Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Impact of the Microfilm Issue

People continue to express concern over the recent announcement about the discontinuance of microfilm shipments from FamilySearch. See "FamilySearch Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm." So, during the past week, I started taking an informal poll of those attending the classes that I taught. I probably asked about 100 people who were interested enough in genealogy to come to a class on the subject. Many of these people were experienced researchers. My question was simple: how many had viewed microfilm during the past six months? I then extended the question to a year or more. What was the response? I am guessing that there were fewer than five people who responded positively to my questions.

The reality of genealogical research today is that almost all of what is passing for "research" is being conducted online using primarily the basic records, such as census records, vital records, and cemetery records. Most of my classes this week, included looking at entries in the Family Tree and analyzing the content. With very few exceptions, the sources supporting the entries looked essentially like this list:

In short, the entries were confined to the three categories I outlined above. None of these entries require even thinking about microfilm. Here, in this example, there are no records at all substantiating the birth, marriage or death of this individual.

In my recent trips to Salt Lake City to visit the Family History Library to use their microfilm collections, I see the same trend. In years past, the microfilm readers were the center of activity in the Library. In recent years, when I have been viewing microfilm, I hardly see anyone else using the machines. The reality is that much of the information that had to be extracted from microfilm in the past is now freely available online in digitized format. Unless the researcher is highly experienced and looking for an extensive variety of records, there is no longer and need to resort to microfilmed records.

Personally, I am still very much involved in microfilmed records. But then again, I clearly realize that I am part of a vanishingly small minority of researchers. As shown by my very limited and informal poll, very few people involved in family history today will even notice the change in the availability of microfilm. Now, before you write and tell me about your own particular need for microfilm, please take the time to search and see if your own needed microfilm has not already been digitized and is available online in one or the other of the large genealogy programs.


  1. The alarm is because people have always "known" that the microfilm was available whenever they wanted, so they could easily procrastinate that more difficult work while picking the low-hanging fruit online. Now, suddenly, that resource is going away, and very soon. Now the procrastinators no longer have enough time to order and dig through the microfilm, the opportunity is lost. Many newer genealogists may not even have known that resource was available, as everything for the last decade has been all about the digital online resources. Now those people won't even have the chance to look in the old microfilms that are not digitized.

    It might be different if the entire contents of the microfilms would be digitized and available online in relatively short order, but as you yourself have pointed out, for various reasons many of the microfilms cannot or will not be placed online, ever. That's a practical loss of those records for researchers, as most people have neither the time nor money to spend traveling to where the films are kept to do their research, assuming they will even be available for research at any location.

    I'll count myself in that group above, although I'll admit it was rather unlikely I would do much with microfilm. I'm a hobbyist, I lack the time and money to travel much, and I am strongly technically oriented. I haven't even come close to exhausting my online resources. I'm a bit disappointed by the decision, but not outraged. In my opinion, it would have been better to plan and announce a cutoff date several years in the future, but I am not privy to the reasoning. There may be very good reason to cut it off in this short time frame, but I can't see it.

    1. Thanks for the insightful response. I might note, for those who were working with microfilm on a regular basis, we were already aware of the quantity that had been digitized. The bloggers, Dick Eastman in particular, have been talking about the end of microfilm for years.

  2. I'm in the minority that uses vault films often that are not browsable online.

    To confirm this is true you can look up the EWZ collection at this link. If you do find these images online please let me know.

    We use several collections of European migration and family registration records that are mostly vault-only. We even find church records we need at times that are vault-only scattered among various church entries in the catalog.

    We have people at the main library, but our problem is they are telling us they have no way for us to access these after the end of the month, not even at the main library. Maybe they'll be digitized in 3 years, but waiting that long will majorly impact our daily work.