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Using Family Search: Searching Through The Family History Center

The Family Search web site is invaluable as a foundation for starting any research project. Learning to use the Family History Library catalog will help you find those elsuive ancestors.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
Word Count: 919 (approx.)
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Family Search (www.familysearch.org) provides the genealogical researcher with two ways to conduct research on their ancestors. Initially, the researcher can use the online databases found at familysearch.org to search for ancestors. The second way that Family Search is vital to your research is through the catalog of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

You don't have to travel to Salt Lake in order to benefit from the Family History Library. Most of the materials, in the form of microfilm and microfiche, can be ordered through your local Family History Center. Family History Centers are typically located at LDS meetinghouses, although there are some like the one at the Godfrey Memorial Library that are not located elsewhere. To find the nearest Center to you, consult the homepage of Family Search. Centers are open to all and one need not be a member of the LDS church. Similarly, Centers are for family history research and proselytizing is not allowed. Center staff, depending on the individual Center, can be both LDS members and members of the community.

Each Family History Center is different in what materials they have available. Some have large collections of genealogy books or microfilm on indefinite loan. What each Center has in common is Internet access and subscription databases such as Ancestry.com. Each Center is also able to order microfilm for you from Salt Lake. Once it is ordered and arrives at the Center, you can then view the microfilm and, depending on the Center, make photographic copies or even save images to a flash drive.

Using the Catalog

The Family History Library Catalog provides you with 8 different ways to conduct a search. You can search by author, title, keyword, surname, place, subject, film/fiche number, and call number.

When searching for records in your ancestral state, from the Place search, type in the state name. Once you have selected the state, all the categories of records that the Family History Library has will be displayed. Once you see a category you want to explore, for instance you may choose vital records, you will be directed to all the titles within that category.

When you are exploring records for a state, if you click on the link at the upper right hand corner, entitled "View Related Places" you will be directed to a list of all the counties that the Library has records for. You can then choose a county and explore the categories of records for that county. At the county level, you can click on the "View Related Places" link again and get a list of what cities or towns the Library has records for.

Conducting a surname search can be tricky if you are researching a common surname. Ahhh, the dilemma of finding John Smith! In that case, instead of looking through hundreds of hits, you may want to instead use a keyword search and try searching using the ancestor's full name or the name and the place where they came from.

The keyword search is also good for finding books that would relate to a specific time period or events that an ancestor lived through. For example, a search on the phrase "War of 1812" results in over 1,000 records including histories, records, resource guides, and personal narratives.

However, you choose to search for the records you need, once you find what you are interested in, click on the link, at the top right hand corner entitled "View Film Notes." That page will provide you with a number you need in to order the film from your local Family History Center.

If the resource states "No Film Notes" then fill out a "Request for Photocopies" form. You can either download this form from the Family Search web site or obtain one from your local Family History Center. Fill in the title of the resource and then ask that the index be copied for your surname of interest. The Family History Library will copy that page of the index and mail it to you. If one of your ancestors is in the index then you can ask for that particular page to be copied. This service costs $4.00, it can be more depending how many pages you request. If they don't find your surname they will issue you a credit.

Some things to consider when using a Family History Center:

  • When looking for a microfilm to order, numbers that begin with 6 are microfiche and cost only about 15 cents each. They stay on loan indefinitely at the Family History Center, so once you order it, it will remain at the Family History Center. Microfilm rental is for 3 weeks and costs about $6.00. You can renew microfilm twice and once it has been renewed for the second time it will remain at the Family History Center indefinitely.
  • Restricted films are films that cannot be ordered and can only be viewed in Salt Lake at the Library. Films are restricted for various reasons but most likely because of restrictions place don it by the copyright holder.
  • Each FHC has their own collection of books, CD's, microfilm and microfiche. Ask what holdings they have for your state or county of interest.
  • Some Family History Centers have microfilm/fiche readers/copiers that are connected to computers that you can either make paper copies or use your flashdrive, or thumbdrive, and download the information, thus eliminating the need to pay for paper copies.
  • Most FHC's have a newsletter. Ask to subscribe to it so that you can learn more about what that FHC offers and get tips and other genealogical news.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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