When you’re doing genealogy, sometimes you just get stuck or need some help. That’s when having an online or local genealogy center might come in handy. But where do you find free (or low-cost) genealogy centers when you need them?
Genealogy centers can be online hubs or physical library locations. Libraries can be locally-run entities or part of the global FamilySearch.org network. Free and low-cost genealogy centers can be found in various communities worldwide if you know how and where to find them. Here is how to find them.
Keep reading to find free and low-cost genealogy centers – both nearby and wherever you want to go worldwide.
What Are Genealogy Centers?
A genealogy center is anywhere that supports and encourages genealogy. They may offer some combination of the following options and resources.
- Source material for genealogical research.
- Online access to databases and other sources for research.
- Assistance from a genealogist – for free or a fee.
- Copy centers for printing or saving copies of your sources (digital or physical).
- Original sources and resources not found at other centers.
- Some genealogy centers may have equipment available for you to use in recording interviews or other forms of important genealogical information.
- Some centers may offer classes on doing research. These classes may be free or require a fee.
Some genealogy centers are unique little libraries that, due to its location or proximity to historical sites, have some pretty cool, original genealogy information. Others are part of a network of genealogy centers. These will have larger online databases that can pull from records worldwide.
In either case, you’re going to find some cool information about your genealogy (or someone else’s) there.
The librarians at the genealogy center are amazing resources, too. Many of these librarians will be some combination of librarians, historians, and genealogists. In many genealogy centers, the librarians will offer some degree of assistance with your genealogy research. That help may be free – or there may be an associated fee. It’ll depend on the individual center’s policies.
What Are Family History Libraries?
Family history libraries are genealogy centers that are also focused on preserving and sharing family stories. As such, they may have many similar resources, though it will depend on the individual library.
Compared to a genealogy-specific center, though, they may also have more equipment and areas dedicated to preserving family stories. This may include sound-proof rooms for videoing or recording audio stories, audio-visual equipment, and more.
Family history librarians may also dabble in genealogy, history, and other areas. So they can be a great resource, too.
Who Uses Genealogy Centers?
Anyone who wants help or access to a greater range of genealogy sources can use a genealogy center. Most centers are run like a public library – with no fee to enter the building or use some of the resources. Some private genealogy centers may have a fee or by-appointment-only type of policy.
Personally, we haven’t seen those kinds of policies, but I’ve heard of some specialty genealogy libraries in other countries that do. However, that is second-hand information, so those policies may have changed in the last little bit.
In any case, genealogy is a popular hobby and pastime, so genealogy centers are becoming more open to the general public.
Why Go to a Genealogy Center?
Due to some pretty huge technological advances in the last 10-20 years, it’s possible to do more genealogy online than ever before. You can do more from a home computer than you could even just five years ago!
However, this doesn’t make genealogy centers obsolete. Not in the least! In fact, genealogy centers are more necessary than ever so that you can get access to a genealogist’s help and find more information than you could at home.
For example, at home, Breanne and I each have access to FamilySearch.org and the partner/affiliate sites that the Church of Jesus Christ makes available to all individual church members. However, the Church sponsors additional subscriptions at family history centers that aren’t available to individuals.
Going to a genealogy center opens up all those extras.
Besides, while millions and billions of records have been digitized to date, those are only a fraction of the available records. There are still other records that need to be digitized – and are waiting to be indexed.
Those as-yet-unindexed records can be hard to search. If you’ve never had to search microfilm records, consider yourself lucky! It’s a lot of hard, monotonous work to see an amazing payoff.
So if you go into a genealogy center, a genealogist/librarian can help you narrow your search – or even help you find what you need in the crazy pile of potential and unindexed sources.
Furthermore, if you’re wanting to learn more about genealogy, a genealogy center is going to be an amazing resource. Centers offer courses and individual help, which is almost like getting a free genealogy tutor. How cool is that?
There really is something for everyone at genealogy libraries. So use them!
What Resources are Available at a Genealogy Center?
Each genealogy center may offer different resources, as we’ve talked briefly about earlier in this article. Even so, Breanne and I mostly use FamilySearch libraries, so here’s what resources they may offer.
- Genealogy and family history classes
- Computer labs
- Reference books
- Map collections
- Preservation materials (scanners and other equipment to help you quickly convert photos, books, slides, 8 mm film, etc to a digital format)
- Discovery centers
- Access to various online paid resources (but use it for free)
- Online library hubs like the Digital Public Library of America, WorldCat, and Archive.org. These resources can be viewed digitally or requested with an Interlibrary loan.
- A children’s section so the kids can play while you do family history!
- And more, depending on the location.
Okay, so the children’s play areas aren’t a common feature. So far, we’ve only seen it at the Salt Lake City FamilySearch library. Even so, Breanne and I have both taken our kids there and they love getting to play there!
So if you are planning a family trip to Utah (and Salt Lake City) any time soon, know that visiting the family history museum and the FamilySearch libraries can be a totally family-friendly outing.
Who Works at a Genealogy Center?
Some genealogy centers employ librarians, while others employ genealogists. There’s usually at least some minimal overlap, though. And the longer-employed librarians quickly become amazing resources in their own right!
Our favorite genealogy centers to visit are FamilySearch libraries. FamilySearch libraries are staffed primarily by volunteer missionaries who are genealogists of some degree or another. Some are hobbyists and others are professionals. Others are hobbyists who are smarter than professionals. It’s just going to depend on the individuals and the library.
In any case, these volunteers ooze excitement – they really want to help everyone with their family history and genealogy! And they offer their help for free.
FamilySearch libraries may also have a staff of professional genealogists, librarians, historians, or other specialists who maintain archives. These professionals may be working behind-the-scenes, though, so they may not be as available to help in most situations.
I have seen the volunteer genealogists go and ask the professionals for some quick ideas when they get stuck, though. So even when you’re getting free help from a volunteer missionary, know that they’re being taught and guided by dedicated professionals. It’s really a win-win situation for everyone!
Where are Genealogy Centers Located?
There are genealogy centers worldwide. Some are locally-run centers that specialize in a specific area’s history. Others are dedicated to a specific lineage, history, people, or timeframe.
Other genealogy centers are part of a network of centers run by various companies.
FamilySearch has a network of genealogy libraries worldwide. The largest one is in Salt Lake City, Utah, though there are centers of all sizes throughout the world.
Each FamilySearch library will offer various resources, depending on its size. But each has access to an amazing database of records, sources, and information. And each is run by a staff of volunteer genealogists who are happy to help you find what you’re looking for.
Oh, and they’re free to the public, so that’s kind of cool. Keep reading to find out how to see if there’s a FamilySearch library near you!
How to Find Free Genealogy Centers Worldwide
The biggest network of free genealogy centers worldwide is run by FamilySearch. FamilySearch is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it’s open to the public. You don’t have to be a member to use the genealogy centers.
To find a nearby family history center or a FamilySearch affiliate library anywhere in the world, click this link to FamilySearch.org. Enter the address or area you want to know about, and you’ll see results for any local, free family history and genealogy centers.
Some family history libraries are found inside local public libraries, like the following.
- Allen County Public Library
- Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research
- Dallas Public Library
- Los Angeles Public Library
So be sure to check local library systems for genealogy resources. There may just be a cool family history center hiding there for you to find!
A Special Type of Worldwide Family History and Genealogy Centers
There is one special type of smaller family history and genealogy center that’s worth noting, though. Because this kind is harder to find – unless you know it’s there.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has church buildings worldwide. Each of these buildings usually dedicates at least one room to family history and genealogy. And each building has anywhere from one to several people who are tasked with being the local, lead genealogist and family historian.
These local church buildings, via the local family history consultant, offers genealogy classes, help, and various other resources to both its congregation and the public.
So if there isn’t a local genealogy center, find a church and give them a call to find out about their family history work. You can click here to access the Church’s meetinghouse finder.
Or you can use the FamilySearch history center library finder. It includes the church-based centers in its results.
Pretty cool, huh?
How to Find Other Local Genealogy Centers (no matter where you are)
FamilySearch isn’t the only place that offers free or low-cost local genealogy help. However, some of the smaller genealogy centers are harder to find simply because they don’t have a cool finder tool like the FamilySearch libraries do.
Even so, you can find area-specific genealogy libraries and centers with a Google search. You just may need to try several times. Or, use Google Maps (or a map app of your choice) and type in something like “genealogy center near ____” (and write in the area you’re wanting to know about). Oh, but don’t include the quotation marks. Otherwise, Google will look for an exact match – and that might accidentally leave off your desired results!
Or do a Google search for “____ genealogical society”, where the blank is the place you’re searching about. You may want to search by city, area, nickname, county, or known historical facts.
You may also want to search for the “Sons/Daughters of the ___” and fill in the historical event. In Utah, you’d want to search for the sons and daughters of the pioneers. Or search for daughters and sons of the American Revolution. Then, bask in the awesomeness of the search results.
Another search option or hack I actually learned as a blogger. Check with the local area (or city’s) tourism center, Chamber of Commerce, or Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). These resources almost always have a website or at least a phone number you can call.
These will be able to tell you about a local genealogy center while also giving you access to information like local graveyards, local attractions, tours, great local places to eat, and local accommodations.
The tourism center and CVB may even offer discounts on accommodations, so make sure you add them to your to-check-with list before going on a genealogy trip. They’re a great way to get an insider’s insights without too much work.
Free Family History Centers: What Costs You Can Expect
Depending on the family history center you use, there may be various costs associated with your visit. Here are some potential costs to consider during your visit.
- Copies made (this may be free, depending on how many copies you make and/or if you make digital copies instead of hard copies).
- Scanner use may have a rental/maintenance fee (again, this may vary if you’re using a thumb drive to save your files).
- Parking fees.
- Transportation costs.
- Food and drink costs if you go out to lunch during a research break. Most genealogy centers discourage or disallow food and drink (except a water bottle) in certain or all areas.
Again, these costs and fees do change regularly. Even just 10 years ago, copy fees were a big thing because there weren’t as many digitized and indexed records. These days, they are getting rarer – but they still exist.
Even so, it’s totally possible to go to the free family history centers for next to nothing. If in doubt, take enough money for known parking or transportation costs, lunches, and an extra few dollars for surprise copying costs.
Low-Cost Family History Centers: What Costs You Can Expect
Again, costs while visiting a low-cost family history center will depend on the actual library’s policies and fee schedules. Even so, here are some of the most common, potential fees to plan on during a visit.
- Entrance fees, if applicable.
- Scheduling fees, if applicable.
- Fees for consultation or assistance from the librarian or genealogist.
- Fee for using dedicated audio-visual equipment, such as a scanner.
- Parking or other transportation fees.
- Food and drink costs for meals outside of the center, depending on the library’s policies on food and drink.
These costs and fees will depend largely on the individual center’s policies. While neither Breanne nor I have visited a family history center that had an entrance fee, I’ve heard about some – especially in other countries. However, that may have changed since my friends visited those specific locations.
So go ahead and look it up – or call the family history center to ask about commonly expected costs associated with a visit.
Last names are a lot of fun - but sometimes they aren't super easy to track. Then again, it's also a lot easier to track family history when you've got a family surname to help you make sure you've...
While dating my now-husband, it made me laugh when people asked him if he was related to famous people with his same last name. Now that we're married, though, I'm getting that same question about...