The Family History Center and Me
All over the country and in many foreign countries you will find a Family History Center (sometimes known as a FamilySearch Center) owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons.) They are wonderful resource for genealogists. And don’t worry they won’t try to convert you or preach to you…this is a research area.
I began volunteering at my local Family History Center somewhere around 2000. At that time I was living in Galt, Ca just 12 miles from the Lodi, California Family History Center (FHC). I volunteered there for about two years. Then I took a few years off to concentrate on other things. I have recently (2010) begun working as a volunteer at the Sacramento Regional Family History Center (the large regional FHC for the Northern California area) since I now live in the Sacramento area about 2 miles away from this wonderful facility.
Did I mention that the FHC is probably one of the greatest resources for genealogists and you should be utilizing it. There are more than 4,500 Family History Centers worldwide (in more than 132 countries.) There are 13 Regional Centers worldwide (I am lucky enough to work in one of them.) They are in most major cities and a few small towns too. There is probably one near you. Go to FamilySearch to find the FHC nearest you. (At the top of the page you will see the words “FamilySearch Centers” click on it and type in your location.)
Let me tell you why you should be visiting your local Family History Center. Most of them are libraries. Often that means books. Since my FHC is located in Sacramento, CA you would assume that we have books on Sacramento, California and the Gold Rush, and you would be right. But there is so much more in our stacks. We have copies of the newsletters/publications produced by the local genealogical societies (even those of some now defunct organizations). Often in these publications you can find family trees, stories and histories relevant to the area and the people who lived there. (So if you are in Iowa the genealogical publications in your local FHC will pertain to Iowa families)
In addition to local society newsletters and collections you will often find society newsletters and books from other areas as well. We have a wonderful collection of society newsletters, as well as compulations and reference books from all over the U. S.
You might be aware that most of the 1890 Federal Census burned, well if you are researching someone who lived in 1890 in California you might just be in luck if you know to come to the FHC and look at the “California 1890 Great Register of Voters Index.”
History type books are not the only great find at a FHC; there are also books available on how to do genealogy. “How to” type books include, “The Handy Book for Genealogists,” “The Source,” “The Red Book,” “Evidence Explained,” “The Everything Family Tree Book,” and so much more.
Not all of the FHCs have books…some very small ones located in very small towns may be little more than a couple of computers and a microfilm reader or two. But those computers will allow you to view the entire card catalog of not only the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah but other libraries as well, such as the Allen County Library (another Meca for genealogists,) and the Godfrey Memorial Library. For that matter, you can view any library’s holdings in any library via World Cat. (A library index.) And those microfilm readers can bring marriage records, wills, probates, church records and so many other sources to you through the magic of "film loan" provided by the Family History Library.
Please remember that this is a library and treat it as such and honor the usual “library rules.” Remember to not talk loudly, use hushed whispers, or your quiet indoor voice; no food or drinks, no taking home the books…this is not a “lending library,” and try to remember that the staff is there to assist you…not make your search harder and not to do your work for you. And while most of us love to hear about your research and your successes…we really need to help all the patrons and probably should save the details of the last 20 years of research for another “off duty” time. And remember the FHC is housed in the LDS church…please watch you language.
Ok, I hear you saying, “That’s great about California and your wonderful Sacramento Family History Center….but what about me…I live in Walla Walla, Washington or Quincy, Illinois, or Drain, Oregon or ……(you fill in the blank) WHAT DO YOU HAVE FOR ME?
Well, since I don’t work in your center, I’m not familiar with what books are there or even if your center has books….each of the centers is different. Often the libraries are supplied by donations. If a genealogist retires or passes on their collection of research materials is often donated to the local center. What that means to you is that even though your center is in Quincy, Illinois you might find books there about Kentucky or Maryland or California. At my center we have books from all over the country. Every state is represented by some book or another. Is our collection “complete?” Does your center have the very book you have been looking for? Will you find everything you could possibly want?” No, of course not, but I guarantee you will find something of use.
Probably the most compelling reason for visiting your local center is the fact that the Family History Library (the big MaMa Library in Salt Lake City, Utah that all of the FH Centers are little mini versions of) has an agreement with many subscription sites like Ancestry.com. At the centers you can access these web sites (some of them …very expensive) without having to subscribe. The Family History Library has done that for you. So you can go to your local FHC and access Ancestry.com, Heritage Quest, Fold3, the Godfrey Memorial Library and World Vital Records….just to name a few. That’s right…FOR FREE, you read that right…FOR FREE…you can go to these sites WITHOUT COST…FOR FREE.