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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”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 ( : posted 21 Sep 2021).


  1. Laurie Bradshaw, “FamilySearch Completes Digitization of Massive Microfilm Collection,” FamilySearch Blog, posted 21 Sep 2021 ( : accessed 21 Sep 2021).
  2. Ibid.
  3. See Judy G. Russell, “The end of microfilm,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 June 2017 ( : accessed 21 Sep 2021).
  4. We’re looking at you, City of Chicago…
  5. C’mon, Judge of Probate, Cherokee County, Alabama, answer your email! I really need home access to at least the grantor-grantee indexes…
  6. Not that I’m nervous about finishing up my renewal portfolio for certification or anything…
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