How to Use the FamilySearch Catalog: Your Ultimate Portal to Free Genealogy Records

Every genealogist should know how to search the FamilySearch Catalog, a portal to nearly 750 million FREE historical record images you won’t find anywhere else on the site! These digitized records are being updated DAILY by camera teams who are digitizing records around the world–and digitizing microfilmed collections at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Recently, the free genealogy giant FamilySearch.org announced that its browse-only digital record collections have topped 2 BILLION! About 750 million of these are only searchable from the FamilySearch Catalog. The Catalog is where they put all new images collected DAILY from digitized microfilms or from their digital camera operators around the world. These images may still need some organizing and fine-tuning, but they’re an up-to-the-minute asset you will appreciate when you need them to take the next step in your research.

The Catalog also shows you information about books, maps, compiled family histories and other valuable genealogical resources that aren’t online but are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah or perhaps through Inter-library loan from another library. Yet another reason to search the Catalog! So here’s how to do it….

How to use the FamilySearch Catalog

To use the FamilySearch Catalog, go to www.familysearch.org and log in. (Creating a free login is optional, but you’ll get much better access to records on the site–click here to learn more.)

Under the main Search tab, select Catalog:

Now, search for the family history resources you want. Let’s say I’d like to find birth records for my ancestors who were living in the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I enter that location. FamilySearch automatically gives me options for standard place names (which include the county). I choose “United States, Pennsylvania, Cambria, Johnstown” from the list shown below and click Search:

The FamilySearch Catalog gives me a list of all subject categories relating to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I see “Vital Records.” This includes birth records, so I click where the red arrow points in the screen shot below to open another list of entries, the first of which is shown in the box below:

Click on that boxed item to see its Catalog entry, shown in part below. Scroll down to the list of Film/Digital Notes, and you’ll see information about available formats for each item. That little camera icon on the right means digital images are available for those items (the round icon that looks like an old film reel means it’s still just available on microfilm). Click on camera images to view digitized records.

For any records that aren’t yet digitized, use the Catalog entry link shown below to go to WorldCat.org, a free multi-library catalog with millions of entries. This catalog may lead you to other copies available at libraries near you, or at available through libraries that participate in inter-library loan. (Click here to read an article about using WorldCat for genealogy.)

KEEP UP WITH FAMILYSEARCH AND THE OTHER GENEALOGY GIANTS

Genealogy Gems is your home for learning how to get the most out of the giant genealogy websites: Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.comClick here to see unique, side-by-side comparisons of these fantastic resources. You may be missing out on resources you need simply because you aren’t aware of them yet!

Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning members can check out my in-depth tour of the hinting tools used at all four genealogy giants in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #152. Not a member yet? Click here to learn about becoming one.

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Navigating the End of FamilySearch Microfilm Lending

Just announced: The FamilySearch microfilm lending service will end on August 30, 2017. Let’s cover what we know so far, how it may impact you, and strategies for getting the information you need. 

WHAT: FamilySearch Microfilm Lending Ends

Most of the Family History Library’s microfilm vault has already been digitized and is online–or will be within a short time. According to the website:

“Over 1.5 million microfilms (ca. 1.5 billion images) have been digitized by FamilySearch, including the most requested collections based on microfilm loan records worldwide.”

However, the world’s largest lender of microfilmed genealogical records will be discontinuing the distribution of microfilms to Family History Centers in the near future.

“On September 1, 2017, FamilySearch will discontinue its microfilm distribution services,” announced the site yesterday. “The change is the result of significant progress in FamilySearch’s microfilm digitization efforts and the obsolescence of microfilm technology. Digital imaging has made it easier to find ancestors through the internet, mobile, and other technologies.”

This means the clock is now counting down your ability to borrow microfilmed genealogical records from the Family History Library. The last day you can place an order for delivery to your local Family History Center is August 31, 2017.

It’s a change I’ve seen coming, but it’s still a little disconcerting now that it’s here. But change is the norm in today’s busy world, so let’s break down the details we know so far together.

WHY: Why are they discontinuing microfilm lending before they’re done digitizing?

It’s just too expensive. “The cost of duplicating microfilm for circulation has risen dramatically, while demand has decreased significantly,” says a FamilySearch Q&A. “At the same time, it has become increasingly difficult and costly to maintain the equipment, systems, and processes required for film duplication, distribution, and access.” FamilySearch wants to redirect its microfilm lending resources to providing more and better electronic record access.

I have personally visited the microfilm distribution facility, and the best analogy I can give you is that it looks a bit like the inside of an Amazon warehouse. It’s a mammoth and expensive undertaking, certainly not something you open or close lightly. I’m thankful that in the decades before the Internet, FamilySearch devoted so many resources to helping all of us gain access to hard-to-find records from around the world.

Photo Credit: Lisa Louise Cooke

WHEN: What will be available online and when

According to FamilySearch, they hope to finish digitizing the records that they have permission to digitize, in 2020. Unfortunately, some films we will not be digitized because of contractual limitations, data privacy, or other restrictions. Look to the Catalog for access details for the records you want.

Microfilm lending familysearch

By Lhsunshine (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

HOW: How to order FamilySearch microfilms between now and August 31, 2017

I encourage you to use the microfilm lending service while it is still available. While most microfilmed records will be eventually digitized, the fate of a small percentage may remain unknown for some time. Follow these steps to view them now:

1. Go to FamilySearch.org and log in, or create a free login. (You’ll need the login to order records.)

2. Under the Search menu, select Catalog.

3. Search by location, listing first the largest jurisdiction (such as the country) and proceeding to the smallest, such as “United States, Illinois, Cook, Chicago.”

4. Review search results by clicking on the record categories and then each entry. Within the entries, watch for interesting items that only list microfilm or microfiche formats.

5. Within record entries, order items you want by clicking the microfilm reel icon on the far right, under Format. Select the lending period and the correct currency. It currently costs $7.50 USD to borrow a microfilm reel for 90 days.

During the order process, you’ll select a family history center near you to receive the item(s). When your order arrives, you’ll be notified. Check the center’s schedule before visiting; most have limited hours. Centers are free to use. When you get there, identify yourself and request your film. Then put it in the microfilm reader and scroll through it until you find the item number and pages you need. (Here’s a helpful article: How to Use a Microfilm Reader.)

What about accessing microfilmed records after August 31, 2017?

You’ll still have several options. Sunny Morton, author of the quick reference guide Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websitessays the FamilySearch catalog will still be a go-to resource:

“At this point, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah still plans to keep on hand microfilmed copies of records that are not yet online. So your options include going to view them in person (since to the best of our knowledge the library won’t be lending them), arrange for someone else to view them (such as through the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness Facebook group), or use the FamilySearch Catalog to identify the records and then attempt to locate them through other repositories and websites.

To find records you may borrow from other sources, click where it says ‘View this catalog record in WorldCat for other possible copy locations’ [see screenshot below]. This will take you directly to this item’s listings in WorldCat, which is the enormous, free multi-library online catalog. Look either for a copy at a library near you, or a copy at a facility that participates in inter-library loan. (This is the same process you already have to use to find copies of books you can borrow, since the Family History Library doesn’t lend these, either.)”

What about accessing the digitized records?

After August 31, 2017 many genealogists will be turning to the online FamilySearch catalog and Family History Center Portal. (Learn more about the Portal at the FamilySearch Wiki.) As you attempt to view records through the portal, you may be prompted to go to a Family History Center to view the record, and the site will link you to a map of all locations.  It’s important to understand the difference between an official Family History Center and an Affiliate Center. We’ve learned that Affiliate Centers do not have access to what is called the Family History Portal. That portal is only accessible from an officially designated Family History Center.

So how do you know which location on the map is official, and which is an affiliate? I turned to genealogy blogger and friend of Genealogy Gems Amie Tennant for clarification:

The (online) FamilySearch map of Family History Centers is not accurate. With the new changes to microfilm loans, this is going to be a big problem. In other words…if a person assumes all FHCenters are the same and travels to the nearest one, they will be sorely disappointed to realize that this one will NOT have access to all the digitized microfilm. (Researchers) should call ahead to confirm whether the center they see on this map is an affiliate or a full FHC with access to the portal.

I’ve reached out to FamilySearch for additional official information on this and several other important questions that have arisen with the discontinuation of microfilm lending. I’ll report to you here on the Genealogy Gems blog and the podcast as more information becomes available.  Check out Amie’s article for more information on the various levels of access.

What do you think?

The end of the FamilySearch microfilm lending service is a major milestone. It signals exciting future online access, but provides obstacles for the next few years. What suggestions do you have for researchers to gain additional access to essential microfilm? Please share with the Genealogy Gems community in the Comments below.

How to Use a Microfilm Reader or a Microfiche Reader

how to use microfilm readerNot sure how to use microfilm or microfiche readers? Watch these quick video tutorials before your next trip to the library!

Recently I heard from a Genealogy Gems Premium member who is digging in deep to her family history. But she confessed that she left the Oklahoma Historical Center in Oklahoma City “in tears because I really didn’t know what I was doing” with the microfiche machine and with microfilms.

I totally understand. Microfilm and fiche readers are not my favorite part of genealogy research, either. But despite the wealth of digitized records that continue to appear online, microfilm is going to be around for a while! FamilySearch and other publishers of microfilmed data (like state archives) do not have copyright permissions to digitize all their microfilmed materials. Even if they can get it, it’s going to take a long time to make that happen.

how to use microfilm reader how to use microfiche reader

Rows of microfilm lay neatly organized in rows of tall cabinets at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Meanwhile, we will continue to need microfilm and microfiche readers!

  • Microfilm is a long reel of film (up to 125 feet, I’ve heard) that are essentially page-by-page photos of a document collection, book, newspaper, etc.
  • Microfiche is a single sheet of film (about 4″ x 6″) that contains the same, only shrunk down so small you need a magnified reader to make sense of it.

These were standard technologies for duplicating records in the pre-digital era. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City alone has over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. Yes, that’s million! (And yes, they will lend them out to a Family History Center or FamilySearch Library near you.)

To access these fantastic films and fiches, you will need to use microfilm readers and microfiche readers. It’s easy to walk into the library and think everyone knows how to use them but you. But that’s not true. In fact, every single genealogist has had to face their first encounter with a reader. Don’t be shy about asking politely for a tutorial (and help when you do it wrong and something gets stuck). And don’t be shy about watching these tutorials on YouTube before you go to the library again:

How to Use a Microfilm Reader:

How to Use a Microfiche Reader:

As you can see, YouTube is a fantastic place to pick up essential genealogy skills! Click here to check out our more great ideas for using YouTube for family history.

More Beginning Genealogy Tips from Genealogy Gems

4 Beginning Genealogy Answers to Get You Started

6 Sources That May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents

Try These Two Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records Online: Google and FamilySearch Wiki

MyHeritage Library Edition: Now at Family History Centers

MyHeritage Library EditionMyHeritage has launched the MyHeritage Library Edition™ for libraries and other educational facilities around the world. Among the first to sign up for this service? The Family History Library.

MyHeritage Library Edition™ is now available for free at every FamilySearch family history center and Family History Library in the world. FamilySearch operates more than 4,700 family history centers in 134 countries. The centers are dedicated family history spaces, open to anyone with an interest in genealogical research. Visitors enjoy free access to historical records and personal assistance from staff to help them in their search for information. (Find a Family History Center near you.)

Here are some highlights to MyHeritage Library Edition:

  • Record content: access to billions of historical documents, millions of historical photos and other resources in thousands of databases that span the past 5 centuries.
  • Language diversity: Available in 40 languages–the industry’s most multilingual family history search engine.
  • Powerful technology: Automatic handling of translations, synonyms and spelling variations of millions of names in multiple languages AND unique Record Detective™ technology that recommends additional records for each record discovered.
  • Remote Access: Library members can use the MyHeritage Library Edition™ either at their local library or in the comfort of their own home using remote access.

See a video tutorial here for MyHeritage Library Edition.
Ask your local public or university library to subscribe!

FGS 2015: Early-Bird Registration Open for “Largest Family History Event in North America”

FGS 2015 RootsTech SLCRegistration opens TODAY for the Federation of Genealogical Societies FGS 2015 conference scheduled for February 11–14 in Salt Lake City, Utah. This highly anticipated genealogy event puts the FGS and RootsTech conferences under one roof at the Salt Palace Convention Center (SPCC).

Registration opens with a special early bird price of $139 for a full FGS conference registration. That pricing is available through September 12, 2014. Attend only FGS or add-on a full RootsTech pass for an additional $39. Click here to register.

“FGS 2015 will undoubtedly be part of the largest family history event in North America,” says D. Joshua Taylor, President of FGS. “We are delighted to partner with RootsTech to bring the best of tradition and innovation to the family history community.”

Conference Highlights

  • Conference Sessions: The program features lectures for genealogists of all experience levels. Attendees will learn from a variety of tracks including Tried and True Methods, The Most Useful Records Hidden in Plain Sight, Compiling Singular Records into Lively Stories, A Retro Look at Organizing and Planning, and Modern Access to Vintage Resources. See the full program and list of speakers here.
  • General Sessions: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings will kick off with a joint general session for all FGS and RootsTech attendees.
  • Expo Hall: Both conferences will share an expo hall covering more than 120,000 square feet, which will offer at least 240 booth spaces and a Demo Theater featuring special vendor presentations. Genealogy Gems will have a booth there!
  • Research Opportunity: The Family History Library is the reason that Salt Lake City is the dream destination of genealogists everywhere. The library is a located in walking distance of the Salt Palace Convention Center and the four conference hotels.  
  • Focus on Societies: Sessions on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 will give society leaders and volunteers ideas and tools to help societies promote themselves, increase membership, and develop sources of revenue.
  • Librarians’ Day: On Tuesday, February 10, 2015, ProQuest will sponsor a full pre-conference day of sessions designed for librarians, archivists, and other information professionals serving family history researchers.

I hope I’ll see YOU among the FGS/RootsTech crowds in Salt Lake City in February. Here are the presentations I’ll be giving:

Wednesday, 10:45 am – How the Genealogist Can Remember Everything with Evernote

Wednesday, 4pm – Video Marketing: Killer YouTube Strategies for Societies

Thursday, 1:30pm – Reopen Your Genealogical Cold Case: A Step-by-Step Process

Use A Family History Center to Access the Family History Library

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Those who just attended RootsTech 2014 probably wish they’d had more time for researching at the Family History Library. Others may have watched streaming sessions of RootsTech at satellite Family History libraries, called Family History Centers or FamilySearch Centers. Whatever the case, I’m guessing many of us wish we knew more about how to use the Family History Center (FHC) nearest us.

FHCs are great: they’re free, there’s usually one not too far from you, they are your personal portal to microfilmed content at the Family History Library, and you don’t have to be a member of the sponsoring LDS church. And as it happens, I’ve just republished a three-part series on FHCs from my original Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast. All three episodes feature longtime genealogy researcher Margery Bell, Assistant Director of the Oakland Family History Center in Oakland, California. Here’s a breakdown of topics covered in each episode. Click on each to see the episode webpage, where you can access the podcast and the show notes.

Episode 17:  Introduction to Family History Centers, their local holdings and how to order and use microfilmed resources from the Family History Library.

Episode 18: How to prepare for a visit to a local Family History Center, subscription websites you can use for free while visiting, and making copies in all forms.

Episode 19: Educational opportunities available through Family History Centers and Margery’s 7 top tips for getting the most out of your visit. Bonus: Margery shares inspiring stories of genealogy serendipity that happens when researchers come together in person.

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