Changes to FamilySearch Microfilm Distribution
August 30 Update: FamilySearch announced that microfilm distribution will actually end September 7, 2017 - the last day you can order microfilms online. Read the full update from FamilySearch, including several useful tips, by clicking here.
Earlier this month, FamilySearch announced that they will discontinue microfilm distribution services as of September 1, 2017. The last day to order microfilm will be on August 31, 2017 (see update above - the deadline has been extended).
This change, fully outlined in a press release, is due to a number of factors, but the primary reason is that FamilySearch has made great strides digitizing their most heavily used microfilms.
Over 1.5 million microfilms have been digitized and are available to view for free on familysearch.org. According to FamilySearch, the remaining microfilms should be digitized by the end of 2020, and all new records obtained by the non-profit are already being captured using digital camera equipment.
As more and more records are digitized and available on the internet, the demand for microfilm has been decreasing.
Because a microfilm distribution network is resource-intensive to maintain, FamilySearch has decided to end the program and reinvest in their current digitization efforts - good news in the long run for family history researchers.
The most heavily used microfilms have already been digitized. Those that have not yet been digitized fall into one of three categories:
- Records that are already available online for free elsewhere.
- Microfilm that has historically had low levels of demand. Many of these collections are currently in the queue awaiting digitization (these sets should be completed by 2020).
- Contractual or data privacy restrictions prevent digitization. While FamilySearch is working to ease restrictions whenever possible, the ultimate result will differ per record set, depending on "decisions of record custodians and applicable laws."
How does this affect New York records?
FamilySearch has digitized vast numbers of microfilms related to New York State, including land and probate records for most New York counties. We recommend exploring and bookmarking this list of New York-titled databases.
To learn how to fully utilize all New York records on FamilySearch, NYG&B members can watch an on-demand replay of our webinar, Hidden Treasure from FamilySearch. Robert Raymond, Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer of FamilySearch, shows how to explore the many records on their site that haven't been digitally indexed.
Until this change, New York City vital records were available via microfilm distribution. FamilySearch let us know that while the majority of these records have already been digitized, they are not fully available online. FamilySearch continues to work through the process to obtain permissions and ensure that all applicable laws and regulations are followed. While it is possible that these images will appear online, they might only be accessible through certain Family History Center or Affiliate Libraries.
There are various indexes for New York City vital records online - NYG&B members can watch our webinar, NYC MUNI Vital Indexes, on-demand to learn about these indexes. Our guide to Finding New York State Birth, Marriage, and Death Records will also be useful to researchers.
The original images of New York City vital records can be accessed any of the following ways:
- Visiting the NYC Municipal Archives.
- Submitting an online or mail request to the NYC Municipal Archives.
- Visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to access the microfilm.
- Using the NYG&B Record Retrieval Service once you know the certificate or ledger number
- Hiring a professional genealogist to find the record for you.
This end to microfilm distribution services has only removed one possible avenue of obtaining the original records.
Overall, this development indicates continuing progress in the genealogy world toward bringing as many records as possible online, as family history research becomes more accessible than ever.