FamilySearch to Discontinue its Microfilm Distribution Services

This announcement shouldn’t surprise any genealogists. The end of microfilm has been predicted for years. Microfilm and microfiche has become harder and harder to purchase. Most of the manufacturers have stopped producing microfilm and microfiche so the companies and non-profits that release information on film have been forced to abandon the media.

Over 1.5 million microfilms (ca. 1.5 billion images) have been digitized by FamilySearch, including the most requested collections based on microfilm loan records worldwide. In addition, many records that FamilySearch has not yet published can be found online on partner or free archive websites. FamilySearch plans to finish microfilm digitization by 2020.

The following is an extract from the announcement from FamilySearch:

On September 1, 2017, FamilySearch will discontinue its microfilm distribution services. (The last day to order microfilm will be on August 31, 2017.)

The change is the result of significant progress made in FamilySearch’s microfilm digitization efforts and the obsolescence of microfilm technology.

  • Online access to digital images of records allows FamilySearch to reach many more people, faster and more efficiently.
  • FamilySearch is a global leader in historic records preservation and access, with billions of the world’s genealogical records in its collections.
  • Over 1.5 million microfilms (ca. 1.5 billion images) have been digitized by FamilySearch, including the most requested collections based on microfilm loan records worldwide.
  • The remaining microfilms should be digitized by the end of 2020, and all new records from its ongoing global efforts are already using digital camera equipment.
  • Family history centers will continue to provide access to relevant technology, premium subscription services, and digital records, including restricted content not available at home.

You can read the full announcement at: http://bit.ly/2sGGePz.

Frequently Asked Questions about the change may be found at: http://bit.ly/2s6OvO6.

25 Comments

Dick, Thanks for this heads-up. I checked a few records I’ve been meaning to review and see they are not digitized yet, so will try to request the microfilms this summer.

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I wonder if you can still order Vault Microfilms to SLC FHL?
A lot of microfilm is unreadable using the normal microfilm readers, the $10,000 SD3000’s allow a lot of this to be read. Hopefully when the FHL digitalizes the microfilms they will be enhanced to readable levels?

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    Jeff —
    The short answer to your question about whether the SLC FHL will still be able to order vault microfilms is no. However, for the time being, most of the films which are already there will remain. You can read the full answer to this question (and many others) by clicking on the FAQ link at the end of Dick’s article.

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This is disastrous news. I research primarily in Germany and Slovakia, and have used microfilms extensively. The Slovakia church records online are indexes only, no images, and the indexers made hundreds of mistakes because of their unfamiliarity with the Latin and Hungarian used in the original records. There never will be images because Slovakia won’t allow them. Only by viewing the microfilm was I able to find the information I needed on my mother’s ancestors. The same holds true for my German ancestors – no images and poor indexing. I can’t even find my 4th greatgrandfather’s information, even when I already have the places, dates, and other names from the microfilms I’ve used as my sources. Ancestry has the same index from the FHL. Indexes are not enough, not only because of errors, but because there is always much more information on the original microfilm than the FHL has in the indexed record. And, if the film is indexed, you cannot browse the film to see the images. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

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    I agree, not everything will be up online for four years and there is no way I can order everything I need in a month. Poor local family history center, they just invested in a beautiful reader which I’ve been using and trying to catch up with the films that have only one record that I need. Being able to search original records is really important to find the mistranscribed records. And essential to research areas like Eastern Prussia and often Germany. Boo and hiss to this decision. Give us two years more at least before discontinuing the films.

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    —> Give us two years more at least before discontinuing the films.

    And where would FamilySearch purchase the new, unexposed reels of microfilm needed to make these distribution copies?

    The decision to end microfilm distribution was not made lightly. In fact, FamilySearch had no choice. They worked hard to delay the inevitable end as long as possible but finally had no choice.

    FamilySearch and everyone else cannot buy any more blank, unexposed microfilm. The manufacturers of microfilm have all stopped production. Very few companies or non-profits buy microfilm these days so Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, and the other manufacturers shut down their production lines a few years ago. When FamilySearch realized that microfilm availability was ending, they bought up all the remaining inventory they could find. Apparently, FamilySearch has now used up that inventory and there is no more new, unexposed microfilm to be purchased anywhere.

    For further information, see my earlier article, The Death of Microfilm, from 2014 at https://blog.eogn.com/2014/05/29/the-death-of-microfilm/

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    Thank you for explaining the reason FamilySearch is discontinuing sending out microfilms. I agree with the comments about indexing not always being reliable. The Roman Catholic Polish records of my family are difficult to read, but it was wonderful to be able to look at the actual parish records.

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    @Marianne, Unless I’m missing something the Slovakia church records are not just indexes. I’m seeing 1,624,867 images containing 13,834,866 records.
    https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1554443

    I too look forward to the day that more of their German records are available online. Some of the areas I research have images available (& maybe indexes although I’m happy even if it’s just images), but others sadly haven’t made it online yet. I get that indexes aren’t perfect, having done some indexing it’s not always an easy job and finding volunteers that have experience with certain types of records can’t be easy. Most things I’ve looked for if online at all had either just images (as they haven’t been indexed yet) or both indexes and images. The only things I’ve looked at that were indexes only were items they don’t have images for at all (even on film).

    I’m grateful that they saw the writing on the wall years back and started digitizing their films when they did. We as a genealogical community could be in much worse shape if they’d not started when they did. THANK YOU to any of you who are volunteer indexers for any of the records sets. I know it can be hard work and largely thankless.

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    Only a few counties have images. My villages are not in those counties. They’ve been promising the remainder for years.

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Remember when the Family History Library started digitizing the microfilms? There was so much excitement! Everyone expected that we would soon replace microfilm orders with CD orders — they would simply dump the images from the microfilm on a disposable CD that did not have to be returned. In those days, bandwidth was a much greater problem than it is today, and nobody talked about viewing the images remotely.

However, with the discontinuation of microfilm rentals, research in some parts of the world will become significantly more difficult. The resources that took my Swiss research back into the 15th Century, mainly notarial records, will always be far down the FamilySearch to-do list, and the Swiss bureaucracy, already the bane of diplomats as early as the 14th Century, cannot seriously be expected to approve and fund hosting these marvelous (though fragmentary) records on the public servers of the various cantonal archives, no matter how much the archivists might wish to do so. I put my faith in a new generation of archivists, who, having known nothing else, will naturally expect that everything belongs on the internet. But that won’t happen until the current generation of archivists, and the budgeteers who fund them, has retired. I’m afraid I can’t hold my breath that long.

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Reflecting back on the 30 years in which I have been doing genealogical research, I am amazed by how much has changed (progressed?) in this avocation for which we all share a passion. Traveling to distant libraries in search of particular records, anxiously awaiting the arrival of FHL films at the local Family History Center, photocopied records spread all over the bed, to be sorted through and reviewed, as ‘bedtime reading’. All replaced by a few keystrokes on the keyboard. Sometimes, I kinda miss “the good old days”.
Mudgekin

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Why could they not wait until 2019 to discontinue microfilm distribution? What are we supposed to do between September 2017 and December 2020 (assuming they keep that date)? Trek to SLC for every non-digitized film?

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    —> Why could they not wait until 2019 to discontinue microfilm distribution?

    Probably because they cannot buy any more blank, unexposed microfilm. The manufacturers of microfilm have all stopped production. Very few companies or non-profits buy microfilm these days so Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, and the other manufacturers shut down their production lines a few years ago. When FamilySearch realized that microfilm availability was ending, they bought up all the remaining inventory they could find. Apparently, FamilySearch has now used up that inventory and there is no more new, unexposed microfilm to be purchased anywhere.

    For further information, see my earlier article, The Death of Microfilm, from 2014 at https://blog.eogn.com/2014/05/29/the-death-of-microfilm/

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This is sad news indeed and I think a little premature. They are a long way from having all their film digitized and online. And much of what is there is not indexed as yet, so browsing for records is very time-consuming. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been very grateful and appreciative for what they do to help genealogists and continue to be. But I do think there will be a gap of three years or so when people can’t get some of the records they really need without being able to borrow film from Salt Lake. This is just my opinion of course.

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Discontinuing microfilm distribution before digitization is complete creates some real hardships for researchers. It would be nice to have a priority list for digitization so we had some idea when to expect the records we need to be available. I just checked ten of the localities in Germany I am starting to research and not a single one has anything digitized. And now wait up to three years before it is again available? We are already without a working microfilm copier/printer at my local center with no plans to replace the unfixable equipment.

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Barbara Curtindale June 27, 2017 at 9:30 pm

As an affiliate library, it would be greatly appreciated to have access to one of the soon to be unneeded microfilm readers/printers from one of the FHC libraries. our one & only machine is on it’s last legs. please contact me if one is available. We have our local newspaper on film plus a lot of local records, so we could make use of one. Gladwin,MI.

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–>Probably because they cannot buy any more blank, unexposed microfilm. The manufacturers of microfilm have all stopped production. Very few companies or non-profits buy microfilm these days so Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, and the other manufacturers shut down their production lines a few years ago. When FamilySearch realized that microfilm availability was ending, they bought up all the remaining inventory they could find. Apparently, FamilySearch has now used up that inventory and there is no more new, unexposed microfilm to be purchased anywhere.

Can you offer some clarification and/or a source regarding your statement about the unavailability of unexposed microfilm?

As a librarian, your statement had me pretty concerned about the microfilm industry, especially as my understanding of the microfilming process is somewhat rudimentary. So my colleague and I contacted one of the microfilm vendors we use for creating microfilm copies of our archival, analog items. They told us that Fuji and Eastman Park Micrographics (EPM) continue to produce microfilm (here are links to their products: http://www.fujifilm.com/products/microfilm/ and http://www.epminc.com/products/microfilm). Moreover, since the time of your “Death of Microfilm” post, EPM has opened a new microfilm processing lab, Fujifilm introduced a new microfilm for sale, and EPM has created new certifications for processing labs, with the goal of achieving perfectly-processed microfilm that could last for 500 years. Given these news articles, it doesn’t sound like the microfilm industry is as imperiled as you’ve suggested.

All that said, I am absolutely aware of the price increase in purchasing/reproducing microfilm and I can understand how that impacts FamilySearch’s ability to offer this service. However — and maybe I am misunderstanding your meaning or the microfilming process — I am just not seeing how the discontinuation of this service could be due to a lack of film.

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To me the main issue (apart from having to wait some years for the digitising to be completed) is that some records you can see now by ordering films wont be put online because of our obsession with privacy eg births less than 100 years ago, etc.

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Even if they can’t make new microfilms, why couldn’t they continue to circulate the existing microfilm copies that they already have? (Not the originals, of course.) I’m concerned that there are many records that have not been digitized and may never be digitized, and they are shutting of access.

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    —> why couldn’t they continue to circulate the existing microfilm copies that they already have

    Microfilms tend to wear out if they are used frequently. Scratches and other degradation is the biggest enemy. Microfilm is also susceptible to damage caused by moisture in the air. Microfilms that are used frequently only have a life expectancy measured in months. In contrast, microfilms that are put away, never touched, and stored in temperature and humidity controlled conditions, can last for centuries.

    There is an interesting article by Daniel F. Noll titled The Maintenance of Microfilm Files at http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.13.2.2136q4161487r304?code=same-site that explains the problems of microfilm longevity at some length.

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    Re microfilm expectancy being measured only in months in the post above. I have been working on one film since September 2015 at a local FHC in Texas. It is stored in a file cabinet in a building with the usual HVAC. I don’t know how old it was when I received it, but it’s in very good shape and has not seemed to degrade at all. This film in my ONLY source of church records going back to 1600 for my paternal German line. It’s critical because a genealogist in Germany found the original records at the family church and discovered that previous research done on this line was incorrect starting in the early 1800s because of ignorance of the groom changing his surname to his wife’s in some circumstances. Only some of these records are indexed, none of them have images on FamSrch, and the indexing is incorrect because of ignorance of the above custom. Without the film I never would have been able to straighten out this family tree.

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Sounds like we need to exert some pressure on FamilySearch to get film still being made & continue copying those that are wearing out – BEFORE the companies completely quit making the film !!
And that we are willing to pay the increased price.

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    There are 900 comments on the Family Search Facebook page. As of this comment, they are not budging on this new policy. I just ordered some films and they now are all Extended Loans, but at the Short Term Loan price.

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    —> Sounds like we need to exert some pressure on FamilySearch to get film still being made & continue copying those that are wearing out

    That is what FamilySearch has been doing for about 5 years or so. When the manufacturers first announced several years ago they were planning to shut down microfilm production within a few years, FamilySearch bought up all the inventory they could find. That inventory now apparently is nearly used up and now there are few manufacturers left.

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Holly Kilpatrick July 1, 2017 at 5:38 pm

I have 2 concerns for the future. Microfilms are the images of original records. Many of the “digitized” records on Familysearch are text-only extracts of the images. That is NOT the same for many reasons. Without the microfilms, we would again have to travel to the original locations to see the images. If they even exist any more. Also, I am finding that a distressing number of the images for which there is a camera icon, i.e., they are digitized, come up with a message, “These images are viewable: To signed-in members of supporting organizations.” Evidently that means they are only viewable at FHC’s or to LDS members. If my concerns are off base, please straighten me out.

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