Tips for Researching at Family History Centers
Wild offers advice on how to get the most from your local
FamilySearch program is one of the key resources available
at Family History Centers.
past seven years, I have served as volunteer director at one
of the busiest Family History Centers (FHCs) in the world.
There are now over 3,600 FHCs in the world and no two have
exactly the same local collection or volunteer staff expertise.
Call 1-800-346-6044 or visit www.familysearch.com to find
out how many centers there are in your region. Visit each
of your local centers and make yourself familiar with those
that have collections or staff expertise in your current area
of research interest.
Check out the Family History Library Catalog. The
heart of every FHC is the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC),
an indexed record of the over two billion records in the vaults
of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. It
is available in every FHC in either fiche or computer disc
format and frequently both. The LDS Church has hundreds of
currently active volunteer filming teams in countries around
the world and tens of thousands of new records are added each
year. The FHLC is updated frequently and a 1999 update is
now in FHCs so if you have not checked it out recently then
you should do so since records of interest to you may have
Ask if you can look at films borrowed by other patrons.
In a busy FHC, hundreds of films are borrowed from the Salt
Lake Distribution Center each month by patrons of the FHC
and most librarians keep a record of the titles of borrowed
films that are in the library. With permission of the staff
you can look at any borrowed films of interest to you and,
by asking for the name of the patron who ordered the film,
you may find a researcher with a common interest.
Ask to look at older versions of the IGI. The International
Genealogical Index (IGI) is one of the largest genealogical
databases in the world and is available in all FHCs in either
fiche or computer disc format and frequently both. The IGI
is a living index since tens of thousands of new names are
added each month and the IGI is updated on a two-year cycle
that can see as many as 25 million new names added. For reasons
that are peculiar to the LDS Church, names are sometimes removed
from the IGI so it is often useful to look at older fiche
versions if the ancestor you are researching is not found
on the current version of the IGI. Most FHCs have the 1992
fiche version and some have the earlier 1988 version that
included the names of several hundred thousand Holocaust victims.
4. Ask to see the latest Parish List. The
IGI is compiled principally from parish records and the names
of ancestors submitted by the 10 million members of the LDS
Church and extracted by the Church extraction program. Not
all parishes have allowed their records to be filmed and even
some of those that have been filmed are not yet included on
the IGI and may not be for some time. Each FHC has a parish
list on fiche that is updated twice each year and lists all
of the parish records that are on the IGI and the years covered.
Again this is an active list that is added to frequently,
but keep in mind that the parish records added will not be
available to patrons of the library until the next update
of the IGI. However, a search of the Family History Library
Catalog will uncover the film number for all parish records
available for loan at the FHC and this will include parishes
on the IGI and those that are not yet included. Even if your
ancestor is on the IGI you may want to borrow the filmed records
so that you can see the actual record and search for other
ancestors who may be living in the parish but who are as yet
undiscovered by you.
Do a surname search of the Family History Library Catalog.
The computer software installed in FHCs is called FamilySearch
and is designed to help you gain access to the over two billion
records in the vaults of the Family History Library. One search
that is frequently overlooked but which can pay big dividends
is a simple surname search that can be found on the FamilySearch
menu. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has archived
over 150,000 family histories submitted by members and non-members
of the Church and these contain not only biographical material
but multi-generation pedigrees of the families they cover.
By typing into the computer the surname in which you are interested
and doing the surname search you will be presented with a
list of all of the family histories that include the search
surname. It will be up to you to select the family histories
that appear to be of interest and, when one is found that
you believe includes your ancestors, to borrow the film and
search filmed pages of the actual family history.
When you complete a successful search of the IGI, make sure
you check the source data. When searching the IGI
it is often possible to obtain additional information beyond
that which is included in the computer record. When you find
an IGI record in which you have an interest, press the enter
key and additional information will be presented to you. By
pressing enter again, the source of that information will
be shown and this can be of tremendous value. If the source
indicated is a Church Temple batch file then it will be of
very limited use to you. On the other hand, if the source
is a Family Group Sheet, then you could be in luck. Family
Group Sheets are old records submitted by Church members and
they frequently include three generations or more of a family
and most importantly the name of the record submitter. Each
FHC has a form called Requisition for Photocopies IGI Sources
form 31831 and, for a fee of $2, up to eight IGI records can
be submitted and photocopies of the Family Group Sheets will
be made for you and mailed in about 4-6 weeks.
On IGI searches, always make a note of the film number that
contains the name you have found. Often when searching
the IGI the detail on the parish in which the event occurred
is skimpy and you need more information on the location and
the parish. You should make a note of the film number, which
is included at the end of each line on the fiche or by pressing
enter twice for a highlighted name when searching by computer.
Then, from the FamilySearch menu, enter the film number you
have made a note of in the film search number field and full
details on the parish will be presented. Since there may be
several parishes listed on one film you may have to scroll
a few pages to get to the one you want. By pressing enter
one more time a list of FHCs who have this film on permanent
loan will be shown and if there is one close to you it will
allow you to save waiting time and money.
Ask if you can use the FamilySearch computer software to copy
your data to a computer disk. For those researchers
who do not have a computer at home and wish to enter their
ancestral information into a computer file to be able to submit
it to archives and online databases, Personal Ancestral File
(PAF) may be the answer. Each computer-equipped FHC has PAF
loaded as part of the FamilySearch program and patrons of
the library may book computer time and enter their paper files
into a computer at no cost to them other than for a floppy
disk on which to store the data entered. These disks are usually
available at the FHC at around $1 each and allow patrons to
submit data to Ancestral File and many online databases like
ancestry.com, myfamily.com, rootsweb.com and mytrees.com that
will present your information to a world audience.
Be sure to do an Ancestral File computer search for names
in which you have an interest. Ancestral File is
another FamilySearch program loaded on computers at your FHC
and it too can be a powerful tool if an ancestral name in
which you have an interest is found. Over 40 million persons
are linked in family pedigrees and it is not uncommon to find
as many as 15 or 20 linked generations of an ancestral line
included. Your own ancestral information can be submitted
and will be included in future annual updates of Ancestral
File. You may submit your family tree to Ancestral File but
one requirement of submitting data is that you must agree
to include your name and address and allow yourself to be
contacted by interested parties. Some pedigrees have a dozen
or more different submitters and they represent a valuable
source of additional information and frequently are the means
for discovering fellow researchers and unknown family branches
who have an ancestor or ancestors in common with you.
Ask if there is a Research Outline for the area in which you
are researching. Most FHCs keep a file of research
outlines on every US state, Canadian province and most countries
of the world. These are available at a nominal cost, usually
under $1, and are filled with information on the location
of record repositories for birth, marriage, death, military,
family history and genealogical societies, national and regional
archives and special records collections. The research outlines
often include details on where records on the history, important
biographies and ethnicity of the area can be found. These
usually become most valuable when the obvious sources are
exhausted and a more sophisticated level of research is required.
Ask to see a list of genealogy CDs available in the FHC local
collection. The LDS Church has not allowed its Family
History Centers to have Internet connections as of this writing
but has recently created a website at www.familysearch.com
that has become one of the busiest sites on the Internet.
Additionally, most FHCs have acquired CDs that allow patrons
to search some of the more important genealogy CD collections.
These are usually focussed on the areas of interest relevant
to the patrons of each individual library. My Toronto FHC
has the 1881 British Census Index CDs, British and US Vital
Records CDs, 15 of the Brøderbund World Family Tree
CDs, The Canadian Genealogical Index CD, The New England Register
CDs from NEHGS and many others that patrons find useful in
their researches. There are over 1,000 genealogy CDs now available
and most FHCs have obtained the ones most important to their
the IGI’s search filters is essential when searching
a common name. It is also important to search both the
main file and the addendum, as both contain many millions
Ask if the FHC has a collection of period maps for the areas
in which you are researching. When searching the
IGI or census films it is not uncommon to find ancestral families
living in small towns and villages with which you are not
familiar and you may reject them as not coming from the town
in which your ancestors are known to have lived. My own ancestors
come from Bradford, Yorkshire, England but this city has incorporated
more than 20 villages that were formerly completely separate
and distinct places. They seem to have disappeared from modern
maps and you need to look at period maps to see the villages
at the time your ancestors lived there. All family history
centers have a select collection of maps usually associated
with the special geographic interests of their patrons and
collection. Use this resource so that you can better understand
the geographic area in which your ancestors lived. Look at
maps at different periods in time so that you can see that
villages in which ancestors lived were really within walking
distance of each other. It is not at all uncommon for ancestors
to have been born in one village, married in another and raised
children in a third, all of which are now incorporated into
a differently named urban area.
Ask if the FHC has Ancestry’s Redbook that shows the
formation of US counties over the years. The problem
of villages being incorporated into larger urban areas exists
in reverse in many US states. At the time of statehood a few
very large counties were incorporated and as the population
grew these were divided time and time again gaining another
county seat each time at which vital, marriage, land and court
records might be archived. A good example of this is Buffalo
County, North Dakota formed in 1864 from unorganized land
and parts of two other counties. Over a period of 10 years
Bottineau, Burleigh, De Smet, Gingras, Kidder, Logan, Mountrail,
Renville, Rolette, Sheridan, Stevens, Stutsman, Wallette and
Wells counties were formed from Buffalo County. If an ancestor
was born in Buffalo County, North Dakota it is possible for
him or her to have married in one county, had children in
another and died in yet another without actually ever having
moved from the town in which he or she was born. Most FHCs
have state maps at different periods of their development
and usually a copy of Ancestry’s Redbook that not only
has county maps but the dates on which counties were formed
and from where, also the county seat and dates from which
Ask FHC staff if they have patron researchers or staff who
have expertise in the areas you are searching. Perhaps
the best resources in any FHC are the hundreds of dedicated
researchers who have for years worked away at building ancestral
pedigrees. Most of them are pleased to be able to share their
expertise in a country or state with a new researcher. Keep
in mind that most researchers take their work very seriously
and do not like to be interrupted. Approach them through the
staff of the FHC who may know who is working on what —
the staff are less likely to be rebuffed if they pose a question
to busy researchers.
Familiarize yourself with the FHC book collection.
Most FHCs have over the years built a book library and have
an excellent collection of books usually relating to subjects
and areas most frequently researched by library patrons. Familiarize
yourself with the book collection since you will likely find
material that will be useful to you in your research. Most
libraries require that books be read on the premises but it
is usually possible to photocopy a page or two that are of
special interest without violating copyright laws.
fiche collection shows worldwide parish records that
are available for loan.
Search the IGI on fiche to better track family relationships.
Since the IGI is principally an index of parish records, many
of which have existed since 1550, it is often possible to
trace many generations of a family in one parish. Most library
patrons doing this head for the computer since this is perceived
to be the fastest way of searching and the current computer
records contain millions more names than the fiche record.
However, when doing a multi-generation search, the IGI fiche
(which are organized by area and then alphabetically by surname
and chronologically by event) are much easier to analyze.
You can also photocopy pages of the fiche for a nominal fee
and continue your research at home.
17. Ask the FHC staff to show you how to do a filter
search of the IGI. An IGI computer search for a popular
surname often turns up tens of thousands of records covering
a 500-year period and can be quite overwhelming. It is possible
to modify the search to include only a county, state or province
and a time range and this allows your search to be much more
focussed and less overwhelming. It is called a filter search.
If you can’t figure out how to do this, the center staff
will be pleased to help.
When searching the IGI make sure you search both the Main
file and the Addendum. Many new searchers of the
IGI on computer are not aware that there is a main file and
an addendum file search. The addendum file contains about
90 million recently-added names and can be accessed by selecting
the F9 key on the keyboard. You will be directed to select
a CD from the 17 CD addendum collection.
Search the British Biographical Index and Periodical Index
on fiche for possible background on ancestral families.
Many researchers are now writing family histories and are
looking for historical or biographical material on the period
in which ancestors lived. Two tremendous FHC resources are
the Periodical Index and the British Biographical Index, both
of which can be found on fiche in most FHCs. The Periodical
Index may refer you to a public library that has the information
you need and usually this can be photocopied and sent in the
mail for a nominal fee.
Use the forms available at your FHC to help organize your
data. As research progresses, organizing the data
collected can become a nightmare. FHCs have a variety of forms
to help you record, organize and arrange your research results.
These include family group sheet form 31827, pedigree charts
form 31826, census schedules for which you will need to select
country and census year and research log form PFGS3082. All
are available for purchase singly or in packs for a nominal
amount from the staff at the center.
Talk with a country research specialist in Salt Lake City.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City maintains a staff
of research specialists who can offer suggestions on which
of the FHC records would be most likely to contain information
that will help you with your research. The staff at your center
will give you the phone number to call for the country specialist
Ask about foreign language letter writing guides.
Researchers doing research in foreign countries who need help
writing letters to parishes or government departments for
record extractions and certificates will find letter writing
guides in the country research guides. The research guides
also include the addresses for major government departments,
central archives and are usually available for $1. French
and German letter writing guides are available for 25 cents
and can be requested by the form numbers 34059 and 34066 respectively.
If you are considering hiring a researcher, ask the FHC staff
for a list of accredited professional genealogists.
Many researchers often reach a point at which they require
the help of a professional researcher either for a consultation
or to get them over a difficult research problem. Each FHC
carries a list containing the names of accredited professional
researchers with the areas in which they are accredited and
their specialization. There is also a very useful guide called
Hiring A Professional Genealogist (form number 34548) that
is available free at your center.
Try the FHC’s Personal Ancestral File software, and
if you like it, ask how you can obtain a copy for free.
Personal Ancestral File (PAF) was one of the first programs
developed to help computer users organize and chart their
ancestral research. It has always been available to use on
the FHC computers at no cost and patrons wishing to purchase
a copy could do so from the LDS Distribution Center. In 1999
the LDS Church decided to make the latest version PAF 4.0
available for free to those who wished to download it from
the LDS Church website at www.familysearch.com.
Ask to see the Family History Publications List.
There are many other publications and instructional materials
that are available at your FHC. A brochure available at FHCs
called Family History Publications List contains a complete
list of the resources available to patrons of the center and
if you ask the staff you will be allowed to examine this list
to see if there are items that could help you further your
History Center staff are all volunteers. They are not people
who have nothing else to do with their time but are very busy
people who have chosen to share their professional expertise
with patrons of the library in a very altruistic manner. There
are never enough people who are prepared to share their time
in this manner where the principal reward is the satisfaction
that comes from unselfishly helping others. In order to optimize
your research experiences, you will find it advisable to make
appointments and to develop friendly relationships with staff
and fellow patrons.
article originally appeared in the May/June 2000 issue of