A microfilm research roadmap

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Family History Library

This has been a summer and fall of big news in genealogy both nationally and in Chicago.

In mid-July, the Family History Library decided to end their program of sending microfilm to local family history centers. The decision was made due to technological advancements as well as rising microfilm copying costs.

I’m sure most of you know that when you are researching your ancestral towns in Italy, you need to choose which microfilms you need based on which record type you want (birth, marriage, death, allegati, processeti etc.) and which year range you need in order to find your immigrant ancestors. You would click on the little film icon next to that film number and it would add it to your cart. You would pay $7-$8 per film and the films would be sent to your chosen local family history center.

This is all, sadly, no longer available.

Why would they discontinue this? To start with, the number of companies that manufacture blank microfilm is down to very few, due to most companies using cloud technology to store their records. It had cost the Family History Library over $75 per microfilm to make a copy to send to you, even though you were only paying $7-$8 each. How many microfilms would you order if you had to pay 75 apiece?

So they decided to get out of the microfilm copying business. Where does that leave us?

Many records are available on www.familysearch.org, but not all of them. The goal is to have every microfilm available in digital form on familysearch by the year 2020. This includes a lot of new images that never appeared on old-fashioned microfilm.

We have discussed in past columns that not every microfilm will be available in digital form, ever. Some will be available in a limited way. What does that mean? It means that you will not be able to see the images of the original records from your home, but you can see the images at a local family history center or at an affiliate center. I have not mentioned affiliate centers enough in my previous columns, but now that I am using them, they are an integral part of my research. An affiliate center is usually a public library that has been granted clearance from the Family History Library to accept microfilm orders (up until recently) and they will have access on their computers to these limited digital images. A few local affiliate centers include Cook Library in Libertyville, Palatine, Glenview, Algonquin, and Arlington Heights. If you did not hear one close to your house, go to familysearch.org and look for one. Type your zip code in the prompt and you will see the centers and affiliates close by.

Other images, including Cook County vital records, may never be available in digital form on familysearch at all. Cook County wants us to pay $17 for each certificate that we want. So we will see someone’s birth or death certificate in the index, but when we click the link to the image, it takes us to www.cookcountygenealogy.com so we can order that certificate.

However, there is a workaround, mostly because a lot of records are also filed at the State of Illinois. This method may not work forever, but we will change the column and the Fra Noi web site if necessary. The method is as follows:

Find the record using the index.

Record the film number (it may be known as a “Digital Film #”) and the image number and the certificate (record) number.

Go to “Search”, “Catalog”

Find the film number in the catalog.

Click on the title to bring up all the films that appear in that list.

Hold the Control key (CTRL) and press “F” to do a “find”.

Type in the same film number you just searched for in the catalog.

If you are lucky, there will be a camera icon to the right of that particular film.

Click on the camera.

Instead of taking you to the Cook County site, it will take you to the images of that film number.

For you to actually see the images, you must use THEIR computer at the family history center or at an affiliate center. You cannot use your own laptop/tablet.

You will see a bunch of thumbnails that you cannot read.

Type in the image number you found in the index on this screen to the left and above the images.

The image you want will zoom in and you should be able to read it.

IF the image is allowed to be downloaded, you can click “Download” and it will copy to your download folder.

If you move the mouse over the “Download” and it turns into a red circle with a line through it, you cannot download the image. (You can try to use Snipping Tool to copy and paste the image from the screen. Press “F11” key to expand the screen to cover more area so you get a larger image.

You can download multiple image numbers from the same film by just changing the image number again.

If you are looking for birth certificates, click on the right arrow to look at the next image, so you can be sure that there is not an addendum page with changes.

If you are looking for death certificates, click on the left or right arrows to be sure there is not a basic copy that says “inquest pending” and a second copy with an interesting cause of death.

Please keep in mind that if you download too many certificates at one time, familysearch.org will stop you from downloading by telling you that you have exceeded the bandwidth. Yes I have run into this screen several times!

Good luck trying out the new method. Write to italianroots@comcast.net with any questions.

About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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