FamilySearch to require sign-ons to view online records

Roots & Branches

A couple of weeks ago,, the world’s largest free family history site, announced that use of many of its online collections will require a sign on.

The genealogical world greeted the news with a collective sigh … with some putting an extra helping of “sturm und drang” into that sigh.

As for me, I had created a FamilySearch log-on quite a while ago, so my only part of the sigh was centered around the quick thought, “Oh, great — another username and password that now I must remember!”

But, seriously, this is just the way the world goes. I have to sign on to see so many things today that another one isn’t going to be a problem (and here’s a hint: As long as you access your FamilySearch account every couple of weeks, the log on is “sticky” and will come up for you on your home computer — at least for now).

FamilySearch’s announcement about the requirement to log on (which begins in earnest on Dec. 13) says that the reason it is doing this is because “FamilySearch must assure all its partners that its content is offered in a safe and secure online environment. Patrons creating a free account and signing in fulfills that need.”

To translate that, let’s put this into some perspective that I’ve written about a number of times over the last few years. As the FamilySearch drive to digitize its 2 million-plus rolls of microfilm has gained steam, some bumps on the road have developed with the many differing sets of rights it agreed to with custodians of original records over the years when the microfilming was first done … way back when no one had something like digitization in their mind’s eye.

As a result, there are some microfilms that FamilySearch does not have the rights to put out freely on its public internet site. This has led to the frustrating situation in which a user will find a set of records listed in the Family History Library Catalog but then find they do not have the rights to view that record (even if it’s been digitized) unless in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Requiring signing on rectifies the problem with many of the microfilming contracts. In the case of some records, you’ll still need to be in a local Family History Center to view the digitized records.

The sign-ons will also allow FamilySearch to deliver a more personalized experience.

“A large percentage of our current site visitors are not benefiting from much of what FamilySearch has to offer because they don’t realize the need to simply sign in with their free account to do so,” said Steve Rockwood, FamilySearch CEO. “They are basically arriving in the parking lot but not coming inside for the main event,” he said about website visitors who do not sign in.

Among the services and experiences that are limited to those signing on are the creation of family trees on the site.

Beidler is a freelance writer and lecturer on genealogy. Contact him either at Box 270, Lebanon, PA 17042 or by email to Like him on Facebook (James M. Beidler) and follow him on Twitter, @JamesMBeidler.