But what you probably don't know is that after just a few minutes of instruction, a wide world of genealogical resources opens up to you, enabling family genealogists like yourself to compete with professionals. Staff members won't do research for you, but they'll gladly answer research questions although their expertise varies from center to center. They'll also order microfilms and microfiche for you from the Family History Library. In addition, many centers offer classes on a variety of genealogical research topics.
Before you can visit a center, you need to find one in your local area. To get the location of the center nearest you, go to FamilySearch.org, a introductory Web site run by the Family History Library. Once you find your local center, bring along the name of the ancestor you wish to research and basic information, such as birth, death, or marriage information, that you know about him or her. The more information you have about your ancestor, the better your chances for finding more at the center.
Family History Centers offer a wealth of information in several formats—microfilm, microfiche, and computer databases. CD-ROMs include a Social Security Death Index, a U.S. Military Index and the International Genealogical Index. The Ancestor Files contain lineages which may be part of your family tree. You also gain access to more than 60,000 microfilms of standard census schedules, passenger lists and other records available from the National Archives.
Often overlooked, though, is an extraordinarily diverse collection of electronic material which may provide an additional source of information for your search. Each Family History Center has two different collections—the CD-ROM Family History Library Catalog and the standard microfiche catalogs—some of which overlap. Individual branches also have their own collection of film or fiche which have been ordered by other researchers.
First let's take a look at what you can find on microfiche. The Family Registry is a microfiche list of those doing research on a particular family. By including their name in the registry, these individuals indicate that they're willing to share their information with others. You'll also find a Surname Catalog which may provide short cuts to family histories and census information, as well as a cross reference to the Family Registry.
Perhaps the least understood, and most unexplored section, of any Family History Center is the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), an index to more than 2,000 periodicals and 500,000 articles including nearly all English language and French-Canadian genealogical publications from 1847 to 1993. Created by the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library Foundation and the Genealogical Department of the Allen County Public Library, the microfiche version has been reproduced by the LDS Family History Library for its branches. It's Research Outline provides more information on PERSI.
Standard microfiche records will provide you with information on many hard-to-find sources including data on Native Americans, slave and minority records. In 1995, the Family History Library introduced a fiche collection containing material and vital records from every country on Earth and written in every language imaginable. While you'll find records from every state in the U.S., the collections from the original 13 are the most comprehensive.
The best part about working with microfiche at the Family History Centers is that ordering it costs just 15 cents per fiche. Once you order a fiche, it becomes part of the local center's permanent collection. Take time to peruse the local collection at your local Center. You'll be amazed at what you'll discover.
Working with microfilm is a bit more expensive. An individual film loan costs $5.50 for 60 days, and you can purchase an additional 60 days for the same amount. At the end of the loan period, if you wish, you can have that film put into the permanent collection at your local Center for an additional $5.50. When you order your film or fiche it will take about 10 days to arrive. Neither can be removed from a center or transferred from one center to another.