Family History Library Turns 25
“Because of opportunities associated with the Internet, we now have a library without walls.”
FamilySearch public relations manager
When the Family History Library in Salt Lake City was dedicated in 1985, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) said the structure—then called the Genealogical Library—was a “companion structure to the temples of the Lord.” President Hinckley, then serving as Second Counselor in the First Presidency, petitioned in the dedicatory prayer that the library “may be used by multitudes to search out their kindred dead that the necessary ordinance work may be carried forward in thy holy houses, with both genealogist and temple worker cooperating to the accomplishment of one glorious end.”1
As the Family History Library celebrates its 25th anniversary, it’s not hard to see how that petition has been fulfilled. The library indeed attracts multitudes—about 1,500 people walk through its doors every day—and houses the largest genealogical records collection in the world.
The Family History Library has become one of the world’s most respected genealogical libraries and attracts researchers from around the world. But the Family History Library’s story began long before 1985.
The Family History Library has been the flagship research facility of FamilySearch—formerly known as the Genealogical Society of Utah, which was founded in 1894 to acquire genealogical records.
The society’s original library was located a short distance from the current library and began with a small collection that members of the Church could use to identify their ancestors in order to perform proxy temple work for them.
President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) taught of the importance of family history work: “The saints should take advantage of every opportunity to obtain the records as far as possible of their ancestors, that their redemption through the ordinances of the House of God might be obtained.”2
As the society began acquiring genealogical records over the years, it established the largest collection of genealogical records in the world. As the collection grew, the society’s headquarters were located in five different buildings before settling into the current Family History Library.
Today, the Family History Library is a popular destination for genealogy enthusiasts—one group from France makes the trip every year. But you don’t have to be an expert in research to appreciate the spirit of the library.
“When people come to visit Temple Square, they always tell us they wish they’d come here last,” said Merrill White, patron services manager, “because they always want to stay longer.”
Family history resources are also available worldwide through thousands of satellite branches of the library called FamilySearch family history centers. When the Family History Library was dedicated, 640 family history centers (known then as branch genealogical libraries) served as satellite branches in 31 countries. Today, there are more than 4,600 centers in 132 countries. These family history centers provide access to many of the library’s resources. When they were first established, 300,000 rolls of microfilm were circulated through family history centers per year. Today 100,000 rolls are circulated each month.
In some areas, heavy concentrations of Latter-day Saints warrant the need for larger, more comprehensive family history centers. In Riverton, Utah, a larger Family History Library combined the resources of 24 smaller family history centers. This consolidation of resources, volunteers, and space created an environment more conducive to productive research. Other large family history centers are located in Arizona, California, Idaho, Washington, D.C., and England.
While the Family History Library was designed to make it easier to look into the past, FamilySearch continues to move forward. As technologies change, the way people do family history changes too. FamilySearch is committed to keeping pace.
Elder Richard G. Scott spoke at the library’s dedication in 1985, then a member of the Presidency of the Seventy. He said that the event marked the beginning of “a new genealogical era in the Church.” He continued, “This facility has been carefully designed to accommodate the foreseeable technological advances that will in time greatly simplify much of the genealogy work performed by the membership of the Church.”
Indeed, as technology has greatly simplified genealogy work, the library has adapted its resources accordingly. Since its opening, the society has increased its microfilm collection from 1.45 million rolls to 2.4 million, many of which are being digitized. FamilySearch is also digitizing thousands of books, making more space for computers (which occupied only one room when the library opened).
Perhaps most significantly, FamilySearch.org is making the library’s massive collections and many of its personal support services easily accessible to the masses.
“Because of opportunities associated with the Internet, we now have a library without walls,” said Paul Nauta, public relations manager for FamilySearch. “The library and family history centers are important for personal assistance, and so much of what the library has to offer is gradually expanding online.”
As FamilySearch moves into an age when its “flagship” research facility resides and expands online, the organization will continue to evaluate ways the Family History Library and its resources can continue to bring genealogy and temple work together as President Hinckley envisioned, “to the accomplishment of one glorious end.”
By the Numbers: Family History Library
- About 1,500 people enter each day
- 500 patron computers
- 390 microfilm readers
- 24 microfiche readers
- 24 digital film scanners
- 15 book copiers
- 4 digital book scanners
- Seating capacity for 360 at tables
- 6 classrooms
- 550,000 digital folders
- 2.4 million rolls of microfilm
- 727,500 microfiche
- 394,000 books and manuscripts
- 15,500 maps
- 4,500 electronic resources
- 245 countries, territories, and possessions are represented in the collection
- Approximately 180 digital and microfilm cameras are capturing records in over 45 countries
- Over 1 billion names can be found using name-searchable databases
- Nearly 90 full- and part-time employees
- About 600 trained volunteers
More Information on FamilySearch Family History Centers
Family history centers operate around the world as extensions of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
- More than 4,600 family history centers operate in more than 132 countries.
- Every family history center provides access to the Family History Library’s collection, including research materials, the Family History Library Catalog, and access to well over 1 billion names in databases.
- Family history centers also provide access to restricted digital collections and other premium subscription services.
- Some family history centers have materials unique to that center that do not circulate to other family history centers or to the Family History Library.
- Admission to centers is free.
- Each center is staffed by volunteers and sets its own hours of operation. Call your local center to find out when it is open.
- To locate the center nearest you, visit www.familysearch.org. If you are in the United States or Canada, you may call 1-800-346-6044.