Note: Genealogists.com provides records from the Family History Library at a cost of $25 USD each or $75 per hour. It usually only takes a day or two for your record to arrive. Ask us about our special program where if we don't find the record, you don't pay.
Of the over 2,000 archives and repositories where Genealogists.com does research, one of the most important sites is the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah. The FHL currently houses just under 2-1/2 million rolls of microfilm. Less than half of these films have been digitzed. Every year at RootsTech, one of the largest genealogy conferences in the world, they tell us how many they have digitized in the previous year. They have been digitizing for a few years and the mechanics have improved dramatically, but it will be many more years before all the films have been digitized.
The best way to get to know what is held in the library is to go to the catalog and explore. For example, enter your home town; state, county, and then city and click Search. If you are in a city, probably several categories will come up. Each category will have at least one type of reference material. Most often they will have more. If you click on those links it will take you to a description of the various items. There is a lot of material there. However, there are some caveats; most items are before the 1930s. This is because of privacy issues and copyright laws.
The library has a wide variety of items including, but not limited to: maps, diaries, church records (various churches), census records (US, Canada and several other countries), birth records, death records, military records, obituaries, newspapers, books, court records, probate, etc. We’ve probably seen just about every type of record possible. But they don’t have all the records for every single place.
There are several reasons why the FHL may not have a specific record. Sometimes it has to do with the contract with the contributor of the records. There are certain groups or agencies that would like to have their records microfilmed, but don’t wish them to be publicly accessible for various reasons. Another reason is monetary. When the library goes to an agency, perhaps a county, to film its records, it can only afford to film a certain number of them. The agency usually has certain records that it would prefer to have filmed first. So they come to an agreement about which records to film. Sometimes it’s not the precise ones that we would like. That usually means that we have to go directly to that county to see those records. The number of digitized records in the country is still less than 10%.
There is also another possibility. Sometimes the film is digitized and put online, but it hasn’t been indexed yet. That means you can look at it, but you need to look page by page. If you have a date or a certificate number and the film is set up by date or certificate number it may be fairly easy to find. Otherwise you must search page by page. They are indexing as fast as they can, but it is being done by volunteers so it depends on how many people volunteer to work on them.
If you are looking for a marriage record that has been found before. it will still be located at the library. If you have the film number and a certificate number, it is fairly easy to pull the film and make a copy. We do this all the time. If you don’t have those, but you do have a date and place and names, we can go to the catalog and determine the most likely film for the record to be on. We can then pull the film and look for the record. Copy it and send it to you.
If you don’t know for sure that the record is there, we can still usually determine where it will be located. Sometimes the library just doesn’t have the record set. Then you usually have to go back to the source, the city, county or state and look for the record there. Sometimes the agency has put them online. For example, the state of Utah has been kind enough to put all of the death certificates up until the 1960s online at the archives. This has made some searches much easier.
To look for a record, we usually ask for the names of the individuals, the type of event, the date or an approximation, and the location as close as you can get it. The more information you can provide, the easier and more likely it is that we can find it. Additional information does help, especially if it is a common name.
We hope this helps explain a little about the Family History Library and how we can best find records for you. It also helps explain why Genealogists.com has so many researchers working there, more than any other research firm.
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