Have you visited a Family History Center near you lately? You might be surprised at what you find. I just returned from a trip to my hometown Burley, Idaho. While there I was treated to a tour of the newly updated Burley Idaho Family History Center by one of the consultants, Tamara.
My parents started their genealogy research in the 1960’s and spent many hours at this center viewing microfilm. I was curious to learn about the history. Dave Badger, one of the center’s directors gave this information:
The center originated in 1961 when a number of local genealogy enthusiasts were granted a charter as the Magic Valley Chapter of the Idaho State Genealogical Society. They met at the Burley Public Library and were required to pay monthly dues in order to use the resources of the society library located in Boise. In addition, they started a book collection of their own which was the foundation of the library in our basement. In 1965, a delegation traveled to Salt Lake City to petition The Genealogical Society of Utah to become a branch of that organization. They were granted their petition and became one of the first branch facilities of that organization. They were given access to use the basement of the old seminary building, built in 1931 across the Street from the Burley High School, which was then serving the students of Burley Junior High School. After the school building burned in 1973, and a new BJHS was built, the entire seminary building became the Burley Family History Center.
Reading this history struck home with me. My mother attended seminary in this building from 1941-1945 and I well remembered the day the Burley Junior High School burned. I was in 6th grade and wondered where I’d end up attending school the next year!
As I walked through the rooms of the newly remodeled center, it was another reminder to me of how far family history and genealogy has come. Our tour began with the basement and the old microfilm room. Originally holding thousands of rolls of microfilm and multiple readers, all that is left are a few shelves of film and one reader. The remainder of the room contains technology for digitally converting memories: slides, cassette tapes, DVD’s and physical photos.
Wanting to know more, I asked about the transition from microfilm to digital and Mr. Badger gave additional details.
Through the years the Burley FHC collected thousands of rolls of microfilm as well as many hundreds of books in its library. As computer technology advanced through the 1990s and 2000s, digital material began to replace the print and microfilm holdings, first on floppy disks and then CDs. Finally internet technology advanced to the point where online databases could be accessed universally.
The Pocatello FamilySearch scanning facility started scanning our printed materials about this time, and in 2017, FamilySearch announced that they would no longer provide microfilm services to remote centers and the microfilm collection would eventually all be online. We decided it was time to return all our microfilm collection that could be accessed online. We weeded our collection and returned an estimated 15,000- 17,000 microfilm rolls to the chagrin of some of our older patrons who thought the sky was falling. We also retired a number of microfilm readers and other antiquated equipment.
I can only imagine the amount of volunteer hours this effort must have taken. Imagine this scenario playing out in family history centers everywhere!
Next to the microfilm/digitizing room is the children’s room where family history activities are held regularly. Parents are free to let their children explore and play while they research upstairs. Books, games, and toys all have a family history focus and how great is that mural of a ship! I also love the tree and puppets.
The basement also holds the book collection and a large classroom with computers. The class schedule is robust and I was impressed with the variety of offerings – everything from beginning research to “Death, Wills, & Probates.”
Bookshelves line one entire wall. I spent some time looking through the titles and saw many collections that are also held at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The shelves hold books for every state and many countries and are organized geographically to make it easy to look for holdings on an entire area.
I was surprised to see the varied collection of research books in this small Idaho town such as Territorial Papers of the United States. You can view the various books and films available by going to the FamilySearch Catalog, selecting “Family History Center” and “Burley Idaho Family History Center.” Searching with those terms brought up 30, 292 results with about half listed as online records. You can filter the results by year, language, and type of records.
I asked about the accuracy of these listings and learned that after returning the majority of the microfilm collection, the print collection was also downsized and many books sent to the Pocatello Scanning Center. With these items probably still in the catalog but not at the physical location, the actual holdings at the Burley Family History Center are closer to 3,000 items. Still, that is a lot of film and books!
I couldn’t resist doing a little research while onsite, especially since my grandparents had homesteaded in the area over a hundred years ago. I located a biography for my grandfather, Edward Raymond Kelsey and found my parents listed in the Burley, Cassia County, Idaho City Directory – 1964. If you’re taking a research trip, its always worth a try to see what might be at the local Family History Center. Viewing the entries in the FamilySearch Catalog might surprise you!
My tour continued with the upstairs rooms. The FamilySearch logos were on every wall and the same type of experiences available at the Discovery Center in the Family History Library were available here. Tamara explained that youth groups come often to introduce teens to family history. In September the center hosted eleven groups from various wards (local congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), offered about twelve classes, and hosted around 470 individual patrons.
What would a Family History Center be without a serious research room? The inviting space pictured below has numerous computers and various websites available for patrons to use. The bright room is a huge improvement over the previous set-up. I wondered how this center was so fortunate to warrant the remodel. Director Dave Badger indicated that after returning the 15,000-17,000 rolls of microfilm someone at Family Search must have taken note.
In September of 2018 we received a phone call asking if we would be interested in having our building remodeled to house a discovery center, recording studio, and new computers. The funds had originally been slated for another location, and one caveat was that the construction money had to be spent by January 2019.
In the next couple of weeks we worked with an architect and FamilySearch to develop the building plan that can be seen today. The construction was completed in January, but installing and regulating the technology took longer. To date, our recording studio has not been completed and there is not a clear date on when the software will be available. We are patiently waiting to hold an open house when everything is completed.
The center currently has about 52 volunteer consultants. Four people are called as directors/assistant directors, and two young service missionaries round out the volunteer effort. The center serves seven stakes (each consisting of about eight wards) covering a geographical area larger than the state of Delaware. Some patrons must travel more than 65 miles one way to visit the Burley Family History Center.
I walked away from this building extremely grateful for each of the family history consultants worldwide. This center holds much history for my own origins in genealogy and family history. One of the long standing volunteers of this center, Blanche Simmons, was directly responsible for teaching my parents how to research our family. She encouraged them to write letters to family members all over the country. The letters they received in response are part of my treasured collection – detailing families, cemeteries, and more. She taught them how to order microfilm and how to search the records.
What it took my parents years to do, I can now do in a matter of days. I will forever be grateful for Blanche and this family history center!
If you haven’t checked out your local Family History Center, maybe it’s time. Who knows what might be waiting for you?
Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors!