I probably have written the following words several hundred times in past newsletters:
"… or at a local Family History Center near you."
Family History Centers are branch facilities of the huge Family History Library in Salt Lake City that is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). Each local Family History Center provides access to most of the microfilms and microfiche that are available in Salt Lake City. In fact, you can access all these genealogical treasures without calling your travel agent.
Even the smallest local Center has access to almost all the millions of microfilms and microfiche. Best of all, there are more than 3,500 such centers worldwide. You probably can find one near you.
While obviously not large enough to locally store the millions of rolls of microfilm and sheets of microfiche that can be found in Salt Lake City, each local Center serves as a "catalog order store" for the Family History Library. You can visit a local Center and order rolls of microfilm and sheets of microfiche. You pay a modest fee for the rentals, typically $5.50 per reel of microfilm. The order is sent to Salt Lake City; the materials are then pulled from the shelves and shipped to the local Center. A couple of weeks later, you return to the local Family History Center to view the material, using the local Center's readers. You cannot remove the microfilm and microfiche from the premises. The Center holds the rented films for a period of time and returns them to Salt Lake City a few weeks after you order them.
Most Centers are located in meetinghouses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as the LDS Church) although there are a few exceptions. One near me used to operate in a storefront at a suburban strip mall. Others are located in larger libraries. While owned by a church, the local Centers are open to all, regardless of religious affiliation. I have seen statistics in the past that indicate that the majority of Family History Center visitors are non-Mormons.
When entering, you will be asked to sign a guest book and to indicate whether or not you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you are not, you are never asked for your own religious affiliation. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and agnostics are all welcome. You will never be approached or recruited by anyone discussing religion, nor will you be handed religious material. (However, such material may be available if you choose to pick it up.) During my 100 or so visits to local Family History Centers, the only time anyone ever discussed religion with me was after I asked about it.
Each local Family History Center is staffed by volunteers who may or may not be members of the LDS church. Staff members will not do research for you; however, they can give you an orientation about the center, answer some research questions (research expertise in each center varies), help you use center resources, and order microfilms and microfiche from the Family History Library. Many local Centers also offer training classes on a variety of genealogical research topics. In addition, the Family History Center volunteers also are aware of other institutions in the area that can help you.
To find your nearest Family History Center, go to http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp.
Each center determines its own hours. Where available, the information at http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp includes the hours of service and telephone number of each local Center. Hours may vary from time to time or during certain seasons. The online listing may not be up-to-date, so you probably will want to first contact the center to verify when it is open.
If you have not yet visited a local Family History Center, I would strongly encourage you to do so. I suspect you will be very impressed with the materials available from all over the world.