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Overheard in GenForum: Family History Center
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.

October 12, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I finally got to go to my local LDS today. I went armed with my sheet of names and dates. I initially was wanting death certificates and was told since these deaths occurred after 1920 I believe, that they wouldn't have them. That if they were older than that, they would. My grandparents died in the 30s and 40s. So does this mean to get copies of this information I'll have to write to the appropriate state and/or county? Now I'm confused as to what I can get from a Family History Center. -- Lora

A: There are many misconceptions about Family History Centers. Some people are concerned about their location. Others are not aware of what they should expect to find at the Center.

Some of these misconceptions are the result of miscommunication between staff and patrons. Others are the result of assumptions before a person has gone.

There are many misconceptions about Family History Centers.

What Is a Family History Center?

Family History Centers are branches of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Family History Library in Utah, offers patrons to that library a chance to access millions of records. However, not everyone can afford to take a trip to the library.

Even if you can manage a trip from time to time, you still want to access those records in between your visits to the main library. It is through the Family History Centers that you have such an option.

Family History Centers are like the branch libraries of your public library. You search the catalog, locate the record of interest, and then request it be sent to your branch library. Family History Centers are very similar. You locate the microfilm or fiche that you are interested in and then fill out a request form. The request is then transmitted to Salt Lake City and the film or fiche is sent to your local Family History Center for your use.

A Few Basic Guidelines

At the present time it is not possible to request books. Unlike the microfilms, which they have multiple copies of, most of their books are single copies. Therefore, the books remain at the main library. In some instances you will see that in addition to a book version, they may also have the book on microfilm or microfiche. In the library catalog, such information is found at the bottom of the entry in question.

With the computerized catalog, this is sometimes overlooked because of the way the screens are displayed. You need to pay attention to the total number of pages and be sure to view all of them. You may find that the book you want can be ordered on microfilm.

If the book is not already available on microfilm, you can ask the staff for the "Request to Microfilm" form. This is filled out and sent to the Family History Library. They will then contact the author of the book in question for permission to microfilm. As you can imagine, this process does take some time.

One other misconception deals with the microfiche. When renting a microfilm it is for a set time period. You can rent it for 30 days, then renew it for 60 additional days, and finally pay to have it at your Center permanently. However, people tend to misunderstand about the microfiche. They get the impression they are purchasing it, and often take it out of the Family History Center. While you are paying the cost of the fiche, it is just like paying for a permanent rental of microfilm. The microfiche need to be left at the Family History Center.

What Records Are Available

The Family History Library Catalog lists over two million microfilms. Many of those microfilms have more than one item on them. You can see that this is a large number of records available. And this doesn't even include those available on microfiche.

Records though are directly related to the locality and time period in question. For instance, the seventeenth century Massachusetts records are abundant. However, records for some of the counties in Florida are not as thorough. There are also cutoff dates for most of the records that have been microfilmed. Most of the records that have been filmed up to this point have concentrated on pre-1920 records. Some of the indexes though do go much further, some up to the year the records were microfilmed.

When visiting your local Family History Center and checking for record availability, it is important to understand what records have been generated by the state or county in question. One of the best ways to do this is to read the Research Outline for the state in question. These are available at all Family History Centers.

The types of records that are microfilmed include vital records, wills, land records, probate records, books of cemeteries, family histories, some newspapers, and obituaries.

Standard Resources

Most Family History Centers, by the nature of their size, cannot hold large collections of microfilms like the main Family History Library. Most Family History Centers are located in a few rooms of the local chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

However, there are certain resources that are standard at each Family History Center. These include the various CD-ROM databases, selected microfiche — mostly gazetteers and other general books, the fiche version of the Family History Library Catalog and International Genealogical Index, the AIS census indexes and other resources.

In Conclusion

Family History Centers are extensions of the Family History Library. They do not try to duplicate the holdings of the Family History Library, but they do offer you an avenue for borrowing from the holdings of the Family History Library. However, because the majority of the records need to be ordered, you will find that there are times when you will have to submit your order and other times when you can work with those records immediatley.

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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