FamilySearch Centers: Have You Visited One Lately?

by Diane L. Richard | Jan 5, 2012

My Love Affair With FamilySearch Centers

I am writing this as I once again recently spend time at my local FamilySearch Center (formerly Family History Center) and my local library (which is an affiliate with FamilySearch for microfilm/microfiche rentals) accessing records that are currently only available someplace I won't be visiting soon or if ever!

I first visited a family history center in probably 1988 - in the wilds of New Jersey. One evening, every week or so, I would trek "over the hills and through the woods" to do this thing called genealogy as my husband entertained himself at our apartment.

This was the place where I rented all the microfilms for the Ylistaro Parish Church, Vaasa Province, Finland (and many for the nearby Soini Parish). Using my rudimentary Finnish word guides and related, I learned all about my Kujanpaa aka Lammi ancestors back to the time when the Parish was founded and the first ancestor was in the area - I looked into baptism, marriage and burial records, "moving in and out" records, communion records, census records and whatever records made sense to me at the time - all written in Finnish or Swedish. This initial, slow-going and yet satisfying research was validated when many years later in the early 2000s, many Parish records were by then transcribed, and I was able to verify my findings and add in a few missing family members.

1869_Baptism_for_Anna_Lena.png

An 1869 Baptism for Anna Lena, Soini Parish, Finland

These and many more finds like these started my love affair with renting microfilms of original records from FamilySearch Centers.

Why You Might Want To Consider Renting FamilySearch Microfilmed Records

With the advent of increased digitizing of records becoming available via Family Search Labs, commercial service web-sites, and elsewhere, it has become easier for people to "decide to just sit back and wait until the records they need are digitized." Not to be too blunt, and

  • I'm not counting on that necessarily happening in my lifetime (and there are some records that won't ever be digitized),
  • Many projects that I am working on for clients (or myself) need to be done sometime this year and not "down the road, and
  • For some projects, it is not possibly to gain access to records unless you live locally - with budget shortfalls, many local libraries, government repositories and genealogy/history societies are not able to provide any support to genealogy researchers, even when you offer to pay!

This means, if I cannot get to the records, I arrange for them to be "brought" to me at my local FamilySearch Center.

Are you one of those people who are reading this article and have a "blank stare" as you wonder what a FamilySearch Center is or how you might use one? If so, check out the resources listed in the box to learn more.

I find that there are many genealogy researchers, who, in this age of massive digitization projects and increased and easy online access to resources, are just relying on web-based resources. Whether beginners or more advanced researchers, there are many who are not aware of and/or have yet to make use of renting and viewing microfilmed records at their local FamilySearch Center. You could be doing your projects a disservice by overlooking this affordable (it typically costs about $5.50 to rent a microfilm - actually you are paying the shipping and copying costs) means of gaining access to microfilmed copies of original records. These are the same microfilms that researchers travel to Salt Lake City to access.

Examples of "Gems" Founds In FamilySearch Microfilmed Records

Besides the Finnish example above, microfilms for Croatian Parish Records - specifically, metrical books (births, marriages, deaths) for the Roman Catholic congregation at Jaszka, Kroatien, Austria; later Jastrebarsko (aka Jaska), Zagreb, Hungary; now Jastrebarsko, Croatia (Text in Latin and Serbo-Croatian) -- helped identify some relevant baptism records such as this one for Theresa Pavlakovic.

1879_baptism_for_Theresa_Pavlakovic.png

The entry for the 1879 baptism for Theresa Pavlakovic, Jastrebarsko Croatia, Ro?eni 1858-1874 FHL film #1920522 Item 2

Through renting microfilms for Munsala Parish (Finland) records (after trying for 6 months to get in touch with the church clerk via several means), on the first day that I viewed the ordered microfilm, I found the baptism entry for the bride listed in this marriage record.

This led to siblings and parents and ultimately grand-parents and other family members.

Though my examples above all happen to be for non-English records (after all - they are harder to come by), during recent forays to the local FamilySearch affiliate library, I have accessed the following microfilms:

  • Coosa County, AL - probate, deeds, etc [image below is a snippet from Tract Book Entries, Section #36, FamilySearch Film #1822248, item #2]
coosa_county_probate_deeds.png
  • Fayette County, Alabama - bond, church, court records, etc
  • Tuscaloosa County, Alabama - wills, probate, etc
  • Drew County, Arkansas - tax, land, wills, etc [image below is a snippet from an 1847 tax list showing M[arshall] Jackson, FamilySearch Film #986543]
drew_county_tax_land_wills.png
  • Monroe County, Arkansas - probate records
  • Carroll County, Georgia - tax digests, court minutes, deed registers, etc.
  • Crawford & Howell Counties, Missouri - deed indexes and records
  • Lowndes and Oktibbeha Counties, Mississippi - deed and court records
  • Overton County, Tennessee - deed, church, court, etc.
  • Hopkins County, Texas - tax, probate, etc
  • and more ...

Conclusion

I hope that my examples encourage you to check out the FamilySearch catalog and see if records that might be invaluable to your research have been microfilmed. If so, do consider this option. Though it is tempting to view such a low-tech means of accessing information as unnecessary in the digital age, it is just as important as always. The Internet does not have all the answers! One cannot necessarily travel to where the original records are held! Nor, can one necessarily get local assistance to view extant records. At a FamilySearch Center you still can see microfilms of original documents, which are invaluable to one's research.

And, though you may not have instantaneous access and have to wait 4-6 weeks (or longer) for your microfilm to arrive at your local FamilySearch Center, the minimal cost and 4-week loan period definitely can make this an affordable and attractive means of gaining access to original records that may be unavailable to you otherwise. The results I achieved above either would not have been possible or the cost of hiring local research help would have been so prohibitive, that I might not today be able to write of successfully learning more about these families and places.


Sign up for a free trial account and begin tracing your family history today.

Start 7-Day Free Trial »