Access from home, welllllll…
It’s a big milestone for FamilySearch.
A milestone it describes in its announcement today as one “83 years in the making.”1
“Today,” the blog post continues, “FamilySearch International announced the completion of a massive project to digitize its collection of millions of rolls of microfilm containing billions of family history records from around the world. The archive containing information on more than 11.5 billion individuals is now freely available to the public on FamilySearch.org.”2
Digitized, yes. And that is a major milestone — one that, thanks to a pandemic, took a tad longer than expected. When FamilySearch first announced the complete shift away from microfilm in 2017, it expected that the digitization project for its microfilm collection would be completed by the end of 2020.3
It was a process that was at times inconvenient, since some record sets we used to be able to order locally as microfilm became unavailable except at the Family History Library. And at times hugely inconvenient, since some record sets held only as vault microfilm went unavailable completely until digitization was complete.
But at least all the technological issues are done: future records captures will be born digital and that should greatly ease future access issues.
Freely available to the public… well… not so much. Not in the “at home at 3 a.m. in your bunny slippers” sense.
That’s not FamilySearch’s fault. Which doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Here’s the problem.
Lots of contracts for records copying were entered into well before there was anything remotely approaching home access via the internet. Those contracts don’t provide for real-time access online. And before the records can be made available for real-time access online, those contracts have to be revised.
Most records custodians have been great about entering into new agreements. Some have been real pains, literally pulling records back from even prior access levels,4 and some have simply been slow to respond.5 And of course FamilySearch doesn’t exactly have a phalanx of lawyers available to run around all over the world getting new agreements signed.
But until those new agreements are in place, there will still be records that are unavailable except… some only at the Family History Library, some at the FHL and affiliate libraries and centers, some at the FHL and centers only…
All is not lost for those of us at home at 3 a.m. in our bunny slippers.
We can use that time to send off a request to the Family History Library for a lookup and, if the record we need isn’t under a major contract lockdown, we can usually get what we need in three to five business days. The link is here for the Family History Library Record Lookup Service, and I can personally attest that it works, and quickly.6
So… kudos to FamilySearch for finishing the shift from microfilm to digital.
And kudos to all of the records custodians who’ve agreed to allow online access.
And c’mon, all you other records custodians… online access is a really good thing…
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Digitization done,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 21 Sep 2021).
- Laurie Bradshaw, “FamilySearch Completes Digitization of Massive Microfilm Collection,” FamilySearch Blog, posted 21 Sep 2021 (https://www.familysearch.org/blog/ : accessed 21 Sep 2021). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- See Judy G. Russell, “The end of microfilm,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 June 2017 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 21 Sep 2021). ↩
- We’re looking at you, City of Chicago… ↩
- C’mon, Judge of Probate, Cherokee County, Alabama, answer your email! I really need home access to at least the grantor-grantee indexes… ↩
- Not that I’m nervous about finishing up my renewal portfolio for certification or anything… ↩
also a congrads and kudos to the system for approving Affiliate Library status to public libraries left and right. In the past several years instead of the closest affiliate at a 40 min drive (non rush hour) the status in my area is 3, yes 3!!!, affiliates under a 40 minute drive, AND ONE IS WALKABLE (just under a mile, and increases my exercise for the day- a twofer). Thank you, thank you.
I’m still trying to figure out how to nudge my public library harder. (They asked me to speak, I said I’d do it for free if they’d consider becoming an affiliate, which is free, and… Crickets. Sigh…)
Bummer! My genealogical society library is an Affiliate Library and many people use it for that reason (because we do ask!).
Judy- THANKS for the info. I found 3 new death certificates!
P.S. good luck with your affiliate quest. I ask every library I deal with why they are not an affiliate with Family Search.
Thanks… I may have to go try again…
Judy, does becoming an affiliate library permit that library to provide Ancestry Library Edition at no cost to that library? I was under the (perhaps mistaken) assumption that the two are not connected.
I do believe these are apples and oranges — affiliate status gives access to FamilySearch records, and has nothing to do with Ancestry Library Edition (offered through ProQuest).
Thanks for explaining the complications with access, and for suggesting the Lookup Service!
Have they updated the icons for all these items to indicate they are now digital and get rid of microfilm icon?
It doesn’t appear to be all finished yet, and remember that SOME microfilm is available at specific FHCs. (And… sigh… sometimes only readily available there.)
But remember, you have a friend in Chicago to get to all those microfilm images that are not readily available! Even the ones that still show a roll of microfilm as the only option for most of the Naturalization Petitions.
But, alas, it is not really true.
One film that I want to see (1428120), had a DGS number assigned years ago, did not get scanned, and Family Search support replied to repeated inquiries over the past couple of years, in effect, “just wait”. Now that they are “done” I just looked and NO, it is not available in digital format (still just a film-reel icon) and so, in effect, not available anywhere. The film after that one (1428121) is digitized and starts with the continuation of the last item on the film that has not been scanned.
So, at first look it seems to me that this is rather like a “mission accomplished” (NOT!) .
Tom, this is my experience also… film 1279228 is microfilm only and only some of its content is duplicated on digitized films.
Again, I suspect that there’s going to be a gap between finishing the digitization and getting all the access turned on.
Yes, it’s like fixing its cataloguing errors – FamilySearch seems to know how to move forward, but dipping back a bit to fix things is exasperatingly difficult.
I suspect the digitization is done but the updating-of-icons isn’t.
Most likely, the reason that 1428120 is not available while 1428121 is available, is because the first item of the former includes an index to births, mariages, and deaths up to 1936, while the latest content on the latter is 1921 (100 years ago). There must be a privacy rule in effect for Connecticut. Technically, this privacy rule would also apply to the circulation of that film, if microfilm were still being circulated, although that may not have been as tightly enforced as the digital copy. Some of the privacy rules that exist now likely did not exist at the time the records were microfilmed. Granted, this doesn’t make the situation any less frustrating, but it may help explain the rationale.
What happens to all that microfilm at the FHL then? What takes its place?
Very glad that FamilySearch has been able to do all this digitization. Also, if you have the WiFi info for your local FHC, you can sit in the parking lot and access some of those items that still have restrictions.
I believe the film is still in the drawers, but when (not if, but when) it wears out and/or breaks beyond repair, it won’t be replaced. What’s taking its place are digital workstations instead of microfilm readers.
And then there are those records that are digitized that cannot even be seen if you go to SLC to the FHL in person, such as records from the Philippines. Only members of the church to view them.
Yep, and FamilySearch can’t do anything more about those either. The default in the scanning contracts is access for everyone from home. If they can’t get that, then the fallback is access for everyone at one of the libraries or centers. And if they can’t get that, then the last resort is church members only.
Unfortunately there’s still some items restricted for implausible reasons. I can’t get access to a turn of the century city directory, and it doesn’t make sense that it has anything to do with privacy or copyright.
Can I tell you how much I enjoy reading your footnotes! 🙂
I just checked all the film numbers that have been mentioned. They are available online at the Family History Library, which means they should be at centers and affiliate libraries.