FamilySearch Completes Massive Microfilm Digitization Project

September 21, 2021  - by 
a microfilm and an old document.

Huge news: after 83 years of filming the world’s historical genealogical records, FamilySearch has completed digitizing its 2.4 million rolls of microfilm.  The best part? The archive, which contains information on more than 11.5 billion individuals, is now available for free on FamilySearch.org

Over 200 countries and principalities and more than 100 languages are included in the digitized documents. All types of genealogically significant records are included—censuses, births, marriages, deaths, probate, Church, immigration, and more. Now that the project is completed, it’s much easier for users to find members of their family tree and make personal discoveries within these records.   


Want to check out these digitized microfilms for yourself? Explore FamilySearch’s free collections of indexed records and images by going to FamilySearch.org, and then search both “Records” and “Images.” The Images feature will let you browse digitized images from the microfilm collection and more. You will need a FamilySearch account to access digitized records—but don’t worry, signing up is completely free!

a roll of microfilm

What Is Microfilm?

A microfilm is a roll of film, like what would be used in an old camera—it just holds a lot more images per roll. However, instead of storing photos of treasured memories and loved ones, microfilms are designed to store documents that are shrunk down into miniature. These historic records are captured on the roll of film and reduced in size for easier storage. Before digital preservation, microfilm was an effective and space-conscious way to preserve historic documents and make them widely accessible.

Microfilm has been used since 1839, but its biggest breakthrough and popularization occurred in 1928.

FamilySearch, back when it was still called the Genealogical Society of Utah, began microfilming in 1938. It was one of the first major organizations to embrace the use of microfilm imaging for long-term record preservation. FamilySearch’s microfilm collection eventually grew to more than 2.4 million rolls. 

FamilySearch ended its microfilm distribution to family history centers in September 2017 when it began its transition to a free, all-digital, online access approach. FamilySearch’s physical microfilm collection will continue to be preserved, but the information that the rolls contain can now be easily viewed and searched online. 

a woman on a microfilming computer

Technology Allows for Rapid Microfilm Digitization

In 1998, FamilySearch began digitizing its microfilm collection—a project that, at the time, was anticipated to take over 50 years to complete. However, advances in technology cut the estimated time to completion by nearly 30 years.

Microfilm scanning began with about 5 employees. As the process developed and evolved, it grew to as many as 30 employees using 26 scanners. This work continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

FamilySearch is committed to collecting, preserving, and providing access to the world’s genealogical records to help individuals and families worldwide discover and connect with their family histories. It continues to capture the images of original records at an ever-increasing rate—but digitally, bypassing the need to transfer the information from film.

  

a woman works with microfilm in the family history library

Although the digitization of FamilySearch’s microfilm collection is completed, the digitization of new records worldwide continues. FamilySearch is also working to outsource the digitization of its large microfiche collection, which should be completed several years from now.

Check out FamilySearch’s digitized microfilm collection—and all of its other freely accessible record collections!

NOTE: All of the microfilms are digitized and published on FamilySearch. However, they are not all “available” for viewing. While the majority are broadly accessible, some will have varying degrees of access limitations governed by contractual agreements or other restraints. Where access limitations exist, most will be available through the FamilySearch Family History Library, a local FamilySearch center, or a third party website. There are also some digital collections that are not currently available. We apologize for any inconvenience in these circumstances. 

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Comments

  1. I wish to thank Family Search for the microfilm service. When I was getting started on my family tree & genealogy in general, about 10 years ago, I used to go to the Family History Centre at the LDS Temple in Fendalton, Christchurch, New Zealand, from where I could request films from Salt Lake City. What a great service it was, thank you very much, I could hardly have progressed without it.

  2. Why does familyseach say digitization is complete when many films in the catalog do not indicate such?

    1. Hi Walter! Thank you for your question. All the microfilms have been digitally preserved. When you look in the FamilySearch Catalog you will see a DGS number for each film. This is the digital record. Please see this note from the bottom of the blog article:
      NOTE: All of the microfilms are digitized and published on FamilySearch. However, they are not all “available” for viewing. While the majority are broadly accessible, some will have varying degrees of access limitations governed by contractual agreements or other restraints. Where access limitations exist, most will be available through the FamilySearch Family History Library, a local FamilySearch center, or a third party website. There are also some digital collections that are not currently available. We apologize for any inconvenience in these circumstances.

      1. That’s true, and in those cases the site shows a ‘locked camera’ icon.
        The issue is that many catalogs still show the microfilm icon, rather than the locked camera icon. I see this for example in catalog 95952 (index to early Scottish deeds). This doesn’t make sense, presumably the microfilms are no longer available since they are obsolete.

        1. Hi Dan! Thank you for your feedback. Yes, that is correct. Even though the microfilm have been digitally preserved, if the record shows a microfilm icon, it is currently only accessible via microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

          1. So why the big announcement when this has fundamentally not changed anything (that is, those records with a microfilm icon are still on microfilm even in SLC and not accessible anywhere else)? I don’t mean to quibble as I ADORE FamilySearch, but I am confused.

            1. Hi Cecelia! Thank you for your feedback and question. The announcement is about the completion of the digital preservation of the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm.

  3. Hi. I have been studying in detail your digitized notarial records from Bogotá, Colombia, looking for my ancestors. I have combed thru about 50 Films, which and an incredibly good resolution in terms of # of pixels. Recently, however, I have found one digitized film that has an unexpectedly low resolution, affecting the ability to read it. The DGS#007973680 (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSDW-64SQ-M?i=2895&cat=537649). Any chance it could be redigitized with the proper resolution? Thanks

    1. Hi Dario! Thank you for your feedback and question. Please visit the FamilySearch Community to share this information there so you can get help from FamilySearch Support. In the left menu, select Q and A, then select Search. Click on the blue “Ask a Question” button and ask this information there. A FamilySearch Moderator will respond. Thank you for reading the blog!

      1. Hi Ms Archibald – Thanks for your reply. I have already shared my concerns to the FS Community. They were the ones that suggested writing to you. We all agreed the lack of resolution was probably during the scanning of the original film, so in principle, it could be corrected. We were wondering if there was a place at FamilySearch to make this type of suggestion (re-digitize the film with the appropriate resolution.)

        1. I should add that somebody from FS responded to a question I posed on the phone (at FS) saying the the problem was with the original document’s poor condition. But everybody at the FS Community Forum disagreed.

        2. Hi Dario! The Support personnel in the FamilySearch Community are the ones who can send that information to the department it needs to go to be corrected. On your conversation thread there, please ask Support to please escalate the to the correct department.

  4. Just hoping that you keep and preserve the mcrofilm! As with all digitization, it is very vulnerable to world wide hacking! As we saw just a few months back .. . even the US DOJ is vulnerable to hacking. However, a huge thanks to a huge effort for all who participated. Thank YOU!!!

  5. When reviewing a record I found an image that has more than one document scanned on top of another. Accuracy in Family History records is critical for success. Are the other records separately scanned? Should the documents of this image be relocated and rescanned separately?

    1. Hi Jim! Thank you for your feedback. Please visit the FamilySearch Community to report this problem. In the left menu, select Q and A, then select “Other” and ask in your comment for it to be escalated to the correct team. Thank you for reading the blog!