Recently, a blog reader asked me how she could take the next step to break down a brick wall by renting some microfilm records through her local FamilySearch Center (formerly known as Family History Centers). It occurs to me that a lot of people might have this question. In fact, I should take my own advice and rent more microfilm.
You can find the locations of the FamilySearch Centers here.
Why rent microfilm?
Basically, it’s ALWAYS right to look at primary source and original records, to not rely on indices, and to not rely exclusively on someone else’s interpretation of original records, such as in a compiled genealogy. But I suppose many people only turn to original records when more easily accessible information has failed them.
If you live close to the locations of your ancestors, you would probably prefer to visit the original record books in person. In southern New England, that can be cumbersome, and usually you will be on your own at a town hall or other local repository to navigate the records or, in the opposite extreme, be required to write out each request individually and have a clerk do the searching for you, returning with a photocopy and no opportunity for you to look around at nearby records. And that assumes that you have researched the repositories enough to know where your particular record should be. And that you are able to conduct these visits during Monday through Friday business hours.
If you live far away from your records, or if you get bogged down trying to visit the repositories you need, the local FamilySearch Center can be a simpler solution. Through the Family History Library, located in Utah, there are over a million rolls of microfilm available of records from many parts of the world. At my location, each roll rental would be $7.50. There are many types of records recorded on microfilm including property, probate, vital, local government, census, church, cemetery, court, tax, and military, but of course not all materials are available for all locations.
How do you find what microfilm record you need?
You will need to seriously consider what type of record set is likely to yield further information on your genealogical search. If you are following local society meetings, research journals, webinars, blogs, and various helpful books, you will have studied many examples of how others solved their problems. Think about what type of records might give you new information not available elsewhere. Decide on a strategy.
Of course, as my reader mentioned, one could always go to the Family History Center and get some assistance in deciding what microfilm to order. You can find the locations of the Family History Centers here. Plus, each center keeps a few materials on hand already which could be used for free. The volunteer staff at my local FamilySearch Center are very nice. The concern I have is that the staff person might be busy on the day you visit, or, it may not be convenient for you to visit twice, therefore, you might want to ORDER the films using the online system, wait until you hear that they have arrived at the FamilySearch Center you designated, and then go and read them.
To search and order on your own, you should spend some time perusing the online catalog.
Go to FamilySearch.org and log in (create an account if you don’t have one).
You want the CATALOG screen.
Notice that the first option for searching within the catalog is Place Name. Try typing the town, county or state into that box. See what comes up. Ultimately, you may want to try all those place options. Try searches for family names as well, or keywords. Remember, you are looking for record SETS here, not individual records.
I typed Smithfield and used the choices that popped up to select Rhode Island-Providence-Smithfield. This gave me the topics available, and number of record sets for each:
You can see the topics covered. Clicking on a topic brings up the record sets available. Clicking on a record set shows the microfilm or microfiche numbers. Each record set may be broken into more than one microfilm roll.
Clicking on Deed records 1871-1916 (Smithfield, Rhode Island) brings up three microfilm rolls. IF the content had been available in other media, such as a book or on the web, that would have been noted on this screen. But no harm, at this point, in doing a little search yourself. If the content is available as a book, there is no way to rent that, but try looking for that book online or in a nearby library.
Note that the last film in the list says “Item 1.” That means that particular roll of microfilm contains additional content. Look for this item first on the roll.
How do you order microfilm?
Clicking on the microfilm NUMBER, from the screen above, brings you to an order screen. Be sure, at this point, that you have logged in, and that you have selected a home location for the FamilySearch Center where you plan to read your microfilm.
Once you have loaded one or more films into your shopping cart, you can check out and pay. You will be notified when the film arrives, and at that point you will need to go to the FamilySearch Center you selected, during open hours, to view it. Be sure you know the date on which your film will be returned to Utah, and use it before that.
Before ordering, always be sure you check out the availability of the material online, either through the FamilySearch page for that record set, or by (for instance) googling the name of a book or record set.
Last step: visit your FamilySearch Center to read the microfilm
Check out the hours of your local center or library. If it’s in a church building, remember that you are visiting someone’s church and dress and conduct yourself appropriately. The entry to the FamilySearch Center is usually marked and visible from the parking lot. I would suggest, once you get used to all this, that you further challenge yourself to learn how to copy the pages you read from microfilm onto your own flash drive so that you can take that home, and enlarge and study the pages further, and store them on your own computer.
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