What is a Family History Library?

S. Gonzales

When people speak about a family history library, they often are referring to a Family History Library owned and operated by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), but in a general sense, the term can refer to any genealogical library. The Family History Library provides genealogical information about deceased people and usually is used by people trying to identify their ancestors. The library's primary purpose is to provide the identities of these people to researchers, no matter whether they are members of the LDS church. The Family History Library is the biggest genealogical library in the world, contains a wealth physical and digitized records and has branches all over the world.

Some information may only be available on a microfiche reader.
Some information may only be available on a microfiche reader.

The Family History Library is incredibly comprehensive. It contains records for more than 110 territories, countries and possessions. As of 2010, its collection included more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, 727,000 microfiche, 356,000 serials and books and 4,500 periodicals. In addition, the library offered access to at least 3,725 electronic resources, which can include subscriptions to other non-LDS genealogy websites. The Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File and International Genealogical Index databases are just a few of the categorized collections that can help a researcher find information about his or her ancestors.

Microfilm archives.
Microfilm archives.

A recent digitization project might make the records more accessible. All of the library's collection of microfilm were being digitized, and an online index of these records was being created. The result is meant to be a searchable database full of digital images and a corresponding index. Additional digitization projects are expected as the library assesses its storage needs and looks for different storage methods.

The main Family History Library can be found in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States, but branches of the library, called Family History Centers, exist around the world. These branches number more than 4,500 and are located in more than 130 countries. Physical collections originating from the Family History Library can be accessed by those at any Family History Center through a loan program, which sometimes includes a small charge. Many of the records also are available online.

Admission into the library and its branches is free to the public, and the main library has about 1,500 visitors per day. Professional genealogists and research assistants are available to help patrons read and translate documents and to consult on research. Library staff members can assist patrons in 30 languages. For those who prefer to do individual research, classes provided by the library free-of-charge can be taken at the library or online to help guide researchers.

A reel of microfilm.
A reel of microfilm.

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