Discover the mountain of family history resources in your own backyard: How to make the most of your local Family History Center.
Your family's history may be in a vault buried in the mountains near Salt Lake City, Utah. Since 1938, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—popularly known as the Mormons—has been gathering and archiving millions of records about people of all faiths. Church archivists travel the globe, microfilming original documents in churches, courthouses and libraries to bring back to Utah. For anyone hoping to trace a family tree, the storehouse of data in the Granite Mountain Record Vault—information on some 2 billion people—is, well, a godsend.
But you don't have to trek to the mountains to start using the world's largest genealogical library. You don't even need to visit the five-story, 142,000-square-foot Family History Library in Salt Lake City, where the church makes copies of the archives in its vault available to the public. This vast library has an equally vast system of branch libraries called Family History Centers. With more than 3,400 Family History Centers ("FHCs" for short) across the country and around the world, you're almost certain to find a genealogical treasure trove right in your own backyard.
These local centers let you access the Family History Library's more than 2 million rolls of microfilm and 700,000 microfiche records containing copies of original records from more than 100 countries. These include vital, census, church, land and probate records and other records of genealogical value. An additional 5,000 rolls of microfilm are added each month.
Family History Centers are staffed by church and community volunteers to help you search for your family roots. You don't have to be a church member; the centers are open to the public.
As a former director of a Family History Center, I was frequently asked why the LDS Church would gather this wealth of family history resources and make it available to the public for free. The best explanation is a simple one: a belief in the importance of the family. "We believe that families can be united in the most sacred of all human relationships—as husband and wife and as parents and children—in a way that cannot be limited by death," a church brochure explains. "To share these blessings with our deceased ancestors, we also perform marriages and sealings (uniting families for eternity) in their behalf should they choose to accept them in the next life."
To get a taste of the records you can access at your nearest FHC, explore the FamilySearch Web site, also sponsored by the LDS Church. (FamilySearch has made some recent improvements, adding to its extensive data and searching capabilities.) Ultimately, this site will let you search records on 600 million names, and it can give your family tree research a valuable jump-start.
But to access all the secrets buried in Granite Mountain and to see most of the actual records indexed on FamilySearch, you need to visit your local Family History Center. Each Family History Center has a staff of volunteers who can help you get started. Ask a staff member for a copy of "How Do I Begin?," a brochure that explains five simple steps to help you identify your ancestors. It's helpful if you've already done step 1 and step 2 before visiting a center.) "Where Do I Start?" also shows you how to begin looking at actual records, such as wills, deeds and marriage, birth and death certificates. Staff members will be glad to show you information about which records to search and how to search them.