Biggest Repository of Genealogical Records on Earth -- and free to access.
Post Script -- Before you read this Hub.
Since writing this hub a couple of years ago, familysearch.org has made further updates so members and non-members all around the world can upload photos and stories of their ancestors. Even more importantly, with their absolute state-of-the-art technology, the research capabilities of this site are upgraded yet again and are the very best. You will find your ancestors' information on this site if you even just have a shred of a clue where to start.
The site screens have changed a little since I described them in this hub because our new.familysearch.org is now READ ONLY and we do everything on here: familysearch.org. On this one site we do the research plus develop the family tree/pedigree and the family group records. Play around with it and you will soon be finding an ancestor or two that you could not find by another means.
When you press Search on the main screen, put in the information about your ancestor that you know even if it's just a last name and a geographical area. When you press the button, you will see possible sources for your ancestor such as censuses, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates. A census can be an excellent source of information and a good starting place for your search. If you want to find Wills, court records and land records, take one of the tutorials by finding and pressing the Learn button.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has the largest genealogical collection of records in the world. You can access most of these records online free of charge. There is a huge volunteer effort going on, very well organized, of which you can be a part in order to complete the digitizing of all the records so that every last record eventually will be available online for free.
The genealogical records which have not yet been digitized are sitting safely 700 feet under Granite Mountain in the Salt Lake City area of Utah. If the record you are searching for is among those that are still in the process of being digitized, you can access the record by ordering the microfilmed or microfische version of it. I believe the cost to have the microfilm sent to a Family History Center near you is $5.00. You have six weeks to view the record as many times as you wish at the Family History Center (FHC). The Family History Centers are free to visit and there are many more records available to you for free while you sit at a computer in one of the 4000 Family History Centers. Volunteers there are very helpful and knowledgeable. At most centers, the non-member patrons –people who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – often equal or out-number the member patrons.
A Wee Bit of History First
In 1894 the Church of Jesus Christ began the effort to preserve genealogy records "which at that time was mostly books," according to the narrator of the above-posted video. By 1938 microfilming began. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sent cameramen around the nation and around the world to obtain photographs of genealogical records wherever they were allowed to do so – for instance, in government offices and churches.
The Church decided the growing number of records in the collection needed protection from the elements, natural disasters and man-made destruction.
In 1960, construction began at Granite Mountain to prepare the mountain to hold vast amounts of records to be obtained in future years. Six chambers were built into the mountain with tunnels connecting the chambers. Each tunnel was 25 feet wide by 15 feet high.
I remember reading in 1979 that there were 90 cameramen going around the world at that time with the job of obtaining as many excellent photographs as possible of genealogical records of all kinds. The accommodating offices and institutions were always given a copy of the photographs on microfilm once the process was completed. Twenty-five years later, I read there were more than 200 people whose job it was to carry out this same mandate.
According to the short video, there are now approximately 3.5 billion images on 2.4 million rolls of microfilm housed in Granite Mountain. 170 languages are represented in these records.
The temperature in the vaults is kept at 55 degrees and 35 percent humidity. The video’s narrator states that under these ideal conditions, microfilm is able to be preserved for two hundred years.
How To Access the Millions of Digitized Records
The website to visit is https://familysearch.org/
The first thing you will notice when you go to familysearch.org is the emblem of the tree with the words FamilySearch beneath it. This will be on the upper left part of your computer screen. To the right of that emblem is the word Learn. Press on that word. You will be taken to a list of approximately one hundred tutorial videos -- all free -- from which you can learn the history of a country and how to effectively do your genealogy research with the country’s records.
Setting aside a half hour a day or even just a half hour a week to take a video tutorial on how to do genealogical research within one particular country’s records is an exciting and very rewarding experience.
If you push the green arrow on the left top corner of your computer screen to get back to your home page of FamilySearch, you will see there are other tabs beside the word Learn which you can explore.
Leaving those other tabs for your own exploration, I want to now show you the first step in finding someone in a lineage. You will see the words Discover Your Family History in large lettering. Then you will see on this home page that there are three options: Historical Records or Family Trees or Library Catalog. The Library Catalog tab, the last one, is the one you would press in order to look for an ancestor you couldn’t find through the first two options. The Library Catalog – if used properly – will allow you to order one of the 2.4 million microfilms into the nearest Family History Center. But as for the records and images – a billion of them – that have already been digitized, you access these through the screen you are already on. You will notice that the term Historical Records is highlighted because this screen is the doorway to those records.
There are boxes for you to fill in. Supposing I was looking for my husband’s great-grandfather and supposing I knew his name was George Howard Williams. I would type his name into the appropriate boxes. I know he was born in Ontario. I know he was born in 1844, but supposing I could only calculate or approximate – guess with the help of other secondary records that I have – then I would fill in the year box with the approximated date. The next box for the year range will automatically fill in the same year as the first box, but you can change the year in that second box to a year of your choice.
Next, you could press the SEARCH button at this point or you could fill in the relationship box if you know the spouse’s name of the person you are searching for – or if you know one or both of the parents’ names. Then press search and wait a moment.
When the results come up, do not make the common mistake of thinking there is not much there. If you scroll down the screen with the scroll bar on the right, you will see the many categories listed on the left side of the screen. For George Howard Williams in this example, there are 205 census results. Many of them are United States censuses, but that is all right. Some people did travel between the 13 colonies and Ontario at that time.
I would first look at the pertinent Ontario census for the appropriate year. I could click on that. I wouldn’t though. First I would scroll to the bottom of that list where it says Births, Marriages, Deaths. Always go for the gold in case it’s there, just waiting for you. But if the person you are searching for does not have his record show up in the births, marriage or deaths section, then you can usually start by finding him on a census. Each time you find more information on a ten-year census, you are able to find more record sources you can begin searching.
You will notice there are many other ways to search on this site including huge archives of material which you access on a second screen. It will take you days and weeks to really master how to use this wonderful site. And by the way, often when you find a record you want, you can also print out the image of it.
If the image is not available yet, it is because there are still 10,000 volunteers working very hard to complete this digitization process.
If you would like to volunteer to work on the indexing process so that all of these records will continue to get digitized as fast and as accurately as possible, simply click the icon in the upper left corner that says Family Search. Once you are at the starting screen again, you will see over to the right of the page at the top that it says Indexing. Volunteers around the world, members of the church and non-members, are welcome to sign up any time to volunteer. Each page of work any volunteer completes from the vast collections is checked, rechecked and triple- checked. The work can be done in one's own home and for as many or as few minutes per week as desired.
One last note, don’t forget to have a look at the titles of the many free tutorials under the tab Learn. Each video contains a wealth of information.
I hope this little introduction to the newly updated FamilySearch site has been helpful.