What Gives With FamilySearch? The Rest of the Story.

What Gives With FamilySearch? The Rest of the Story.

Every genealogist throughout the world knows (or should know) of FamilySearch. According to their website “FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving and sharing genealogy records worldwide for over 100 years.” I did know that they had massive indexing projects, but did not know that they average 1.5 millions records a day, nor did I know that they have 4600 Family History Centers in 132 countries.
FamilySearch hosts RootsTech, a conference mashup of genealogists and technologists. I attended the first one last year and I am already registered for the next one on February 2-4, 2012 and excited to attend again.

RootsTech 2010

Having worked at the Family History Library in Salt Lake as a volunteer research consultant I wasn’t surprised that the FHL averages 2000 visitors a day and of course it is the ultimate genealogy research site on every genealogist bucket list. These things you probably already knew too.   Here are some things that you might not know.

Family History Library Salt Lake City

The Family History Library is staffed and supported by 5 different groups of people. First, there is the paid staff of FamilySearch. They are the smallest group and are people like the reference consultants, the IT people, and various others. One paid staff member I know of, was hired as a young single mother of 6. FamilySearch offered her the opportunity to not only have employment so she provide for her family, but also allowed continue her education. She recently received her Master’s Degree and is a manager for a department.
The other 4 groups are the part of the huge Army of volunteers, the full-time Church of Jesus Christ missionaries, Church Service missionaries, Young Adult Church Service missionaries and FamilySearch missionaries.
The full-time missionaries can come from as far away as Australia, England, Germany and Japan. They come for 12-24 months and at their own expense. They leave their children, their grandchildren and homes behind to serve others at the Family History Library sharing their expertise in their native country’s records and languages full-time. These are amazing people and their sacrifice and dedication is tremendous. I know one sister who survived the horrors of WWII in her home country of Poland. As the politics and governments changed that besides her native Polish, she learned Germany and Russian. She used these hardships that she faced as a gift to help other’s in their research. She continued to serve while battling cancer until her death. I miss her, but her strength and example are with me still.

The Church Service Missionaries, whose number is around 750 right now, and they live within  a 60 miles radius of the FHL and commute from their various homes to serve at least 8 hours per week for a period of 6-24 months, though many serve much more and for much longer. I know many personally who have served for decades, one just “retired” after volunteering for 30 years. Some are retirees, some still have jobs and serve on their days off or in the evenings, some have disabilities and health problems but still serve in quiet ways. One such woman who has a handicap, just celebrated shelving her 1 millionth book. These are humble people, serving in unassuming yet vital ways.

All those books, microfilms, microfiche, digital images that are miraculously there where need them (okay – most of the time!) were shelved by these often unseen volunteers. These people sometimes aged, infirm or disabled find useful meaningful service, traveling in all kinds of weather, traffic, day in and day out so that others may benefit. When I served there, and after a long day I would leave the library a bit tired and worn out and be passed up by an elderly man dragging an oxygen tank or a sister in a wheelchair, who also had a long day. Needless to say, I felt chastened by my poor contribution when I looked at their cheerful service. I would straighten my shoulders and would press on, inspired by their examples.

The Young Adult Church Service missionaries are young men and women from ages 19-30, who for various reasons are not able to serve a regular full-time mission for the LDS Church but find service at the FHL or at one of the other church buildings on Temple Square. Some of them commute from home and some live with other missionaries near Temple Square, as they come from all across the country.  My daughter who has a communications disabilities served at the FHL as one.

Sister Brittany-1
Sister Brittany Elkins my daughter

The other young women in my daughter’s apt. had a variety of special need: one was blind, one was in a wheelchair, one was bi-polar, and one had a crippled hand and each was amazing. You are a tougher than me if you don’t get a little misty-eyed watching the one with handicapped hand cheerfully push the one in one with a muscle degenerative disease in the wheelchair or the one who has Asperger’s Syndrome interact with the one who is blind. Young men I have known who served there had everything from had food allergies so severe that eating is a life threatening event to autism. Watching them serve is the most awe-inspiring, humbling and faith building thing I have ever seen. You see these young people, who at home were often labeled and looked at differently by their peers, blossom in an atmosphere of love and acceptance of others who have special needs as well. Here, they are not judged by what they can’t do, but encouraged to grow in what they can do. Next time you go to the FHL take a minute to say something nice to them. They are so incredible!

Then, there are the FamilySearch missionaries who serve from their own homes, utlilizing their own computers answering questions about FamilySearch’s family history programs,  products and software. Right now in North America over 650 such missionaries (with many more serving throughout the world) are serving a minimum of 15 hours a week answering calls and emails to help solve problems and answer questions for a year or more.

All of these volunteer workers undergo extensive and continuous training. Some have a bigger learning curve than others. You may have an 86 year old woman who is slow with the computer as she just learned it, but who is a whiz at reading old Italian documents or translating Swedish. If you can’t find one volunteer who can help you, ask another. Believe me the help you need is there, so keep asking.
Don’t let the term “missionary” scare you! FamilySearch staff and volunteers are not allowed to discuss religion unless you personally ask them questions about the LDS Church. They will politely answer your questions – but won’t proselyte. So why does this ARMY of volunteers, who sacrifice large amounts of time, energy and their own money do this? Members of the LDS (Latter-Day Saints) Church are taught that “when you are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” It is out of their love for their Heavenly Father and a deep desire to serve Him and others that they do this. Whether you are a member of not does not change their desire to freely give and share their time and talents.

FamilySearch offers everyone and anyone free access to over 1 billion names on their website’s database and will never, ever charge. Names that were extracted from records throughout the world by an unseen battalion of selfless volunteers and at FamilySearch’s expense are freely given and shared. FamilySearch offers free videos, free classes at FHL and Family History Centers in local communities that anyone is allowed to use and attend.

Let me just add a word about the professional research consultant staff at the FHL. These people are good! I mean phenomenally good. Some speak at some genealogy conferences like Baerbel Johnson AG and Ruth Merriman AG, MLS, but for the most part these professional genealogists are not big bloggers, tweeters or are promoting themselves and so many people outside of the FHL may not know their names, but they are some of the best in the world in their field. They offer their assistance for free, yes, you read that right. I only wish I knew half of what they have forgotten.

Disclaimer – while I am proudly a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I am not an official blogger for anyone or for anything, nor am I a representative of the LDS Church or FamilySearch and I do not profess to be speaking for them. I was not offered compensation, nor was I asked to write this post. I did contact FamilySearch to verify my numbers but the rest is all me and my opinion. I love FamilySearch! I am proud to have worked along such amazing, amazing individuals. They are some of the finest people in the world.

FamilySearch offers opportunities for anyone wanting to give back by volunteering time in indexing records and you can find out about it here.

There is also new programs ready to be released soon so keep your eyes open, I am really excited about it! Check out the beta programs on FamilySearch Labs. Here you can find a beta program that shares family history books that have been digitized and shared from a variety of libraries like the Allen County Public Library, the Houston Public Library, the Mid-Continent Public Library as well as the FHL and BYU libraries!

So what gives with FamilySearch? Everyone and everything! When you get a bit impatient if a film is misfiled or is not at the window when requested, or the elderly woman who is assisting you doesn’t know her way around the computer. Please take a minute, take a breath and remember to thank that person for their service.Thank you FamilySearch and all those that make it happen!


  1. Valerie – Great post! I knew that the library was staffed mostly by volunteers, but I had no idea how many! Question – Are non-LDS permitted to be volunteers at local family history centers?

  2. Sheri, Great question and the answer is YES! I have lived in places were the non-LDS volunteers outnumbered the LDS volunteers by a wide margin! Check your local FHC and offer your assistance, I am sure they would love to have you!

  3. Great post, Valerie! The research consultants at the FHL are phenomenal. Several of pur courses at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy each year are taught by these knowledgeable professionals. For 2012 we are leveraging the vast knowledge for these folks prominently in our Swedish and Welsh tracks.


  4. Thanks for the wonderful information! I’m a Consultant in our local Family History Center and must say two of our most knowledgeable and experienced (expert) consultants are members of the Roman Catholic church. I’m proud of the efforts of all the volunteers and missionaries! We all have something to contribute–no gift of service is too small.

  5. Valerie, thank you so much for posting this information. I’m sure there are many, like me, who have no idea of what it takes to provide the services available at the FHL and at FHCs around the world. A big thanks to all of them for their service to the genealogical community.

    I too have wondered whether non-LDS people could volunteer. I will be checking to see if I can help out in some small way at my local FHC!

  6. This was a wonderfully informative post, Valerie. I knew some of the information but was not aware of the numbers of missionaries who serve at the FHL. I love the photo of your daughter. She is adorable and looks like a powerful young woman! Thanks for sharing this information.

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments. I did not add the huge number of volunteers that man the 4600 FHC around the world (members and non-LDS alike). I volunteer at my local FHC as a trainer for other FHC consultants and we have probably around 30+ other volunteers so add a large number to those above.
    Nancy thank you, my daughter amazes me everyday with her strength and is definitely adorable!

  8. Valerie,
    I was deeply touched by your “rest of the story.” I a currently serving as a full-time missionary in the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission (new name). I would like permission to quote some of your comments at a future date. The incredible young men and women that serve in this mission have truly touched my heart and you have phrased everything beautifully. Should you allow me to quote you, it would only be in a church setting and I would mention your name.
    Thanks you,
    Sister Sandra Newell

  9. Sister Newell, feel free to share this post. I love FHL and have just returned as a volunteer research consultant, so hopefully I will see you around. Thank you for your service!

  10. I’ve visited the Family History Library for the last two summers and your article confirmed what I have seen and explained things I had wondered about. As a non-LDS person who teaches in a public school with many LDS students, I had often wondered how some of them would be able to complete a mission with their various challenges. Your article also makes me realize that I might serve in a local center after retirement as well! Thanks!

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