Friday, February 28, 2014

Family History Hints, Part 13

One of the first research options many people learn about, when starting their family history quest, is the FamilySearch website. But that one doesn't get expensive advertising like, so if people aren't made aware of it, it can go unnoticed. Such was the case on Genealogy Roadshow, so I took on the task of introducing the staff to the free database collection, their microfilm collection, and the services of the Family History Library and satellite research locations.

Family History Center

Is there a Family History (or FamilySearch) Center near you? And what is it anyway?

Way back in the time BC (before computers) - that would be the 1930s for our story - the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, decided that it would be a good idea for everyone in the Church (AKA Mormon Church) to know about their ancestors. The reasons for this are based in the religious tenets of the Church and are a topic for another time and place. So was formed the Genealogical Society of Utah.

The perfect storage place for family records was carved out of the granite hills in the Wasatch Mountains and vault rooms were formed to protect the most precious of documents and records of them for all the rest of time. And the microfilming crews went out to record documents in all the repositories of the WORLD that they could. Wow! Can you imagine?

OK, so here it is, the 1930s and beyond, and records that would be destroyed in WWII have been microfilmed and the reels tucked away safe from the War overseas. Yes, many records were destroyed, but many were preserved because of the Mormon Church’s filming efforts. Soon repositories all over the earth were asking the Mormons to come in and film their records so that they would be safe from natural and man-made disasters (just ask the people in New Orleans about the records that were destroyed during hurricane Katrina - bunches. But were they devastated? No. Why? The copies were safe on microfilms in Salt Lake City). Three cheers for record preservation (I’ll let you do that on your own time).

So many genealogists make pilgrimages to Salt Lake City to view these marvelous records for themselves. Everything is carefully catalogued (see earlier post about browsing and searching record collections) and easy to view. For free. (And the Family History Library in SLC has the most amazing chairs to sit in while viewing at a microfilm reader for, yes indeed, as much as 13 hours straight, at times - breaks are recommended, however.) But not everyone has the time or money to visit the library (originally the Genealogy Library, but now the Family History Library - considered a more user-friendly name - it was changed in the 1980s). What to do? Rent the films desired and have them shipped to your local Family History Center (AKA FamilySearch Center - though the name change here is a bit confusing with lots of controversy . . . don’t ask me about this). Rentals can be done via credit card, on-line, and films are shipped to the Director of the Family History Center (FHC) identified at time of ordering (for Corona, that means they come to me and I take them into the Corona FHC). The cost is a little less than $10 for a single reel (usually with thousands of document images) with a rental period of 90 days. Cheap at 10 times the price . . . to order a single one of those documents from the original repository would take about 4 to 8 weeks’ wait and probably $20+ for just one. Besides, the funding helps pay for the chairs in SLC (wish our FHC could requisition just one of those chairs!).

OK, so here is where we are, 2013. Over 200 film crews (that’s at least 2 people per crew) are filming and digitizing (more and more digital cameras are being used these days) all over the world. Each repository has its own specs, though, and those are written up in contracts. Some say that the records are not permitted to be digitized to put up on line. Others say that the only use can be in SLC, not to be lent to outside FHCs (there are thousands of these around the world and likely over a hundred in California, so there is probably one within a short distance of wherever you are). Some have no restrictions. In all cases, when the films are created, the repository gets a copy and a copy is put in the vault. When needed, another copy is made and sent out the Family History Library or to an outlying FHC. Some films are never used; others are used so often they start to get worn terribly. No problem - the original is still in the vault and never viewed; it is used to make a replacement copy.

No time here to go into the details of how many of these films are now available to us on line. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

One piece of trivia, though: When I said that the Family History Library was originally the Genealogy Library, the other reason for the name change is that so much more than genealogy is done there. You see (and I’m not suggesting a change in the name of the TV show), Genealogy refers to the Names, Dates, and Places of a person and his/her life (bor--ing). But Family History is everything else: the occupations, hobbies, incarcerations, education, awards, military experiences, religions, etc. that make up the life of a person and his/her family. So, I guess, we are really working on the Family History Roadshow . . . but that’s a mouthful.

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