I’m often asked what a Family History Center is. Many believe that this is just a generic term for a facility that has resources for family history. It is actually a term for a very specific facility, run by FamilySearch.
Many people are familiar with the FamilySearch website, but are less familiar with the physical facilities they run as well. The granddaddy of all facilities is the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City. It is one of the largest genealogical repositories in the world. Five floors of reference books, compiled genealogies, and millions of reels of original records from around the world on microfilm. They are in the process of digitizing all this microfilm, all of the databases that have been created are available at FHL. There is also a tremendous amount of assistance available from the reference staff and volunteers. Knowing that not everyone can get to Salt Lake City to visit the FHL, Family search operates a network of other places to research.
There are thousands of Family History Centers (FHC) in operation around the world. They offer reference help, free classes, and free access to many subscription websites. There is online access to the FamilySearch databases. They may also have books and microfilms of records that have not yet been digitized.
FamilySearch also operates FamilySearch Centers. These centers are different from FHCs. They offer classes and reference help, and access to the digital databases. But there are no books or microfilms in FamilySearch Centers. They also have equipment to digitize books, video and audio tapes, photos, and slides.
In addition to these facilities which are owned by FamilySearch, a number of public and university libraries, archives, museums, and genealogical societies are Affiliate Libraries. They have privileges to access many of the limited-access databases created by FamilySearch. There are some limitations to this access, however, and not all databases are accessible at all affiliate libraries.
Each FHC is locally operated, so the hours, collections, and offerings vary from location to location. You can find your nearest FHC or Affiliate by visiting the FamilySearch website. Visiting these repositories will provide tremendous benefits to your research.