Friday, February 25, 2011

Trip to Genealogist's Mecca: Family History Library in Salt Lake City

Entrance to the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), Salt Lake City, Utah. Inscribed on the wall to the left of doorway, "Genealogical Society of Utah, established 1894. That is the year that the LDS began to collect genealogical records to help members of the church discover their own ancestors and family history. However, the library and all of it's records are open to the public, not just to members of the LDS. Beginning about 1938, the Church sent out hundreds of missionaries and camera crews to microfilm birth, baptismal, marriage, and death records contained in archives all over the world. To the right of the doorway, the corner stone is inscribed, "Erected 1983-1985".

Off the lobby, in a small theator, I watched a 10 minute orientation and introduction to the Library. The Library contains records on over three billion deceased individuals. It also has about two and a half million microfilms containing images of original, genealogical records. Copies of all microfilms are preserved in a vault which has been carved 600 feet into a granite mountain located about 25 miles southeast of the city. The vault has enough space to accomodate the equivalent of seven times the volume of the U.S. Library of Congress. In short, the library has lots of records which are safely preserved. A good place to reseach your family history.

My first effort inside the library on the main floor was to see if my brother-in-law's genealogical book on the McCutcheon family was on the shelf. Pleased to say that it was there, all one thousand pages of it. I did a quick survey to see if my branch of family surnames were represented: no Streich (Strike), Hohnke, Kramp, Gailliot, Austel, or Gutgsell. I guess the field is still wide open.

My next effort, over the succeeding week was to search the microfilms. In my own travels to collect data on my family's genealogy, I have found the results of the LDS microfilming project in many places overseas. For example, I traveled to County Durham, England, in 1996. There, in the Durham Record Office I discovered rolls of microfilm containing images of parish records and census enumerations. Usually in the first frame of the film, I read that the records were filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU). Again, at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, Scotland, I consulted microfilms which were produced by the GSU. I was told that the Society was allowed to film the records and then returned copies to the archives. Even in Germany, at the archives in Bruhl, I found microfilms created by the Society. Fortunately, the Society microfilmed the parish records of St. Mariae Himmelfahrt Catholic Church in Wesel, Germany, because the church was totally destroyed by Allied bombs in the waning hours of WW II. However, a copy of the church records was preserved at the State Archives in Berlin, and apparently, that is where the Society filmed the parish records in 1942. As stated in the Notes for the film, "Mikrofilme aufgenommen von Manuscript in Berlin, 1942". Indeed, the 1862 baptism of my great grandfather, Heinrich Casper Gailliot, was recorded on one of the seven microfilms in this series. So, from an image of the original parish record, I transcribed the event into my personal genealogical records. If it weren't for these films, I would have little to show for my genealogy, particularly for the early generations.

I have one question about the catalogue of microfilms to which I can't seem to get an answer. Some of the microfilms of German archival records are not available to persons in Germany or can not be ordered from German Family History Centers of the LDS Church. For example, the Notes for a microfilm of the parish records of the Catholic Church of Grietherbusch, Germany (FHL No 907581), states "No circulation to family history centers in Europe". I have a German collaborator who lives in Achen who told me that she has to travel to the Netherlands in order to obtain certain microfilms, because they are not available in Germany. WHY?

Update: A staff member of the FHL told me that the microfilming crews must of course seek permission before filming records at a specific archive. Sometimes the crew is allowed to film the records but certain restrictions apply. As noted above, some films are not allowed to be circulated in the country where the records are originally kept.