UPDATE: FamilySearch Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm

The following announcement was written by the folks at FamilySearch:

Salt Lake City, Utah (30 August 2017), Thursday, September 7, 2017, marks the closing of an 80-year era of historic records access to usher in a new, digital model. FamilySearch is discontinuing its microfilm circulation services in concert with its commitment to make billions of the world’s historic records readily accessible digitally online. (See FamilySearch Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm). As its remaining microfilms are digitized, FamilySearch has provided additional information to users of its historic microfilm program. m.

FamilySearch, a global leader in historic records preservation and access, began microfilming historic records in 1938. Advancements in technology have enabled it to be more efficient, making an unbelievable tide of digital images of historic records accessible much quicker online and to a far greater customer base.

FamilySearch released a list of helpful facts and tips to help patrons better navigate the transition from microfilm to digital.


  • Patrons can still order microfilms online until Thursday, September 7, 2017.
  • After film ordering ends, if customers need access to a particular film yet to be digitized, they can express interest to have it added to the priority digitization list by contacting FamilySearch Support (Toll Free: 1-866-406-1830).
  • All of the microfilm rented by patrons in the past 5 years have now been digitized by FamilySearch—over 1.5 million microfilms (ca. 1.5 billion images).
  • The remaining microfilms are being digitally scanned at a rate of 1,000 films per day and are projected to be complete by 2020.
  • New digital images are available as they are scanned in the FamilySearch.org Catalog.
  • Films currently on loan in family history centers and affiliate libraries are automatically granted extended loan status.
  • Affiliate libraries now have access to nearly all of the restricted image collections as family history centers.
  • Visitors to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City will still be able to order needed microfilms to use during their research visits.


Digital image collections can be accessed today in 3 places on FamilySearch.org, all under Search.

  • Catalog. Includes a description of all the microfilms and digital images in the FamilySearch collection. This is where all of FamilySearch’s digitized microfilm and new digital images from its global camera operations are being published. A camera icon appears in the Catalog adjacent to a microfilm listing when it is available digitally.
  • Records includes collections that have been indexed by name or published with additional waypoints to help browse the unindexed images.
  • Books include digital copies of books from the Family History Library and other libraries, including many books that were previously copied to microfilm.

For additional help, see Finding Digital Images of Records on FamilySearch.org, or watch this how-to video “Where are the digitized records on FamilySearch?

“FamilySearch is committed to meeting customers’ needs as much as possible during this transition to digital access,” said Diane Loosle, FamilySearch’s Director of Patron Services. “We really appreciate the wonderful feedback we have received since the initial announcement. It is helping us better facilitate customer experiences during this next phase.”

Loosle said FamilySearch’s over 5,000 family history centers will continue to provide access to relevant technology, premium subscription services, and digital records, including restricted content not available at home. Centers have the option to return microfilm that is available online or otherwise not needed. As more images are published online, centers may reevaluate whether to retain microfilm holdings.

See Frequently Asked Questions: Digital Access Replacing Microfilms for more information.


I am thankful for the microfilm program. It has been a great help over the years in my research.


I found one digitized microfilm for my Sicilian ancestral town, and it was a delight to use, as each page had been translated into English, and I could easily read it. Unfortunately, I will have to wait a couple of years to read the rest of them as they have not been ordered by many people and are not in the priority list to be quickly done.
As hard as it is to wait, when they are done, they will have been translated. Yea!! into English!!
It really does open up the availability of these microfilms to the whole Eworld.

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Thank you for this post. The records held by the FHL are so valuable – I really use them a lot so it is good to know what is happening.

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Whilst this all sounds great, EVERY film I have tried to look at has the following message “To view these images you must do one of the following:
Access the site at a family history center.
Access the site at a FamilySearch affiliate library.”
So the thought that I may be able to view the film images at home unfortunately is just pie-in-the-sky!


    Hi Graeme, I accessed my Sicilian film through familysearch.com, and had no trouble looking at the two sets of images, one was the original in Italian, the other was in English. It was so easy on my at home desktop, you will probably be very happy with the change.


In many cases they are digitalizing the microfilms but then when you want to view the image you are taken to one of their partners sites such as Ancestry. If you don’t have a subscription to that site you cannot view the film.


Hello Mary Ann. I’ve pasted a bulletin point here found in the article above you may be interested in.
After film ordering ends, if customers need access to a particular film yet to be digitized, they can express interest to have it added to the priority digitization list by contacting FamilySearch Support (Toll Free: 1-866-406-1830).


I checked. All but six of the films I’ve rented over the last three years have been digitized!!! They’ve even digitized the one I’m currently using!!! That is so exciting.


I have pleaded with the LDS, for years, to, please, digitize deed records, but to no avail. I hope this doesn’t mean that the microfilm of deed records will no longer be available to rent. I find more of genealogical value in deeds that any other records.


    —> I hope this doesn’t mean that the microfilm of deed records will no longer be available to rent.

    No microfilms will be available to rent. HOWEVER, thousands of reels of microfilms have been digitized recently and all the rest of the microfilms (where FamilySearch has legal permission to copy them) will be digitized soon. Keep an eye on the catalog of available images and you will soon be able to read them in your own home, no microfilm reader needed.


    They have digitized most of the deed records I have used over the years, including the Irish Registry of Deeds (although when checking a month or two after they put those online, a smattering of them were not digitized). Deed records for New York are available at home, but Connecticut deeds have to be viewed at a local Family History Center. When I asked why the CT deeds were not available for home viewing, three times they would only give me a generic answer, that the owner of the films restricted them. No info on if they were working to make them more available, and to have them available at a FHC but not at home really makes no sense.


what will happen to the local Family History Centers and the microfilms and readers they have?


    —> what will happen to the local Family History Centers and the microfilms and readers they have?

    They will (probably) keep them. FamilySearch has no use in Salt Lake City for microfilm readers so they are NOT asking for them to be returned. Each local Family History Center is free to keep the microfilm readers and also the reels of microfilm they presently have on permanent loan, if they want to keep them. I suspect most Family History Centers will keep the microfilms and the readers for as long as they have the space for them and for as long as patrons keep using them.


I think the ability to look at films at an affiliate library is still a work in progress. I contacted an affiliate library near me and they still were not able to see the film. I had to go to a Family History Center to view the film. Hopefully this is resolved soon.


I do use a lot of land records as I find relationships there. I am sad to say I see few of these on FamilySearch in some of the Southern states I work in. They take time, but I have always found they are worth it.


In addition to the message Graeme received there is a third: only viewable to members of the LDS Church. So, even if you go to your local FHC you will still not see the images. Also, many of the films are restricted and you cannot even order them now.


Their indexing needs corrective work! I put in King’s Lynn and autofill did its thing which resulted in ZERO results – which I knew could not be accurate. After persevering and making it take King’s Lynn, Norfolk (yes, with an apostrophe which they should always include!) – a list of results came up but they used ONLY the shortened form of ‘Lynn’ as the indexing term. This is completely unacceptable and incredibly sloppy. I have sent a message re: appropriate cross referencing (Linn (used in ancient times) or Lynn or Bishop’s Lynn (as it was called prior to the dissolution of the monasteries) because so many researchers would give up after the initial search and acceptance of the catalog’s OWN suggestion.
Sorry, as an information professional myself, steam is coming out of my ears as to how a searcher could be stymied by this lack of attention to basic protocols.


This is the message I get when I try to access one of my films from the town of Berus, Germany.: Sign in to FamilySearch as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is at the local FHC.


I am a non-Mormon who has worked at an FHC for 25 years and it actually does make sense that some records are only viewable at an FHC for now. When the church originally obtained the rights to access and film records they were sending them to local FHCs in microfilm format and those microfilms were to be viewed at your local FHC. You could not take them home with you. As everything is converted to digital there is a need to revise the rights to home access. I assume the records that can only be viewed at an FHC are in that status because either the rights issue has not been resolved or the entity that holds the rights has not agreed to home access and wants to maintain more limited access.


    I agree with what you said. I volunteer there also. However, yesterday when trying to access images we encountered messages that stated you needed to be a church member to view them. We tried all possible options and the images only were viewable to a church member after she logged into her personal account. Hopefully this will change.


    But it makes no sense to limit access if they were already available by microfilm. I understand the need to update permissions, but familysearch customer service couldn’t even tell me that was happening.


    —> But it makes no sense to limit access if they were already available by microfilm.

    But it does make sense when you consider the history involved.

    Most of the contractual agreements signed by FamilySearch and the other genealogy vendors specify how the information may be distributed. For years, the contracts signed by FamilySearch specified that the microfilms could be viewed by patrons in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Most of them, although not all of them, also allowed for use in local Family History Centers.

    The contracts signed in the 1930s through the 1980s and maybe early 1990s usually did not include permission to place the information online on the World Wide Web simply because the Web had not yet been invented. In those days, nobody ever envisioned placing the information online and making it available to users in their homes. Therefore, the contracts did not give permission to do that. Without contractual permission to place the images on the World Wide Web, FamilySearch cannot legally do so.

    Many archives do want restrictions on the use of their information. That is why some microfilms were never allowed outside the Family History Library in Salt Lake City: restrictions imposed by the archives that supplied the information.

    Almost all the contractual agreements signed in recent years DO include permission to publish on the Web. The older contracts usually do not. FamilySearch is now re-negotiating contracts when possible but it is a slow process. I doubt if all the archives will ever give permission for in-home access. I suspect that most of them will give permission but there are always a few exceptions.


One more thing…in my experience most of the records that were only available to Mormons on microfilm were LDS church records or information submitted to the church by members. The latter can be of dubious value as it is based on the genealogical work of others and anyone who has looked at trees on Ancestry knows how many mistakes are made.


This is absolutely TERRIBLE! Especially for deed records. I did a search of a few Alabama counties where I have ancestors. The overwhelming majority of deed records are not available online. Assuming that many or most other counties are like this it will be many many months, or years before most of the microfilms are available online. While there may be nothing wrong with eventually ending the microfilm loan program, this shouldn’t happen until the FHL is at least 90% done with the digitization. I highly doubt FHL is even close to 50% complete with its efforts. Not everyone can afford to travel to Salt Lake City. This is a serious loss for geenalogists everywhere.


A slight correction to my last post. It does appear that the FHL has digitized a majority of the microfilm rolls (1.5 million of 2.5 million) and the FHL claims that it will finish digitizing all rolls by December 2020. That’s great. But why then end the loans NOW and leave a three plus year gap. Why not wait until December 2020?


    —> But why then end the loans NOW and leave a three plus year gap. Why not wait until December 2020?

    Because FamilySearch does not have enough new (unexposed) microfilm to last until 2020 and cannot buy any more of the brand of microfilm they have always used, the only brand that has proven rugged enough to stand up to the daily use that FamilySearch patrons need. The producing company shut down the production line of microfilm some time ago and FamilySearch bought out the remaining inventory. That inventory is now mostly been used.

    Where would FamilySearch purchase new, high-quality microfilms?

    Almost all producers of new microfilm have shut down their production lines due to lack of customers as the technology changed. Very few organizations are creating new microfilms these days. Only one or two producers of microfilm are still in the business and they are brands that FamilySearch has tested in the past and found to not meet the needs of genealogists. The remaining one or two brands tend to tear and rip too easily, especially when used often.

    In short, FamilySearch held out for as long as possible but now have no choice: they have to move to new technologies and get out of the microfilm business entirely.

    Besides, I suspect most genealogists will appreciate the convenience of accessing the images at home. No more travel to a (sometimes distant) Family History Center to view microfilms. I know I won’t miss the motion sickness I usually suffer when cranking a reel of microfilm! (I have to turn away from the screen when cranking the handle on the side quickly. Otherwise, I suffer significant motion sickness.)

    Online access isn’t perfect but, overall, I like it a lot better than microfilms. The expectation is that all the present microfilms that can be legally digitized will be available online by 2020. If FamilySearch did not embark on this project, the microfilms would have become unavailable earlier than that, due to the shortage of microfilm manufacturing.


So far, all the ones I have looked for say This is only viewable at your family history center. Ours is an hour drive, only open a few hours a week, and only two computers, so very risky to drive all that way and maybe not be able to get a computer.


I wish more of the digital records were indexed. I find it very difficult to locate the record I want to see by browsing. If there is an easier way to do the browsing, I would be very interested in hearing about it.

I definitely do appreciate all the many years I’ve been able to use the LDS records for free at their family history centers and now online.


    Perhaps I have been fortunate. Most all of the browse records I have encountered have indexes in the books. Be sure to check the BACK of the book also. I guess it all depends on how important the record is to your research. I have checked many books page by page at courthouses and SLC when I really wanted to be sure.


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