[From the February 1997 Newsletter]
Laura DeGrazia, a professional genealogist as well as a dedicated volunteer at the local Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), gave a talk concerning the Family History Centers (FHC), branches of which can be found all over the United States and even all over the world. Each Family History Center has its own special items which usually reflect the films of the town and county/province in which they are located as well as the preponderance of interests of their most frequent patrons. Laura characterized the FHC as a genealogical goldmine which requires no membership and no long traveling to consult primary and secondary sources. In other words, there is a world of information right under your nose at your local FHC.
As a point of information, Laura mentioned that very few people who frequent the FHC understand why the Mormons (i.e. members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) have these collections of records. The Mormons believe in family and personal identity, and the eternal connection of families. Family connections are made by the "sealing" of parents to children, therefore members look to identify and connect themselves and their families to their ancestors by proxy. They also believe that God's teachings apply to everyone not just members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and offer baptism to everyone in their present and past family.
What criteria does the LDS use to determine which information is appropriate for them to collect? They consider how complete the record is, the cost of obtaining the record, the amount of the population included in the record. They also try to focus on certain countries (areas where church members have many ancestors). Final decision to film also has be obtained from the officials in that local area. The purpose of the FHC is to give service the members of the church.
There are different classifications for Family History Centers from 1 to 4: Phase I could be a simple FHC with just a file cabinet, table chair and charts while a phase IV might be a center for advanced research center with many books, computers, and collections of microfilm such as in Plainview, NY.
The general public is allowed to use its facilities. FHC's are staffed by volunteers of all levels of experience and education. Depending on when you go, you may or may not have a person on duty there who can help you with your particular question. In many FHC's there are volunteers who can help translate documents from other languages but this depends who the people who are at each branch center.
Ms. DeGrazia suggested making some New Year's resolutions. One could be to watch less TV and read more genealogy materials which are lined on the shelves of the Family History Center. The FHC in Plainview has a set of microfiche of the most used reference books (kept in drawers) such as Morton Allen Directory of Ships, Rosalie Fellows Bailey's Guide to and Genealogical and Biographical Source Records in Manhattan Records 1783-1890, Guide to Genealogical Research in National Archives, etc.
Also on fiche is the IGI (International Genealogical Index) which has 187,000,000 names from 1700's to 1875 (this is also available on computer) of individuals on whom ordinances were performed. If the information in the IGI was submitted by an individual it is only as accurate as that person's research was. AIS (Accelerated Indexing System) is another source of information for use in using early US censuses but it has limitations (it does not include New York after 1850).
Another resolution for each of us is to get more exercise - at least, strengthen your right arm muscles by cranking microfilm machines more. There is much microfilm on permanent loan at the Plainview FHC such as indexes for New York City births, marriages and deaths, New York and Brooklyn City Directories, much of the 1900 census and selections of all the other Federal and State of Censuses, etc. There are several drawers of film on Irish records, and drawers for Spanish, German and Italian records. Plainview has a special collection that was developed by a man named Easter called the Easter Collection which consists of records of early Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island Queens and Long Island records such a cemetery records, church records, wills, etc. from the 1700's to early 1800's. One of the volunteers and an IGG member, Bob Tallman was responsible for organizing and building the finding aids for use of this collection.
Another resolution should be to become computer literate. What better way to do that than using the computers at the FHC. The FHC computer has the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints computer program called Family Search™ which consists of the Social Security Death Index (to 1995), IGI (International Genealogical Index), Ancestral File, Military Records (for Korea and Vietnam) and the Family History Library Catalog. By using the IGI on computer you can search the entire US compared to using the microfiche where you have to search state by state. The computer will find all the sons and daughters of a family which you must do manually with the fiche. Laura also encouraged people to submit their family history on computer by means of the GEDCOM format to the LDS for inclusion in the Ancestral File.
There is a map collection at the Plainview Center. The FHC in Plainview is building a collection of maps to help people find the Wards and Election Districts for the addresses they have to facilitate use of various Federal and State censuses.
The power of the FHC, of course, is the ability to order films of records from all over the world for a few dollars and have those filmed delivered to your nearest FHC. You can order microfilm and have it sent to your local FHC where you can use them for varying periods of time. You can also order fiche.
The Locality Catalog Index (particularly Italy) is the one our members use most often but there is also an Author/Title section, a Subject section and a Surname Section in Family Search™. You check the Locality Catalog by checking the largest unit (Italy) to the smallest such as Italy, Province, Town. When the record is found, you can obtain the order number for the film or fiche needed. Books are not available for loan but you can order photostats of specific pages from the book at $.25 per page. Once you know the book you want, however, you can go to your local library to order it through inter-library loan.
As a last resolution, Laura DeGrazia suggested that you resolve to learn to use your local Family History Center better.
Are you sure?