Research Your Scottish Ancestry

FamilySearch Library and Website

Robert Wilbanksby Robert M. Wilbanks IV, B.A.
Chief Genealogist & Historian, C.S.A.

The last article began to introduce you to some uniquely genealogy specific internet resources. Specifically, it discussed a few fee-based subscription sites that give you access to original records and resources, while also including software to build a family tree. Here I want to introduce you to one completely free genealogy site that is filled with an extensive wealth of original records, documents and more, while also helping you to build a genealogy, or connect to already existing family trees.

FamilySearch is the consumer brand for a variety of genealogy products and services operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church). It was originally founded in 1894 as the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) with the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City as its original primary resource center.

In 1938, the GSU began the process of microfilming records of genealogical significance around the world. In 1963, the master copies of these microfilms were stored in a Granite Mountain Vault for long-term preservation. The GSU also collected pedigree charts and family group sheets, and in the early periods of computer systems, they built a variety databases of genealogy information.

The Family History Library, on Temple Square in Salt Lake City and built in 1985, is a four-level building with two additional basement levels consisting of the greatest wealth of genealogy resources. It is the most significant genealogy library around the world. While the Library is open to the public free of charge, and while images of their faith is exhibited throughout the building, there is absolutely no effort to convert or teach patrons of their religion.

The Library holds genealogical records from over 200 countries around the world and consists of over 1.6 million rolls onsite, with access to another 2.4 million rolls offsite. The collection also consists of 727,000 microfiche, 356,000 books, 4500 magazine titles and another 3725 electronic resources. And if you can’t make it to Salt Lake City, there are over 5000 Family History Centers, branches of the Library, in over 134 countries around the world that you can regularly visit to conduct your research and access resources from the main Library.

FamilySearch, the website – – has become the more modern electronic and digital arm of the GSU and FHL. With this site, you can set up a free account and begin to access a wide variety of digitized resources and build a family tree. This site is one of the most heavily used genealogy websites on the internet.

The website was first opened in May 1999, and became so popular so quickly that it crashed within weeks. By October 1999 it surpassed 1.5 billion hits, and in November 1999 a major project uploaded over 240 million names from a preexisting database, bringing the names on this site to 640 million. The site continued to grow with major updates in 2001, 2005, 2007, 2013. In 2014 it entered a partnership with Ancestry, FindMyPast and MyHeritage, sharing massive amounts of data. Other databases such as FindAGrave and BillionGraves were also added to the data content in FamilySearch.

Digitization of the FHL’s microfilm collection began slowly in the mid-2000s and picked up speed such that the expected completion date is far sooner than originally anticipated. As over 1.5 billion rolls of microfilm have been digitized to date, a new completion date has been updated to 2020 for the entire collection.

In addition to original records, FamilySearch also has permanent uploaded genealogies from various genealogists; a catalog of all the other resources of the Family History Library, including resources from Brigham Young University’s family history and archive collection; 325,000 digitized books; and the Family History Research Wiki. The Wiki is particularly helpful in providing resources information and research techniques related to localities and record types, and more.

A key component of FamilySearch is Family Tree, where individuals can enter their family data and search the records and link original sources to the Family Tree and continue to build an extensive genealogy. You can print, download or upload your Family Tree. The Family Tree component is set up as a collaborative project making it interactive and composed of shared content, allowing people to make changes at will; the drawback is the so-called “fixes” made by other people who may not fully understand genealogy or how FamilySearch works, potentially creating problems. But it is still well worth utilizing this extensive genealogy resource.

The “Get Help” feature includes a “Help Center” and “Learning Center” with written and video tutorials. Additionally, FamilySearch has a YouTube channel with over 132 education videos:  or search YouTube with the terms “FamilySearch basics” for many other videos to help you get started.

This is another of a series of articles in which I show you the basics of searching for your family history, discussing the use of family records, public records, and online resources nationally and internationally, etc. The previous articles are now available on the Genealogy Section of this website.   See “Genealogy” in the menu options at the top of the web page.