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Overheard in GenForum: LDS Family History Center/films
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

May 10, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Would someone be able to tell me if the LDS family history centers all have copies of the censuses on site, or do they have to request them from a central location each time a visitor wants to view them? -- Lisa

A: Family History Centers or FHCs are branches of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The Family History Library is home to over two million rolls of microfilm and thousands of volumes. When combined with the microfiche and computerized databases, the holdings and data found at the Family History Library are quite impressive.

Of course, if the holdings are at the Family History Library, does that mean that you must go to Salt Lake City to take advantage of their impressive holdings? This is where Family History Centers play a role.

FHCs offer a connection to most of the holdings of the FHL.

Purpose of an FHC

It is important to understand the motivation behind the Family History Library and its many branches. The Family History Library is an extension of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church members believe that families can be together even after death provided certain religious ordinances are completed. In the case of deceased members, such religious ordinances are accomplished by proxy as a living relative goes through the ordinance in the deceased family member's stead.

As a result of these beliefs, a lot of money, time, and resources have been pledged to the endeavor of amassing a collection of records so that Latter-day Saints can accomplish this work. Of course, not all Latter-day Saints live in Salt Lake City, so a system was devised that allowed those living elsewhere to have access to at least some of the holdings found in the Family History Library.

Enter the Family History Centers. These branches of the main library are generally found in local chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many people know this religion by the slang name Mormons, though they prefer their correct name. Because the branches are found in local chapels, they do not have the space that the main library has. In fact, even the main library has been experiencing growing pains of late, moving the published family histories to another building, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which is about a block away.

Most Family History Centers are two to three rooms in size. These rooms are not especially large, though they usually suffice. There are a few, generally those found in centers attached to Latter-day Saint Temples. Also, there are a few public libraries that have established Family History Centers, and you are allowed to order microfilms to these FHCs as well.

What You Will Find

There are some constants as you go from FHC to FHC. These are found on microfiche or CD-ROM. They include the various FamilySearch databases, as well as fiche versions of some of these databases including the International Genealogical Index and the Family History Library Catalog. There are no standard microfilms though that you can expect to find at each center.

Before you order a film or fiche, you will want to investigate the holdings of your center. Some of the larger ones have worked hard to amass complete collections of some things. For instance, the Family History Center at Brigham Young University has the complete Index to Civil Registration for England and Wales on microfilm.

Items on fiche are perhaps the hardest to understand. People think they are purchasing them. In fact, they are paying for their permanent loan to the Family History Center. You cannot take the fiche home, but once you have ordered it, it will remain at the Family History Center for you and others to use.

Permanent Loan

When ordering a film, there are three levels to which the film can be ordered. There is a 30-day loan period. This is usually what people do for most of the films they want. This offers enough time to search the film, evaluating whether or not additional time will be needed to work with the film.

Should the 30-day loan period not be enough to go through the records, you then have an option for a 60-day renewal. This time is added on to the original time. This offers you a total of 90 days to view the film.

Of course, there are still some records that you will find yourself returning to repeatedly. When your ancestors stayed in a given locality for many generations, and as you discover new names, you will need to return to those same records. In such a case, there are times when you will find it better to have a film available at any time you visit your Family History Center. Such films can be placed on Indefinite Loan.

Indefinite loan is the third level of microfilm ordering. There may be times when instead of going through the other two levels, you already know that the film in question is one that you wish to have available permanently. It is possible to request the film on Indefinite Loan right from the beginning. The staff at your local Family History Center can assist you with this.

In Conclusion

Each Family History Center is different. The permanent loan collections will vary based on the interests of the patrons for that area. You are able to take advantage of the indefinite loan films at any time you visit the center, as well as those films that other patrons have on temporary loan, provided they of course are not using them. Before ordering any films, be sure to check with the staff to see if the film is already available through one of these other avenues.

While the holdings of any given Family History Center are meager when compared to the complete holdings of the Family History Library, it is through the Family History Center that you have access to most of the other records on microfilm. Though you may have a slight delay of a couple of weeks as the films are ordered, at least you will get them.

In regard to census records, it is possible that you may have access to them through another local repository. If your public library has a large genealogy department it is possible that the census records are available there.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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