FamilySearch Completes Massive Microfilm Digitization Project

Huge news: after 83 years of filming the world’s historical genealogical records, FamilySearch has completed digitizing its 2.4 million rolls of microfilm.  The best part? The archive, which contains information on more than 11.5 billion individuals, is now available for free on FamilySearch.org

Over 200 countries and principalities and more than 100 languages are included in the digitized documents. All types of genealogically significant records are included—censuses, births, marriages, deaths, probate, Church, immigration, and more. Now that the project is completed, it’s much easier for users to find members of their family tree and make personal discoveries within these records.   


Want to check out these digitized microfilms for yourself? Explore FamilySearch’s free collections of indexed records and images by going to FamilySearch.org, and then search both “Records” and “Images.” The Images feature will let you browse digitized images from the microfilm collection and more. You will need a FamilySearch account to access digitized records—but don’t worry, signing up is completely free!

a roll of microfilm

What Is Microfilm?

A microfilm is a roll of film, like what would be used in an old camera—it just holds a lot more images per roll. However, instead of storing photos of treasured memories and loved ones, microfilms are designed to store documents that are shrunk down into miniature. These historic records are captured on the roll of film and reduced in size for easier storage. Before digital preservation, microfilm was an effective and space-conscious way to preserve historic documents and make them widely accessible.

Microfilm has been used since 1839, but its biggest breakthrough and popularization occurred in 1928.

FamilySearch, back when it was still called the Genealogical Society of Utah, began microfilming in 1938. It was one of the first major organizations to embrace the use of microfilm imaging for long-term record preservation. FamilySearch’s microfilm collection eventually grew to more than 2.4 million rolls. 

FamilySearch ended its microfilm distribution to family history centers in September 2017 when it began its transition to a free, all-digital, online access approach. FamilySearch’s physical microfilm collection will continue to be preserved, but the information that the rolls contain can now be easily viewed and searched online. 

a woman on a microfilming computer

Technology Allows for Rapid Microfilm Digitization

In 1998, FamilySearch began digitizing its microfilm collection—a project that, at the time, was anticipated to take over 50 years to complete. However, advances in technology cut the estimated time to completion by nearly 30 years.

Microfilm scanning began with about 5 employees. As the process developed and evolved, it grew to as many as 30 employees using 26 scanners. This work continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

FamilySearch is committed to collecting, preserving, and providing access to the world’s genealogical records to help individuals and families worldwide discover and connect with their family histories. It continues to capture the images of original records at an ever-increasing rate—but digitally, bypassing the need to transfer the information from film.

  

a woman works with microfilm in the family history library

Although the digitization of FamilySearch’s microfilm collection is completed, the digitization of new records worldwide continues. FamilySearch is also working to outsource the digitization of its large microfiche collection, which should be completed several years from now.

Check out FamilySearch’s digitized microfilm collection—and all of its other freely accessible record collections!

NOTE: All of the microfilms are digitized and published on FamilySearch. However, they are not all “available” for viewing. While the majority are broadly accessible, some will have varying degrees of access limitations governed by contractual agreements or other restraints. Where access limitations exist, most will be available through the FamilySearch Family History Library, a local FamilySearch center, or a third party website. There are also some digital collections that are not currently available. We apologize for any inconvenience in these circumstances. 

FamilySearch Completes Massive Microfilm Digitization Project