Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Post Microfilm Genealogy

How many of you out there have used a microfilm reader in the past year? I am sure that the number of people using these devices has dropped precipitously over the past few years. I have seen the number of microfilm readers in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, drop year after year and the number of people hunched over the images have now been replaced by people using computers.

My first introduction to doing research on microfilmed records was over thirty years ago. Recently, I have been using microfilmed record directly from the microfilm consistently since the records I need to search are not yet available digitally online. I just counted the order slips in my pile and I have ordered 32 rolls of microfilm since I started doing research at the Brigham Young University Family History Library in addition to looking at the rolls that were already in the Library. I would guess that this is an exception to the rule.

Microfilm, like reel-to-reel tape decks, cassettes, and eight-track tapes is just another obsolete recording media. Despite its central role for genealogical researchers over the years, its time has passed. By the way, CDs and DVDs are on their way out also. We will accommodate the changes and very quickly forget these media formats even existed. The apparent impact on genealogists is more of a reflection on the genealogical communities overwhelming reactionary attitude rather than the change will have over time. The increased immediate availability of digitized records will have a much greater immediate impact on genealogical research than all of the microfilm has had since its inception.

Rather than worry about the fact that microfilm is disappearing, perhaps we should focus more on the millions upon millions of records that are appearing online daily, weekly and monthly.


  1. So the time of this microfilm reader is about to end. Sadly a lot of us are unable to visit Salt Lake City. I have found and do understand, microfilm readers are expensive to keep operational. I have had to visit another location, about 30miles away (with photocopying option on the film), as the nearer location's readers could not do this. Any news if the these locations are required to return the sent/kept films? Could there be a list of later requested films - and their listed locations for researchers? eg a FHC in CA, could send a film to the FHC in FL? Just wondering. Thanks GJ

    1. The individual Family History Centers have the option to either keep the microfilm or return it to Salt Lake. That decision is apparently up to the local leaders. There is no mention of later requested films. I don't think there will any sharing of microfilms between the FHCs. But I don't know the answer for sure.

  2. I just used a microfilm reader at a local Family History Center yesterday. I had ordered 5 rolls of property records for Lowndes County Alabama to look at what my 2 X great grandparents were buying and selling. Unfortunately, after I finished the first one, the machine broke down! The local volunteer is going to try and repair it, but who knows? Those other 4 rolls just sitting there and I can't get to them. Sigh.

  3. I certainly understand the problem. Many of the FHCs have been scavenging their machines for sometime to keep a few running.