Federal Records Relating to Rivers and Canals - free webinar by Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA now online for limited time
Cluster Research: Using Groups of People to Find Your People - free webinar by Robyn Smith now online for limited time

You Still Need to Leave The House

You Still Need to Leave The House

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.

FamilySearch Tree print

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.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

As someone who has traveled to Salt Lake at least once a year for the past 25 years and who is a retired librarian, I have to say that the FHL's digitization projects will definitely mean less trips to SLC. I was just there in August and I found that I didn't have enough research work to keep me busy for the full week even with shorter hours. I spend time every week in my local FHC and it is significantly cheaper than the regular trips to SLC. I'll miss the camaraderie and the chance to visit with genealogists from other parts of the country. But even before the pandemic I found the FHL a less welcoming place, dominated by computers and people who had no idea why I would want to look at a record that was only available on microfilm. I have very very mixed feelings about this change.

While it is nice that the records have been digitised for preservation purposes, the fact remains that four years ago I could order a microfilm and research records from far away from me and now I cannot. There is as much chance of me getting to Salt Lake City as the moon!
I understand that the record custodians set the limits s to accessibility so, perhaps, over time the digitised records will be available, at least at my local Family History Center.

As well, even the Family History centers don't have everything. It might taking visiting libraries, court houses, funeral homes, etc. in towns and villages a few hours or a days drive away. Not everything has been filmed by Family History.

I agree with Heather. I too have visited SLC from Canada every year since 1972 but have recently curtailed my visits. It is GREAT to have this digitization project complete and I am hoping the staff at FHL will finally have the time to work out the bugs in the existing digital collection. There are entire swaths of coverage that are restricted despite being identical in content to other portions of the same collection that are not restricted. I have tried bringing this anomaly to their attention but after four years there has still been no correction.

The more information that is online, particularly from credible primary sources, the better. That said, there is something about visiting the FHL that can't be duplicated from home. I go every couple years and spend 3 or 4 days practically living in the library, digging up everything I can. I spend the next couple years sorting through what I've found and planning my next visit; it pays to arrive with a plan that involves finding and retrieving, not analyzing. You can do the latter at home. With the restrictions as noted in the article re limited access to some records, home access is often limited, and it isn't always convenient to drive over to a nearby FHC, particularly in the time of COVID.

I love the atmosphere of the FHL. You can focus and concentrate on your research, unlike at home where you're often pulled multiple directions. I can never find the 4 or 5 hours of uninterrrupted concentration time needed to really resolve genealogy puzzles, or even to figure out what I need to go find next. You can do that at the FHL.

I would hope that they would put these digitized records online. Some of us have health issues and/or financial issues that make trips to FHL (or anywhere else) impossible.

Putting them online won't prevent those that need the in-person experience from going to the FHL. Not putting them online can keep those of us who can no longer travel from finding the information that we're searching for.

It is an exclusive act, not an inclusive one, choosing the abled over the disabled. It is no different than hiding the "good stuff" behind the paywalls like Ancestry and MyHeritage do. They are where many of us will never be able to access them.

The comments to this entry are closed.