Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 2, # 11

LDS Family History Centers: While the Allen County Library system in Fort Wayne is now considered the largest genealogical library in the nation, the Family History LibraryTM of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City is a close second. Of greatest interest to genealogists are the LDS Family History Centers (FHC). Worldwide, there are over 3,000 LDS facilities and while they are each unique in character and offerings, resources are available in each to assist genealogists in their research.

Quoting from A Guide to Research, here is a brief overview of the Mormon philosophy for genealogy.

"Why do members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do family history research? They do it because they are motivated by love for their deceased family members and desire to serve them.

Life does not end at death. When we die, our eternal spirits go to a spirit world, where we continue to learn while we await the Resurrection and Final Judgment. Members of the Church believe that the family can also continue beyond the grave, not just until death. This is possible when parents and their children make special promises, called covenants, in sacred temples. These covenants, when made with the authority of God and faithfully kept, can unite families for eternity.

Members of the Church believe that their deceased ancestors can also receive the blessings of being eternally united with their families. For this purpose, Church members make covenants in temples in behalf of their ancestors, who may accept these covenants in the spirit world. In order to make covenants for their ancestors, members must first identify them."

For those unfamiliar with the Mormon acronyms, here are five of the most used:

  • FHC – Family History Center.
  • FHL – Family History Library (in Salt Lake City)
  • FHLC – Family History Library Catalog
  • IGI - International Genealogical Index
  • LDS – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church)

Beginning in 1894, the Genealogical Society of Utah began gathering records to help members with ancestral research. Record preservation on microfilm began in 1938. Between 1964 (when the centers were established) and 1996, the program boasted over 2,650 centers in 64 countries and territories. The centers can be found in the local LDS churches or ‘stakes’ and are staffed by volunteers (primarily but not exclusively LDS members). Hours and resources vary from site to site based on the size of the ‘stake’ and usage of the facility. The records are available to everyone free of charge.

The holdings of each center start with a "core collection" of microfiche records. This core collection contains a cross-section of information from around the world. About half of the collection is gazetteers, for the U.S. and other parts of the world. Many of these are old and out of print, but can be valuable when looking for places which no longer exist. Other holdings in each FHC are at the discretion of the Director. Some centers have designated a "specialty" which is appropriate for the make-up of the community. Other books in the collection are often those donated by patrons or may be purchased by the center due to heavy usage by patrons.

Microfilms and microfiche found in the FHLC may be rented from Salt Lake City by patrons for use in the FHC. Microfilms are kept in the FHC for a specific period of time and some may even be retained on "indefinite loan" at the discretion of the local director. Microfiche rented from Salt Lake City by patrons are NOT returned, but kept in the local center for ongoing use.

Some local resources may be available, depending on the relationship with other organizations in the community. The LDS in Salt Lake City sets basic guidelines for FHCs of various sizes, but within those guidelines the rules may vary by center. For example, the hours are set locally, and will be governed by demand and available resources, particularly by the availability of volunteer librarians.

It is always a good idea to call before visiting to check on hours, rules, any fees, etc. Some centers have a sign-up list for equipment (computers especially, but sometimes microfilm and microfiche readers are also limited), which you may need to reserve in advance of your visit. Even though there’s no charge for using Family History Centers, donations are appreciated to enhance the holdings and maintain the equipment.

Here is a brief introduction to a number of the CD-ROM computer database resources available in the local Family History Centers.

Ancestral File is a database of linked pedigrees containing millions of individuals. The first edition was issued in 1989, and updates are issued periodically. The first entries were from LDS members, but submissions are accepted from both members and non-members. Instructions for submitting and correcting information in Ancestral File are available at the FHC or online. The advantage of Ancestral File is the linked pedigrees. Searches may be made by surname only, or by surname and given name. The database index usually shows name, date of birth, state or country, and parent or spouse's name where there is a match but not always. Living individuals are excluded from Ancestral File - there will only be a listing of LIVING with no name, gender or dates to indicate the existence of a child or parent. Information on the submitter(s) of the information is sometimes available and should be used to contact others researching individuals found in Ancestral File. Be aware that information is not verified by the Family History Library. Files are submitted ‘as is’ and should be verified through other sources. Although download of GEDCOM’s is available, import them into another new database where you can preview the information first. Then enter only the information you document, showing the appropriate sources for the information.

The IGI is an index/database of event information (specifically birth, christening and marriage). Information on living persons is not included. Information contained within the index derived from three principal sources: Extracted, submitted and membership records. This database contains well over 200 million entries, and millions more are added annually. The database is periodically re-issued to include these updates. There are microfiche and CD-ROM versions of the IGI. The most recent CD-ROM update was issued as an Addendum to the previous edition, so it is necessary to search BOTH editions to make sure entries are not missed. The database is organized geographically to limit the search. The user selects the appropriate region, then enters the search criteria, which is at least surname, but may include given name and an approximate event date. Matching entries are displayed alphabetically by first name, then by date of event. Search for similar names (not exact names) as it is faster AND may catch any misspellings of the surname. Searches may be made by Individual, Marriage, or Parent. Results when searching by Parent will include any children shown with that person as parent.

The Social Security Death Index is included in the FamilySearch programs on CD-ROM at the FHC. This database includes millions of deceased Americans. The FHC CD-ROM database is updated about every 2-3 years. Note: Not every American is listed who has died since Social Security started in 1936. It includes only those deaths that were reported to the Social Security Administration. Every single worker was not covered by Social Security (deaths of many farmers, self-employed people, government and railroad workers, etc., were not reported and are not included). The database was begun in the 1960’s and earlier deaths are being added as time permits.

The Military Index is a list of U.S. military fatalities from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. The information for each individual gives name, rank, branch of service, birth date/place, residence, death date/place, religious affiliation, and race. For the Vietnam dead it also includes the number of the panel of the Vietnam Memorial on which the name is found.

Source Guides for most major states, provinces/counties, and countries are covered by the Family History Library collections, such as research topics for genealogists, historical maps, letter-writing guides for non-English-speaking countries, word lists of genealogical terms with English translations, forms and worksheets, and, addresses for the larger FHCs. These guides can be very helpful in identifying resources and establishing research strategies. They’re available on CD-ROM in many Family History Centers and can be purchased from Salt Lake City. Other resources are the 1881 British census, Scottish Old Parochial Registers, Australian Vital Records, Personal Ancestral File® (PAF), a genealogy database program and TempleReady®, a program for LDS members use in preparing their research for the temple ordinances.

There are millions of records available in the Family History Library on microfilm, microfiche, and in books. Many of these are stored in the Granite Mountain Record Vault. They’re indexed in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) and available on microfiche, CD and online at www.familysearch.org. Searches can be by surname, locality, author/title or subject. Not all records are available for research outside Salt Lake City, so read summaries carefully. Microfilm/microfiche records available range from copies of individual research to complete copies of church records, court records, cemetery records, and census. Before making a research trip anywhere, check the FHLC to determine which records are available through the FHC, then, use your on-site time to study other records.

There are some misconceptions concerning the use of LDS records and the Family History Centers that can be dispelled. First, the purpose of the Family History Center is genealogy. For information regarding Mormon beliefs, request it by mail/email or talk to a member. Conversion isn’t the purpose of the Family History Centers. Second, more than likely your family genealogy probably isn’t on the shelf or in a database waiting for you to find it. You will probably have to do some digging. Third, while download capability is available, the databases are secondary sources. The information is only as accurate as the person who submitted it. Since you have no way of knowing where that person got the information, everything you find is a clue which must be validated against original records. Fourth, librarians are not created equal - each has unique talents and interests. If the one you meet on your first visit doesn't have the expertise to help you, try another time. Some FHCs may even have an "experts list" to help you find the right librarian to help you with a particular research area.

Check out these references for help in using the FHC more effectively.

A couple of excellent web sites for other information are Cyndi's List Links regarding LDS and FHC and Dear Myrtle’s Family History Center Lessons.

Repeat Performance records programs both of national and regional genealogical conferences. A search engine allows you to search for other presentations by title or presenter. Here are some excellent examples that may be of interest.

  • Anderson, Lynn. "The New Ancestral File." Salt Lake City: Genealogy from A To Z, Utah Genealogical Association, May 1997. UGA35.
  • Auslander, Jordon. "Doing Research at the LDS (Mormon) Family History Centers." Washington, DC: 14th Summer Seminar on Jewish Genealogy, June 1995. DJSNYJB1
  • Burroughs, Tony. "Using the LDS for African-American Genealogy." Seattle, WA: From Sea to Shining Sea, The Federation of Genealogical Societies and The Seattle Genealogical Society, September 1995. SW-142.
  • Clifford, Karen. "Using the FHLC on CD." Salt Lake City: Bring Your Ancestors to Life, April 1998. UGAC9866.
  • Mann, Alan. "Lineage-linked Databases: Ancestral File, World Family Tree." Salt Lake City: Bring Your Ancestors to Life, April 1998. UGAC98102.
  • Snow, Barbara J. "An Introduction to the LDS Family History Centers." Fort Wayne, IN: The Great Lakes Genealogy Conference, August 1994. GL-16.

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Genealogy Workshop

Fact: More information can be found in The Library: A Guide to the LDS Family History Library edited by Johni Cerny and Wendy Elliott (Heritage Room copy at H 929.1 LIB) and Ron Wild’s articles "Family History Centers" and "Why Can't I Find My English Ancestors on the IGI?" in the May/June 1998 issue of Family Chronicle.

Tip: To locate a Family History Center, use the online search at http://www.familysearch.org/Search/searchfhc2.asp or phone: 1-800-346-6044. To order LDS genealogical reference materials, logon to the website at http://www.familysearch.org/ or phone 1-800-537-5950. There are three ‘stakes’ in the Huntsville area. Two within the city limits and one in Madison.