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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Getting to Know the Family History Center
by Rhonda R. McClure

July 1, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

I am always amazed when someone who appears to have spent much time at their local Family History Center doesn't really understand what is at their fingertips and what they have access to from the Family History Library. People seem to concentrate only on the Ancestral File CDs and as a result the over look many other valuable resources.

Your Family History Center is an extension of the Family History Library. In most cases you can get anything that is available on microfilm or microfiche to your local center. This means you have access to millions of records. These records have not been digitized and will not appear in the Ancestral File. They are the records that we, as genealogists, have been trained to rely on when researching our ancestors..

Your Family History Center is an extension of the Family History Library.

What Can You Find?

There are different types of Family History Centers, but over all they will all contain the following

  • FamilySearch on CD
  • Fiche version of IGI
  • Fiche version of FHLC
  • Fiche version of PERSI
  • Fiche version of Everton's Family Cellar
  • Fiche version of the AIS census indexes
  • Microfiche Reference Collection, Part I
  • Microfiche Reference Collection, Part II

The Microfiche Reference collections offer you about two hundred resources on microfiche. These sources include:

  • Directories
  • Gazetteers
  • Vital records
  • Church records
  • Census
  • Land and property

These resources may not be of actual records, such as the census, but are more likely to be finding aids to help you know what is available and how best to find it in the FHLC.

Understanding the Total Concept

We all love our computers. They save us time. They help us prevent typos. They help us to find fellow researchers and resources of use to us. I maintain that you can avoid years of mistakes by learning from those you meet online. However, the computer is not the only tool for a genealogist.

It is essential that we turn our attention to primary records whenever possible. This is not as difficult as you may think, especially with the massive microfilmed holdings of the Family History Library.

The Chase Can Be Fun

While our arms may get tired from cranking through microfilm, the chase really is the fun. Sure, we joke that our ancestor is always found on the very last image of the film, but I have to admit that I wouldn't find this hobby nearly as fascinating if all I had to do was plug a name into a computer.

An excellent resource to learn about the Family History Library and its many resources are the research guides published by the Family History Department and recently released on CD in the Family History SourceGuide. The SourceGuide has also been made available at the FamilySearch web site. If you take a few minutes to read about the locality or record type you are going to use, you will find that your research is more effective and is accomplished more quickly.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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