The following article is written primarily for genealogy newcomers. It explains one of the most valuable tools available to you today: how to access the millions of records held by the Mormon Church. In fact, you do not need to travel to Salt Lake City to use these resources.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City contains a huge amount of information of interest to family genealogists, including you. It contains the largest collection of genealogy material ever assembled under one roof: 142,000 square feet on five floors. What’s more, if a trip to Utah isn’t your cup of tea, you may find that most of this information is also available within a short ride from your home.
The Family History Library is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as "the Mormons." However, the Library itself operates in a non-denominational manner. The Mormons collect records from all over the world, regardless of the religion of the people involved. Likewise, everyone is invited to use the Library in Salt Lake City, regardless of religious beliefs. In fact, only a minority of the Library's daily visitors are Mormons. Library patrons are never asked to read or to listen to any religious materials. In fact, when you enter the library, you are not asked for your religious affiliation. Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and atheists are all welcomed equally. The only "restrictions" are for no smoking in the library or on the grounds, and no caffeinated beverages are to be consumed on the premises.
The Salt Lake City Family History Library is open to the general public at no charge. Many of the library's estimated daily 1,900 visitors travel from distant lands to use the available materials. I have seen people in the Family History Library from New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Sweden, South Africa, and other countries.
The Family History Library has 125 full-time and part-time professional staff plus another 400 or so trained volunteers. The library also has more than 200 computers available for patron use, 509 microfilm readers, 36 microfiche readers, 28 microfilm and microfiche copiers, 4 microfilm scanners, and 15 book copiers,
The Library's genealogy resources include the following vast collections:
- More than 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records
- 727,000 sheets of microfiche
- 356,000 books, serials, and other publications
- 4,500 periodicals
- 3,725 electronic resources
- Hundreds of millions of records of genealogy interest available on computer databases
The majority of the records contain information about persons who lived before 1930. Records available are from the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The Library has overseen the filming and/or digitizing of records in over 110 countries, territories, and possessions. Even now crews are scanning records in more than 45 countries.
The Church stores the master copies of all these microfilms and fiche in its Granite Mountain storage facility. This massive vault is literally built into a mountainside, about 25 miles from downtown Salt Lake City. In this subterranean complex workers make copies of films and fiche for use at the Family History Library and elsewhere.
Travel to Salt Lake City can be time-consuming as well as expensive.
Millions of these records have been digitized and are now available at http://www.familysearch.org. However, these millions of digitized records still represent only a tiny percentage of the total records available on microfilm and microfiche. If you limit yourself to the only digital records, you will miss the majority of available information! Luckily, you do not need to travel all the way to Utah to use the resources of this great library.
The Family History Library has a vast system of over 4,500 branch libraries, known as Family History Centers ("FHCs" for short), to help people search for the records of their ancestors. The FHCs operate in 88 countries. Each local Family History Center serves as a "catalog store." You visit the local center near you and place an order to rent rolls of microfilm or microfiche. More than 100,000 rolls of microfilm are circulated from Granite Mountain to local Family History Centers around the world every month. Chances are very good that one of these FHCs is convenient to anyone reading this article. For example, there are 74 FHCs in Florida alone! Other Family History Centers are found in England, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and many other countries.
To find a Family History Center near you, go to https://library.familysearch.org/
While your local FHC cannot hold all the records of the main Library, the staff can order any records of interest from Salt Lake City. The records that are available are on microfilm and microfiche as well as on computer databases. The available records include vital, census, land, probate, immigration, and church records, as well as many other records of genealogical value.
There is a modest charge of $5.50 for each reel of microfilm or collection of microfiche that you order. Orders are usually filled within three weeks or less. Once your rentals arrive at your local FHC, they remain available for your use for several more weeks. You can stop in at your convenience to view the films on the center's microfilm and microfiche viewers. If you need help using a viewer, you simply ask a staff member. You are not allowed to remove the materials from the local Family History Center.
Eventually, the rented records are returned to Salt Lake City.
Many of the records available have been transcribed to computers in the past decade. Each Family History Center has at least one computer; larger centers have multiple computers. Each computer has access to millions of records stored on CD-ROM disks or online. Anyone can use these computers, free of charge. You do not have to be a computer expert to use them; the staff provides assistance for computer novices and genealogy novices alike. Understandably, these computers are quite popular, so you may have to reserve computer time in advance.
The Family History Library’s online records are also available to you at home at http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlc/library_fhlc_main.asp. You can learn more about the online catalog at https://fch.ldschurch.org/WWSupport/Courses/LibraryCatalogOverview/Catalog%20Overview/player.html.
The local centers also provide research outlines that help you zero in on resources from the locations where your ancestors lived. These outlines give detailed advice about how to do genealogical research in a specific state or country, emphasizing what information may be available through the Family History Library. The Family History Library has research outlines for each of the fifty United States, the District of Columbia, most U.S. territories and possessions, each province of Canada, and dozens of foreign countries. The same research outlines are also available online at http://www.familysearch.org.
The use of any Family History Center is free; the only charge you might incur is the rental fee for any records you order from the Salt Lake vault. The public is always welcome. These centers are staffed and funded by local Church congregations and are usually located in Church buildings, but a few local centers are in rented quarters elsewhere. Church and community volunteers are on hand to answer questions and lend assistance. The volunteers at these local centers often are a mix of Mormons and non-Mormons alike. If you are concerned that someone at a FHC will impose their religion on you, then don't be! You will get religious information only if you ask for it. Your religious beliefs will not be an issue, and no missionaries will come to your door because you used one of their facilities.
When you start on your family tree research project, you certainly will want to use the facilities of your local Family History Center. Do not make the mistake of many beginning genealogists by assuming that, just because information is on the Web, or just because it is printed in a book, it's a fact. Always draw your conclusions after you view surviving documents (birth, marriage, death, christening, burial, church, military, land, probate, courthouse, census, etc.). Microfilm copies of many of these original records are available through your local Family History Center. Your local FHC can save you substantial time and bundles in travel dollars!