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.

 

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