Should I visit a FamilySearch Center for my genealogy research?
January 3, 2012 9:09 PM   Subscribe

Reminded by this question, I want to know if any of my fellow genealogists or history enthusiasts have ever visited their local Mormon FamilySearch Center.

I'm considering a visit to one because I've hit a wall in my researches. But before I invest the time: 1. Did you get a "hard sell" about the Mormon faith while you were there? 2. Are there any resources there that I can't get from or other online sources? 3. Anything else I should know before I go?
posted by That's Numberwang! to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
A few years ago I went to one of our local Mormon Family History Centers in Austin, TX. There was no sell - hard nor soft - about the mormon faith. I was able to find some great info on my wife's family that I could not find in (scanned and catalogued marriage, birth and baptismal records from europe). They were very helpful.

At the time, they only had indices locally, and I could search which microfilms I wanted to 'order'. Then I filled out some small forms, paid a small fee (around $5) and in a week or two they called to say that the microfilms I wanted to view had come in from the central library. They even had a microfilm scanner, so I could scan the items i found and burn them to CD-ROM.

All in all a very positive experience. I just haven't been back because I haven't had time to do research, but I wouldn't hesitate to go back at all.

These days, they may have much more of this stuff online, you may want to check to see if at least the indices are online (

Just did a quick check - and it looks like there are alot of indices online now.
posted by nightwood at 9:38 PM on January 3, 2012

1. No, nobody said a word to me about Mormonism, at my local or at the big library in SLC.
2. Yes, there are definitely resources Ancestry doesn't have. is starting to have some of them as the stuff gets transcribed, but it'll be a while before everything's online. And it's still different to see the original records, in the old handwriting, with margin notes and the records preceding and following. For instance, I discovered an ancestor was a twin, though it wasn't noted directly on the birth record, because the two birth records were one right after the other on the microfilm.
3. Take good notes of which films you request, what you find where, and when. Also, if there's anybody near you doing similar research (e.g., researching the same village in the old country) try to coordinate so you can save money on film requests.
Also, try to schedule your requests carefully. As nightwood says, it takes a little while for the films to arrive, and you've got to pay a fee to keep them past a certain amount of time. It really sucks to have the films arrive when you're swamped at work, only get to them on the last day you've got them for, and have to decide whether it's worth paying extra to keep them out longer.
posted by katemonster at 9:41 PM on January 3, 2012

Oh, also -- you can check the library's catalog ahead of time to see what kind of records they have in the area you're looking for. It's one of the things the very helpful volunteers at the FHC can help you with, but I always prefer to know ahead of time whether there's even something I'll find useful. Can you tell us what time/place you're working on?
posted by katemonster at 9:55 PM on January 3, 2012

No proselytizing when I visited the Family Search Center in Manhattan. The fellow there was really helpful, and pointed me to other Genealogy resources I didn't know about outside the Family Search Center, like JewishGen. He seemed like just a genealogy nerd who happened to be Mormon.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:12 PM on January 3, 2012

For several years, I went every few weeks to one in Southeast Portland, right there in the church basement, and no one ever said boo to me about LDS. For that matter, I never had to speak to anyone if I didn't want to.
I speculate that the function of encouraging people to research their ancestry is completely separate from the function of witnessing to people. They have access to an extraordinary amount of stuff, and make it available basically at cost. They are staffed by extremely knowledgeable volunteers who also seem to understand how to be kind to introverts.
posted by gingerest at 10:28 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

My mother has been using the local Center for several years, and reports no proselytizing efforts whatsoever.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:37 PM on January 3, 2012

gingerest, that's the FHC I'll be visiting as well.

If it matters, I'll be searching for records of a William Smith (yes I know) in rural West Virginia in the late 19th - early 20th century. WV has done an excellent job of digitizing their birth, marriage, and death certificates but the name is just too common, and my handle on his dates is too loose, for general browsing. I'll be needing a little guidance. Thanks, katemonster, for the excellent suggestion to check the catalog ahead of time.

I'm glad to know this has been a useful (and low-key) experience for other family history nuts out there.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by That's Numberwang! at 11:04 PM on January 3, 2012

Once you've got the right William Smith pinned down, you might check if there are any county histories (frequently written at a significant anniversary of the county's founding) that mention your guy. I had a few Tennessee-to-Missouri settlers who I located in county histories of both places, even though they were hard to find in any other, more formal records. They had little biographies of the men (always the men, of course) including parents' names and histories, how many children they had, and personal details I couldn't hope to find otherwise. I'm not sure if the FHCs have many county histories available on film, as I was at the big library when I was doing that research.
posted by katemonster at 11:16 PM on January 3, 2012

This is an aside but my grandfather was a Mormon and from what he always said, other members of his faith were limited by some sort of church doctrine w/r/t the amount of time they were advised and allowed to proselytize and that amount of time was about 15 minutes. Once a couple friendly Mormon dudes knocked on my mom's door and though she's not religious she invited them and actually enjoyed their chat so invited them to stay a bit longer to which they replied they were not allowed.

I think you're probably safe in a FHC. I'm a genealogist and admittedly, love their resources. Give it a shot.
posted by youandiandaflame at 4:36 AM on January 4, 2012

I'm a mormon, and I can tell you that you shouldn't run into any over proselytizing at Family History Centers. The people there are more interested in genealogy than converting you. I've also got quite a few non-mormon family members that have used the FHCs, and they've never mentioned any kind of religious interaction. Keep in mind that they may infect you with the genealogy bug, apparently it's a terribly addictive.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:44 AM on January 4, 2012

I too have been to my local LDS stake as well to use the genealogy room and have not been proselytized to. The two men staffing the room were interested in what I was researching and gave me a few pointers before returning to trading family stories and leaving me to do what I had come for, which was to use (now, I think?), for free.

I've also ordered microfilm from them (this reminds me that I had some come in just before Christmas that I need to go look at). You can now register through and order microfilm online.
posted by donajo at 5:47 AM on January 4, 2012

My mom also has used the FHC. She found them to be very helpful and didn't mention any conversion attempts.
posted by quodlibet at 7:01 AM on January 4, 2012

I think somewhere in the FamilySearch FAQs about the LDS Family History Centers it mentions that they do not talk to any patron about the Mormon religion. The folks who work there are typically older folks who are interested in genealogy, and are not part of the missionary arm of the church.

I could also put it another way: I am young (in comparison to the other patrons) gay and have facial piercings and have always had nothing but nice, helpful people assist me at the Family History Center (it was the one in Oakland, CA which might also make a difference). No one spoke of religion or conversion, and the Center has a library feel to it with patrons usually buried in their microfilm readers or at computer terminals.

Please go and make use of their amazing resources! It is unique.
posted by kuppajava at 7:39 AM on January 4, 2012

You can now register through and order microfilm online.

This is worth reiterating. Until recently, you had to visit the local Family History Center to fill out an order form on paper, give them a paper check (or cash, I suppose), wait a few days until they got around to submitting the order on your behalf, then wait for it to arrive and for them to call (or email) and tell you it had arrived, then go back to the center to view it. If your local center is only open one or two days per week, this entire process could easily take 3 weeks from start to finish.

Now you can order the microfilms online, specify which center you want them delivered to, pay with credit card or PayPal, and monitor the status of your order online as well. This eliminates one visit to the center, and probably reduces the overall order time by a week or more.

And, just to concur with everyone else, I've visited the nearby FHC numerous times and have never been proselytized to by anyone. The records are certainly unique. While you may be able to get some of the same information or other sources, the LDS microfilm collection allows you to actually see images of the original records (e.g., birth certificates) rather than just a computerized transcription (with the potential for errors). Aside from census records, can be hit-or-miss when it comes to providing images of original documents.
posted by Nothlit at 7:51 AM on January 4, 2012

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