Family Search removing digital access to records?

+3 votes
Hello Wikitree'ers,

I noted last night & this morning, that Family Search had changed the format symbol in the catalog pages for various records in MA, CT, & VT, making it appear that the records are not available in digital format.  The "camera" symbol is replaced with the "microfilm" symbol.  However, if you login, the symbol reverts to the "camera" symbol.

After logging in, I've noted that in many cases, the land records in the above mentioned states have had the earliest digitized deeds removed ("microfilm" symbol).  Meaning, you will have to go Salt Lake City, or hire a genealogist in Salt Lake City, or go to the individual towns yourself, or hire a genealogist to go to the individual towns.

I can not believe that "contractual obligations" are at work here.  I have counted on access to these records, OUR public records, to solve 20 year old genealogical problems, & to lose access now means that it will be impossible to continue.  With this pandemic, we've lost the access to the "affiliate libraries" which allowed access to restricted records, but now with this move, the affiliate libraries will not be an option either.

Any thoughts?


PS An example of the "microfilm" symbol (when not logged in):

An example of early deeds being removed (logged in):
in The Tree House by Nace Few G2G2 (2.6k points)
edited by Julie Ricketts
I am not an LDS member, but they spent the time and money to film the records in question, so it seems they have the right to share them or not. The National Archives has partnered with Ancestry/Fold3 in a slightly different way, so to see those records on-line instead of in-person you must pay a subscription fee.  I too rely on many of the FamilySearch images, and can only hope that before too long we will be able to return to libraries and History Centers to do our research.
I am extremely grateful to the LDS for the records they have made so easily available to me.  As for "contractual obligations," I would suggest researching that before speculating on motives.
Hello Kathie,

Thanks for responding.

Having spoken to a few town clerks, the clerk at Rupert, VT, for example, they are the custodians of the records & she told me that she knew of no law or agreement that would make ready access to the town records restricted.

I also hope this pandemic passes soon so that I can get to the libraries, but I'm not certain that we will the same access to records we had before, based on what I've viewed last night & now today.

Thanks again Kathie.


Hello Nan,

I too am grateful for the records we do have access to, but I'm not going to allow that gratitude to blind me to what I've seen recently.  I've been in contact with FS on a few occasions to try to understand what the "contractual obligations" are & asked various town clerks about this issue, so I have done some investigating, but FS does not offer any specifics &, as I mentioned in my comment to Kathie, the town clerk of Rupert, VT knew of no law or contract that would make that town's records restricted.  I also will not let that gratitude blind me to potential financial considerations on the part of FS.

By the way, can someone tell me why there is a red "flag" after my post?  Is it because someone voted this question down or has it been flagged for another reason?

Again, has anyone else noticed the symbol change from "camera" to "microfilm" (before the login) or noticed a change in record availability (after login)?


I would like to echo Kathie and Nan, but state it a bit differently. While you might be outraged by what is happening, FamilySearch is under no obligation to keep everything open. They do what they do for their own reasons and ask nothing of those who use their facilities. The original contracts, and there are a great many of them, take time to go through.  There may be other reasons that come into play as well. Some things are also no longer available at the Family History Library. A limited edition genealogy I would like to see was taken for filming. The book is no longer on the shelves due to it having its spine cut off and not being repairable. I have not found another copy in any library elsewhere.

As to having to go somewhere or hire someone to do research, a great many of us will remember that being the only way to do research. Even now, a great many records are not available online at all. The pandemic has set my own research back by at least a year since the information I need is more than 2000 miles away (2500 if driven), is not digitized and not even paper indexed in the couple of archives it resides in.
I didn't comment on this earlier but feel it needs one.

I'm not LDS but I see absolutely no issue with having a member have some special privilege on access at FamilySearch. ]Afterall, it is the members of the LDS church who fund its operation. The LDS members I know are very generous in many ways and FamilySearch is gift that they give to the world. That a member can have a "perk" seems quite reasonable to me. The cost of an operation like FamilySearch is high.  I don't see a public statement of their budget but it wouldn't surprise me if it is many millions. Running a data center the size necessary is expensive. The Internet access is another high cost. The Family History Library is a cost. Maintaining Granite Mountain is a cost. LDS members pay for this so I don't begrudge them better access.
I just tried your example. No camera (just microfilm symbol) when not logged in but camera on some after login. Some have not been digitized yet but others have been and are not locked.
Contractual obligations can mean they have had to resign, after expiry of previous contracts, and now have new restrictions as to the use of information.
They all have numbers in the DGS column, meaning that they have all been digitized. There are various programs out there that can access some of these films, and some of the films have camera icons if you're at your local Mormons (once they re-open).

But if something that used to have a camera icon suddenly doesn't, the first thing you should do is check the top right corner of your window: are you logged in?
Well said

5 Answers

+9 votes
Best answer

What if a microfilm I need for my research is not available digitally on

FamilySearch has digitized most films that have been rented by patrons in the last five years as high priority. There are various reasons why microfilms you need may not yet be available digitally on

The microfilm may not be a priority to scan now, because the same content is already available on, a partner site, or a free archive site.

The microfilm may be scheduled for future scanning because it had not been borrowed in the last 5 years.

The microfilm may have a contractual, data privacy, or other restriction preventing access. FamilySearch is making every effort to ease restrictions, which is dependent on decisions of record custodians and applicable laws. FamilySearch strives to obey all laws and restrictions regarding records.

by Ros Haywood G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
selected by Traci Thiessen

Hello Ros,

Thanks for your post.

I did not make clear that the land records, whose link was in the "PS" - the town of Burke - had land records that were available, as I've used them in past, but they are now unavailable.  The "microfilm" symbol has replaced the "camera" symbol.

I have not used the land records in the past month, so I don't know when this change occurred.  Have you or anyone else noticed this change?


Does the camera symbol have a tiny "key" above it?

I have noticed changes and much if it is indeed due to contractual obligations. Many town records are actually from state archives and while no law or regulation was passed on restricting them, the interpretation of the original contracts have been widely becoming to mean that the films were only to be available at and LDS facility. This occurs as each filmset is reviewed by FamilySearch lawyers or the archive that authorized the filming says too desist. Note that most land records in those states are from the county level and not the town. I've still been able to access the very early town land records for a number of places.

Hello Doug,

Thanks for the response.

No, the "key" is not present, as the symbol is of the "microfilm".

For MA & NH, the deeds are kept at the county level, but for VT, CT & RI, they are held by the town clerks (Genealogist's Handbook for N.E. Research, by Marcia Melnyk).  I don't see how an archive can circumvent the authority of the original custodians, the town clerks.

Regardless, if this is true, I hope this process can be reversed.  I'm at a point in my research, where deeds, court cases & town records are my last hope of taking down brick walls.

Thanks again.


If no key, it could also be a bug on FamilySearch. Bugs do occur and can occur in both directions. I've had locked images become available for a few days and open ones be locked for a while.

As to another archive having influence over what local entity holds, it doesn't. It has control over what they licensed FamilySearch to do with what they have. Licensing is a very complicated business. If the contract wasn't with the local agency, the local agency has no control. If filmed a the request of the local authority and there is no reason to lock them, the local authority should be free to contact FS and clarify the terms of the contracts.
+4 votes
I have noticed in the past couple of months that we can no longer access the unindexed Italian records that we used to be able to browse at FamilySearch. The links all indicate that you can browse the images, but once you click on the link the image appears for a split second, then is replaced by a notice that you must access these files at a family history center. It is very disheartening to not be able to access images that were available in the past. My sister and I though that perhaps the images were soon to be indexed or that the rights to display the images had been sold to Ancestry or something along those lines.

I sometimes do indexing for FamilySearch and often clean up some of the mess of their family tree, but things like this make me wonder if I should even bother when they are withholding access to what I would like to view. It would serve FamilySearch to be more transparent about these "contractual obligations" if they really intend to provide a service to the community.
by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (646k points)
+4 votes
These FamilySearch restrictions are frustrating,, but I would not accuse the LDS Church of crass commercial motives.

I do not know the nature of the "contractual obligations", but I surmise that when LDS Church representatives originally requested access to these records, they told the records custodians that the records would be used only by church members or at church research facilities, and somebody signed papers committing to those restrictions. That kind of restriction presumably was intended to provide assurance that the records would not (for example) be used for commercial purposes. If my surmise is correct, it seems to me that it is time for the LDS Church to revisit those contracts to make the records available for genealogical uses by all people, regardless of religious affiliation. (But it would require a massive effort to contact all of the entities that gave the LDS Church permissions for use of records.)
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
Ellen, your surmise fits with what has been said at various conferences and research institutes. This is a huge undertaking.
According to the people who are the administrative leadership of the FHL, they have been actively working with jurisdictions to try to update the old contracts. It is up to the individual authoring entity whether they are willing to expand access or not. There are millions of films in the Granite Mountain Vault. It takes a long time to reexamine and possibly renegotiate that many contracts. Yes, it is frustrating when the record you want to see is not available online. But the FHL filmed these records for religious reasons, often times many decades before there was such a thing as "online." They make them available to the public as an act of generosity (I haven't paid a cent for my access, have you?) and the genealogical community is very grateful for the amazing number of records that the FHL does make available to us for free.
Glad to know that the FHL leadership is working on reducing the contractual restrictions. I can imagine that the current situation of administering different access rules for different data sets, while continually receiving complaints from non-paying customers like us, is a big headache for them.
Thank you Ellen, Doug & Diana,

I appreciate your perspectives.

It is frustrating to not have access & then to lose access you've already had, but FS did not do a good job helping me understand what their "contractual obligations" were.  In fact, what you three offered is more clarifying then what I received from members of FS.

Again, thanks for your perspectives.

By the way, I've tried to edit my original post, but I'm getting a "white film" over the post & can not access the text do an edit.  Any thoughts?

+2 votes
Three points:

1. I've been finding in recent weeks that the camera symbols are sometimes displaying incorrectly. So you should you try to click on camera with key and microfilm symbols.

2. If the record custodian does not know why the records are restricted, then FamilySearch's arrangements with, FindMyPast, MyHeritage and others are probably the reason. Since 2014, FS has agreed to restrict some records in exchange for LDS members getting free subscriptions to those websites. I've contacted record custodians from time to time about restricted records, and twice they were genuinely unaware of the restrictions but knew that there was a second contract between FindMyPast and FS . The custodians were the British Library and the Leicestershire County Record Office.

3. I'm a non-LDS volunteer for FS, so I strongly object to people saying that LDS "deserve" more access to records than the general population. FS is a volunteer run website and all of its users have the opportunity to donate, either financially, by Indexing, by editing the Wiki, or at FHCs.
by Abm van Helsdingen G2G6 Mach 4 (46.7k points)
+3 votes
One reason may also be that FamilySearch sold some records to ancestry. So it is not longer allowed for them to provide them for free.

You can find these records now on ancestry.
by Dieter Lewerenz G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)
I'd rather visit a FHC in person than pay Ancestry any money. Just my view.

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