What’s New: Search Records at Home

December 20, 2017  - by 

For many years, using FamilySearch’s vast collections of records often meant taking a trip to the Family History Library or a FamilySearch affiliate library to scroll through microfilms. Or it might have meant ordering the needed microfilm and waiting for it to arrive at a local family history center. Over the past several years, though, FamilySearch has been digitizing these records and publishing them online for people to search and view from their own homes. Online collections have continued to grow, decreasing the need for microfilms. In fact, as of September 2017, you can no longer order microfilms or microfiche from FamilySearch.org, making the shift complete.

Probably few people are pining for the old microfilm methods as they pull up records about their ancestors on their computers at home. This article explains what records are available online and tells how to access them. You’ll probably agree that finding your ancestors has never been easier.

How to use the search bar
Using FamilySearch’s Records

To use the FamilySearch records at home, you first need to know where to look for what you need. After logging in to your FamilySearch account, click or hover over the Search tab at the top of the page to see some options. This article will help you explore the Records, Catalog, and Books options.

  1. Records. The Records option allows you to search using your ancestor’s name or search by choosing a location or a collection. Many people simply begin by typing in an ancestor’s name. Keep in mind that this search pulls from indexed records only. If you choose to search using a location or a specific collection, you can still use your ancestor’s name to search within those records, but you can also browse unindexed records.
    Searching historical records on FamilySearch

  2. Catalog. If you haven’t spent time in the FamilySearch catalog, you should! The catalog gives you a different perspective on finding records. Perhaps the most effective way to use the catalog is to search for a place, such as a town or county, and see what records are available in that jurisdiction. The results will be organized by record type, such as vital records or church records. When you find a collection you’re interested in, you can find out how and where it is available and then begin looking for the information you need. Be sure to check the catalog often because it is expanding almost daily as new records are added.
    How to search the catalog on FamilySearch

  3. Books. This option allows you to search for digital copies of books from the Family History Library and other institutions.

Once you find a record with your ancestor’s name on it, the FamilySearch image viewer gives you lots of options. You can view a gallery of thumbnail images, scroll through the images, or manipulate the images using the zoom, rotate, adjust, and invert options. You can also choose to print or download images, unless a record restriction prevents this.

Understanding Record Availability at FamilySearch

Records have different levels of availability on FamilySearch
As you look for records on FamilySearch, you will notice that not all the records are available in the same way. Here are some distinctions to know.

  1. Not all digitized records have been indexed. While indexing continues to move forward at a rapid pace and while many volunteers from around the world have joined in the effort, digitization continues to be a step ahead of indexing (if you would like to help index records, learn how here). When you search historical records using an ancestor’s name, your search includes only indexed records. To find your ancestor in unindexed records, you must browse the records, looking at each page for your ancestor’s name. The FamilySearch icons don’t differentiate between collections that have been indexed and those that have not been, only whether the actual records are available at FamilySearch.  
  2. Some records at FamilySearch have limited access. If you receive a message or see an icon (icons are explained below) that indicates you don’t have access to certain records, first make sure that you are logged in to your account. Sometimes this simple step will get you the access you need. More often, though, restricted records are currently available only at family history centers and FamilySearch affiliate libraries. This is usually because of contractual agreements between FamilySearch and the record holders. In some rare instances, you will be able to view such records at a family history center only, not at a FamilySearch affiliate library. FamilySearch may receive permission in the future to share these records online, so keep checking back.

Icons near the records will help you distinguish what kind of availability to expect. In the catalog, icons are found in the Format column by the listed microfilm. They are also listed next to the record title in the Records section. Here is an explanation of some of the icons:

Available records to view from home show a camera icon

These records are available on FamilySearch for home viewing. These records may be indexed or unindexed.

This icon indicates records that can be viewed on a partner website

These records are found on a partner website. Often you can search the index on FamilySearch but will be directed to another website to view the image.

Access to some records is restricted when searching at home

Access to these records is restricted. Often a message will pop up, explaining what you need to do to see the records. This may include logging in, going to a FamilySearch affiliate library, or going to a family history center.

The index can be searched but the actual records are restricted

The index is available to search, but access to the actual records on FamilySearch is restricted.

Transcribed record details but no image

The records are available on microfilm at the family history center indicated (usually the Family History Library in Salt Lake City).

When you find a specific record that may contain your ancestor’s information, you may see several other icons that indicate the record’s availability.

Transcribed details and an image are available to view

You will be able to see the transcribed record details but not the record itself.

Records with this icon are attached to family tree

You can see both the transcribed details as well as an image of the original record.

relative race winners

The family tree icon means you can see the person the record is attached to, as well as that person’s family tree, if available. You must be logged in to access this.

Searching Records Not Available at FamilySearch

FamilySearch continues to digitize microfilms at a rate of 1,000 each business day. That is the equivalent of digitizing every microfilm that has been requested by patrons in the past five years. What if the record you want hasn’t been digitized? First, check other family history websites to see if the information is available elsewhere. If not, you can request to have FamilySearch move your film to the top of the digitization priority list by contacting FamilySearch Support online or by phone at 1-866-406-1830.

With the changes to FamilySearch’s record collections, gone forever are late nights at the library, spinning microfilm reels. Instead, you can look forward to even more success finding your ancestors using your own computer.



Leslie Albrecht Huber

Leslie Albrecht Huber has written for dozens of magazines and journals on genealogy and other topics. She currently does communications consulting and contract work for nonprofit organizations. Leslie received a bachelor's degree in history from Brigham Young University and a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked as a professional genealogist, helpingothers trace their families, and has spoken on genealogy and history topics to groups across the United States.

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  1. My desired microfilm is restricted and unavailable to view at home. The hours of my local FHL are limited for people that are employed AND their computer facilities can’t accommodate these large files. Can not view them at all. It is like the Stone Age. What is a researcher to do? Help! Film 808104

  2. In general, how long can I expect it to take to digitize a film that I requested?? I made the request for film # 29187 last September and I’m still waiting. It does now have a DGS # assigned so some progress has been made.

  3. Thank you for your help. I skim through articles and if I think I want to read the whole article, I print it, put it in a folder “to read”. When I have an appointment that I may be waiting in a waiting room, I grab my “to read” folder, and away I go. It’s so much better than relying on what is available in the office. I often just make time to read my “to read” folder at home. Thank you, I’m learning so much.

  4. This decision was great for some and a disaster for others. The NYC vital records, birth, marriage, death and the Police Census, for example, are digitized but not available from home or even affiliate libraries. You have to go to a long-distance FHC with very limited hours and outdated computers–and hope a computer will be available. These records are the cornerstone of NYC research for many. It’s a disaster not to be able to access them. They are digitized but I am told it’s a contractual thing with no info on when or if the contract will ever be updated.

    1. Virginia, FamilySearch works to get as many records publicly available as possible. However, FamilySearch has to honor contracts with the owners of the documents that often mean there are limitations on the records FamilySearch can publish. For more information, read this article and watch this video.

  5. It is strange the digital Films that are not allowed for online viewing. The 1879-1892 Henry County, KY tax lists are restricted. But, these are public records that were originally filmed by the LDS church in the 1950s. But, deeds and wills through 1910 are available for online viewing!

    1. Hello Vernon! FamilySearch’s goal is to make records available to everyone possible. Sometimes contracts with archives or other partners limit the ability to do so. Some of these contracts include limited access restrictions and so they can only be viewed at a Family History Center or Family Search affiliate library. FamilySearch is making every effort to reduce restrictions through ongoing negotiations. For additional information go to
      this page.

  6. Hi, I’m logged in, however when I click on the name in a record (to access the drop down box with the details), I’m getting “Record information is not available. Please try again later.” This has been going on now for the last 4 days. I’ve never had any problems before. Is there a problem with the site or me?

    1. Shirley, the access level of this record may have changed. FamilySearch’s goal is to make records available to everyone insofar as it is possible. Sometimes contracts with archives or other partners limit the ability to do so. Some of these contracts include limited access restrictions and so they can only be viewed at a Family History Center or Family Search affiliate library. FamilySearch is making every effort to reduce restrictions through ongoing negotiations. For additional information go to

  7. None of this helps if a person does not have a computer nor can afford WIFI. And with mobility disabilities and being home bound most of time, getting to and using the local library is not really doable either. I have no one to help me move forward with this. My family is all passed away.

  8. The icons which should be pictured next the the explanatory text are either gone or too small to read. Please fix. Thanks so much.

  9. I noticed this week that family search has removed the ability to view the 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 census from home. I could easily access these anytime I wanted in the past. I wanted to bring this to your attention, as I’m not quite sure what their motive is regarding this. They can only be viewed at family history centers. I did have many of my Slovak films removed for viewing anywhere. They could once be viewed online, and I had the links posted on my genealogy website info, but now, when one clicks on it, it tells you that one cannot view them. But the census data really surprised me. They were removed from home viewing this week, March 2020.