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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Speculations on the Future of Family History Centers and Family History in General

Last night I did a short presentation for some of the missionaries serving at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I overheard a statement made by one of the missionaries about his experiences in doing research using microfilm. He said that he had searched on microfilm records for years and he never found one name to add to his family tree. I was disappointed that I did not get the opportunity to find out more about his research experience. Yesterday's announcement from FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that microfilm distribution will be discontinued will have a direct and lasting effect on the Church's Family History Center operation. See "FamilySearch Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm."

Unlike the missionary who made the comment about never finding any records on microfilm, my own experience has been quite the opposite. I have found hundreds, perhaps thousands of names for my own research and for others on the Church's microfilmed records over the years. The reality of the digitization effort is simply that the existing microfilm images can now be viewed online from any computer connected to the internet. In addition, images obtained directly from digital cameras are being added to the historically accumulated stock of microfilmed records.

For many years, the Family History Centers established by the Church have acted as the intermediary between FamilySearch and the public in providing access to the huge microfilm collection that has been accumulated since 1938. From the standpoint of the average family history researcher, my experience has been that only a vanishingly small percentage of them have ever seen a roll of microfilm or used any kind of microfilm reader to do their research. The main impact of the announcement will be on researchers like myself who have stacks of microfilm ordering slips sitting on their desktops.

This is not to say that FamilySearch has not been shipping a huge number of microfilm rolls around the world, but that these microfilmed records are used by only a small percentage of the researchers. Estimates are that less than 6% of the members of the Church are actively submitting names for temple ordinances and from my observations, most (nearly all) of those names are coming from the digital record collections online.

Family History Centers will be the first to see the impact of the discontinuance of microfilm shipping. For many Family History Centers, the ordering, receiving, processing, storing and returning of microfilm has been a time-consuming activity. For many of the patrons of the Family History Centers, the transition to online records has been difficult. From my personal observations, some of the Family History Centers have already completely transitioned to online support and their microfilm readers have not been used for some time. Patrons currently have access to five huge online databases:,,,, and The number of records currently available in digitized format from only these five websites is almost unimaginable. Members of the Chuch have free access to all five of these websites from their homes if they wish to use them.

Outside of the United States, Family History Centers are much more important to their patrons because they often provide the only online, computer-based access to the internet for their patrons. The elimination of microfilm with the digitization of the existing records will have the direct effect of making research more convenient and eliminating the time lag caused by the shipment of microfilm.

In the post-microfilm era, Family History Centers will survive if they provide real and substantial assistance to their patrons in the form of classes, specialized research assistance and other forms of support such as personal scanning services. In the United States, I suggest that the small, Stake-centered Family History Centers should be consolidated into larger regional centers. The introduction of Temple and Family History Consultants, where implemented, can move the previous support services in the small, local Family History Centers, into the homes of the members. But there will still be a need for larger centers on the model of Riverton, Utah and Mesa, Arizona.

In short, I would guess that the average member of the Church will not even be aware of the changes, particularly the discontinuance of microfilm.


  1. I was disappointed to hear this news James. However, I believe my disappointment comes from a naustalgic persepective. It has been a few years since I've ordered a microfilm. I have been to the FHL twice, most recently in 2015. While there I always enjoy scrolling through the film and have made fantastic finds in doing so. All those films and readers are a huge part of the "experience" of visiting the FHL and the larger Family History Centers. Realistically, being able to access the same records online is much easier, of course. As long as we will be able to see the actual film and not just an index, we will be fine. I will certainly miss the experience though.

    1. I spent my time cranking microfilm, long enough to be thankful for digitized copies of the films. My concern is that more microfilm might be available that will not be digitally available for a variety of reasons.

  2. At our North America Southwest Area TFHC Meeting it was announced that the Church has no intention of closing any Family History Centers. They are still a great place to get help, especially for non members and investigators. I sure know what you mean by the microfilm being a helpful tool. In California, we would drive to the church figure out which one we might need, pay 3.50 and wait 3 weeks hoping that was the one we needed. Online is more efficient use of time now for me. Using, we have helped many people learn even computer basics and beginning research at our Center, then they can keep track of their proficiency as they go. In addition to our Area calling, we love working Thursday's at the Camelback Stake. More people should volunteer to mentor others, we would love that. I see a huge need for these centers as some people don't want to feel they need to clean the whole house before they have a consultant come over! Have a great Day!

  3. I am grateful for the indexing program which has made the information on these microfilms so much more accessible. It is to much more efficient to have a couple of indexers and an arbitrator look at the record in sequential order than to have us each look for an individual name on a microfilm. Hooray for indexing! I won't miss the microfilms one bit if they can be available digitally.