS Church (Mormon) is often known for is the strong interest in genealogy. The Church’s contributions to the preservation of innumerable historical documents has helped the genealogical community for decades. I am often surprised, then, when I talk to baby genealogists who have never stepped into an LDS Family History Center (FHC). If you have not visited your local center, let me give you a few reasons to make a visit a priority in your search for your ancestral kin…
1. A Wealth of Microfilms. Some of the first preservation of records across the world was conducted by LDS genealogists under the original direction of the Genealogical Society of Utah. They photographed old court records, church books, and more onto microfilm. FamilySearch, a non-profit arm of the LDS church maintains these records on and offline. They now work at an astounding rate to digitize and index these microfilms and make them available online. Using FamilySearch online will be our next post. Not all microfilms are online, but are still available to order and have sent to your local FHC to be read on a microfilm reader. Many FHCs even have microfilm readers that will digitize your selected pages from the film to print or download onto a flashdrive. Check the catalog for records you may need from the location your ancestors came. Clicking on a film number will take you to an online ordering system. Select the FHC you wish the film to arrive at, pay online using your credit card or PayPal, and you will receive emails notifying you of the status of your order. Films generally cost $7.50 for postage and handling, and are available to be viewed at your local FHC for 6-8 weeks, depending on your location. You can pay more to extend that time. For me, ordering a $7.50 film from an out-of-state courthouse is worth the price.
2. Resources galore at the library. There are two types of libraries available from FamilySearch: the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake and smaller local libraries known as Family History Centers, often located in part of an LDS meetinghouse. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, is considered by many a genealogical mecca. People travel there from all over, individually and in special groups, to have the opportunity to view all the films, books and indexes, and special collections, most of which are on site or can be ordered within a day or so. One popular group research trip is organized by the National Genealogical Society twice a year. Free classes are available onsite at the FHL, separate from these group trips. There is still much available in your local FHC as well. General how-to books, maps, magazines, and indexes featuring local history are available to patrons to view within each FHC. Each FHC has an unique collection, depending on contributions or local needs. There is an easy-to-use FHC finder on the FamilySearch website to direct you to the one closest to you.
3. Helpful Volunteers. While you cannot reasonably expect to find an expert on your particular genealogical conundrum at each local FHC, what you will find are people who are dedicated volunteers willing to help the best they can. They can help familiarize you with the center, its holdings and hours, and the websites available for free online when you visit. You don’t have to be a member of the LDS Church to volunteer yourself, you might consider donating a few hours a month to help out there too; ask the local FHC Director for more information.
4. Online Access to Premium Sites. Many premium online genealogy websites have generously donated access to their collections if you are using computers at the FHC and at the FHL. Sites such as Ancestry.com, fold3, WorldVitalRecords.com, HistoricMapWorks, and NewspaperArchive.com are just some of the collections you can peruse while you visit. The bonus is that those helpful volunteers often have experience with these sites and can assist you in person to familiarize yourself with those online collections.
5. Best of all, its FREE! People are always welcome in the Family History Centers, free of charge. You need not expect proselytizing about the LDS church, the goal in the FHCs is to help you with your family history. The only charges you might see are for the films, and those are generously low. Now even copies are no charge in many local FHCs.
Perhaps a quote from Maya Angelou is appropriate here. She said:
“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”
Perhaps the Family History Library and local Family History Centers are some of those tangible houses of history filled with valuable resources to genealogists of all levels. Visit one today and let us know of your experiences there!