FamilySearch made an incredible announcement this week. They’ve digitized all of their microfilm collection. What an achievement and gift to the genealogical community. I’m looking forward to this increased access to online records.
Despite how wonderful this is, it doesn’t mean you can do all your genealogy research from home.
Far from it.
In the case of FamilySearch, the benefit of a visit to the Family History Library is that you can research in books, maps, subscription websites, and microforms that are not available for at-home use (some digitized records have restrictions and can only be viewed at the Family History Library, a Family History Center, or Affiliate Library). A visit to the Family History Library allows you to benefit from staff and volunteers expertise, whether it's a research question or a language translation. I was with a friend at the Library recently, where we not only researched his family history and made significant discoveries in their book collection, but his online FamilySearch tree was printed into a large fan chart. A very visual representation of what we had learned about his family. Those discoveries could not have been made from home.
A few months back, I traveled to Allen County Public Library and interviewed the director, Curt Witcher. One of the points he stressed to me was that digitization does not make a library visit irrelevant. There will always be materials that are not digitized, and the library’s collection is constantly evolving. There will always be a need for repositories and in-person research.
Now, I'm not denying that digitizing has a considerable benefit, and I'm grateful for it. Digitization means we can start our research from home as we exhaust what is easily available and create a research plan. Online research is vital for those who have to research from home because they are primary caretakers of children or other family members, those who work long hours and have little time off, those who have health or financial issues that make travel impossible. Digitization has made the world smaller and more accessible.
Exhaustive research often requires us to go beyond the digitized. It requires us to write letters to government agencies, pull records in person, and ask other genealogists, librarians, and archivists questions. Not everything is digitized, and good research requires a variety of sources.
It use to be that genealogy research meant we would go a nearby Family History Center and order microfilmed records for the location we were researching. We would exhaust the resources of FamilySearch. As technology advanced and microfilm rentals were discontinued, many researchers stopped exhausting FamilySearch. I’m a huge supporter of exhausting FamilySearch’s free resources and then continuing the search to other online sources and repositories. With this recent digitization announcement, we have that option again.
But the new announcement doesn’t mean you should cancel your next trip to Salt Lake City (or any other library). What it does means is that we have more access to records and more opportunity to research. And we all benefit from that.