The Family History Library Catalog

This is a necessary search tool for all genealogists

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The Family History Library Catalog, the gem of the Family History Library, describes over 2 million rolls of microfilm and hundreds of thousands of books and maps. It does not contain the actual records, however, only descriptions of them - but is an important step in the digital genealogy process for learning about what records might be available for your area of interest.

The records described in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) come from throughout the world. This catalog is also available on CD and microfiche at the Family History Library and at local Family History Centers, but to have it available for searching online is of amazing benefit. You can do much of your research from home at whatever time is convenient and, therefore, maximize your research time at your local Family History Center (FHC). To access the online version of the Family History Library Catalog go to the Familysearch homepage ( and select "Library Catalog" from the Library navigation tab at the top of the page. Here you are presented with the following options:

  • Place Search - Use this option to find catalog entries about a place or for records from a place.
  • Surname Search - Use this option to find catalog entries about records that include a specific surname, such as written family histories.
  • Keyword Search - Use this option to find catalog entries about records that contain a certain word or phrase. You can use this to search for keywords in titles, authors, places, series, and subjects.
  • Title Search - Use this option to find catalog entries about records that contain a certain word or combination of words in the title.
  • Film/Fiche Search - Use a Film/Fiche Search to find the titles of items on a specific microfilm or microfiche in the Family History Library Catalog.
  • Author Search - Use an Author Search to find the Author Details record for a person, church, society, government agency, and so forth identified as an author of a specific reference. The Author Details record lists titles linked to the author and may include notes and references.
  • Call Number Search - Use a Call Number Search to find an item by its call number (the number used to locate items on the shelves in the Family History Library or the FamilySearch Center).

Let's start with the place search, as this is the one that we find the most useful. The place search screen contains two boxes:

  • Place
  • Part of (optional)

In the first box, type the place you want to find entries for. We would suggest that you start your search with a very specific place name, such as a city, town or county. The Family History Library contains a huge amount of information and if you search on something broad (such as a country) you will end up with too many results to wade through.

The second field is optional. Since many places have the same names, you can limit your search by adding a jurisdiction (a larger geographic area that includes your search location) of the place you want to find. For example, you can add the state name in the second box after entering a county name in the first box. If you do not know the name of the jurisdiction, then just search on the location name itself. The catalog will return a list of all jurisdictions which contain that particular place name and you can then select the one which best meets your expectations.

Place Search Tips

Keep in mind while searching, that the names of the countries in the FHL catalog are in English, but the names of the states, provinces, regions, cities, towns and other jurisdictions are in the language of the country in which they are located.

Place Search will only find the information if it is part of the place-name. For example, if we searched for North Carolina in the above example, our results list would show places named North Carolina (there is only one - the U.S. State of N.C.), but it would not list places in North Carolina. To see places that are part of North Carolina, select View Related Places. The next screen would display all counties in North Carolina. To see the towns in one of the counties, you would click on the county, then click View Related Places again.

The more specific you make your search, the shorter your lists of results will be.

If you have trouble finding a specific location, don't just conclude that the catalog does not have records for that place. There are many reasons why you may be having difficulties. Before you give up your search, be sure to try the following strategies:

  • Be sure you typed the place-name correctly.
  • If you qualified your search with another jurisdiction, try the search again without this qualification.
  • Search for records using a larger jurisdiction. For example, if you cannot find records for a town, search for county records. Once you locate the place for which you are looking, you will be presented with a list of places. If you qualified your search with another jurisdiction, the list should be short. If you did not qualify your search, the list may be long.

If the list shows the place you want, click on the place-name to see the Place Details record. This records usually contain the following items:

  • View Related Places - Clicking on this button will give you a list of other places you might be interested in.
  • Notes - A few historical facts and details about the place
  • Topics - A list of topics for which records are available that relate to the place that you are looking for. This list might include such topics as: biographies, cemeteries, census records, church records, guardianship records, history, land and property records, maps, military history, tax records, vital records, voting records, etc.

To best explain what is available in the Family History Library Catalog, it is easiest to take you step-by-step through a search. Begin by doing a place search for "Edgecombe." The only result will be for Edgecombe County, North Carolina - so next select this option.

From the list of available topics for Edgecombe County, North Carolina, we are first going to select Bible Records, as this is the first source which the Catalog Helper suggested for information on our great, great grandmother's maiden name. The next screen which comes up lists the titles and authors available for the topic which we selected. In our case, there is only one Bible Record entry listed.

Topic: North Carolina, Edgecombe - Bible records
Titles: Bible records of early Edgecombe Williams, Ruth Smith

Click on one of your result titles to learn more information. Now you are given the complete catalog entry of the title you selected. [blockquote shade="yes"]Title: Bible records of early Edgecombe
Stmnt.Resp.: by Ruth Smith Williams and Margarette Glenn Griffin
Authors: Williams, Ruth Smith (Main Author) Griffin, Margarette Glenn (Added Author)
Notes: Includes index.
Subjects: North Carolina, Edgecombe - Vital records North Carolina, Edgecombe - Bible records
Format: Books/Monographs (On Fiche)
Language: English
Publication: Salt Lake City: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1992
Physical: 5 microfiche reels; 11 x 15 cm. If this title has been microfilmed, the "View Film Notes" button appears. Click on it to see a description of the microfilm(s) or microfiche and to obtain microfilm or microfiche numbers for ordering the film through your local Family History Center. Most items can be ordered for viewing at your local Family History Center, though a few cannot due to licensing regulations. Before ordering microfilms or microfiche, please check the "Notes" field for your title. Any restrictions on the use of the item will be mentioned there. [blockquote shade="yes"] Title: Bible records of early Edgecombe
Authors: Williams, Ruth Smith (Main Author) Griffin, Margarette Glenn (Added Author)
Note: Bible records of early Edgecombe
Location: Film FHL US/CAN Fiche 6100369 Congratulations! You've found it. The FHL US/CAN Fiche number in the lower right-hand corner is the number which you will need to order this film from your local family history center.

Place search is probably the most useful search for the FHLC, as the library's collection is primarily organized by location. There are several other search options open to you, however. Each of these searches has a specific purpose for which it is very useful.

The searches do not allow wildcard characters (*), but do allow you to type in only part of a search term (i.e. "Cri" for "Crisp"):

Surname Search

A surname search is primarily used to find published family histories. It will not find surnames listed in individual microfilm records such as census records. A surname search will provide you with a list of titles of catalog entries tied to surnames that match your search and the main author for each title. Some of the published family histories are only available in book form and have not been microfilmed. Books listed in the Family History Library Catalog cannot be sent to Family History Centers. You can request that a book is microfilmed, however (ask a staff member at your FHC for help), but this may take several months if the library has to obtain copyright permission to do so. It may be faster to try to obtain the book elsewhere, such as a public library or from the publisher.

Author Search

This search is primarily used to find catalog entries by or about a certain person, organization, church, etc. The author search finds records which include the name you typed as the author or the subject, so it is especially useful for finding biographies and autobiographies. If you are looking for a person, type the surname in the Surname or Corporate Name box. Unless you have a very rare surname, we would also type all or part of the first name in the First Name box to help limit your search. If you are looking for an organization, type all or part of the name into the Surname or Corporate box.

Film/Fiche Search

Use this search to find the titles of items on a specific microfilm or microfiche. It is a very exact search and will only return the titles on the particular microfilm or microfiche number that you input. The results will include an item summary and the author for each item on the microfilm. The Film Notes may contain a more detailed description of what is on the microfilm or microfiche. To view this additional information, select the title and then click on View Film Notes. Film/Fiche search is especially useful for finding the records available on a film/fiche which is listed as a reference in Ancestral File or the IGI. We also use the film/fiche search to look for additional background on any film we plan to order because sometimes the film/fiche search will include references to other relevant microfilm numbers.

Call Number Search

Use this search if you know the call number of a book or other printed source (maps, periodicals, etc.) and want to learn more about what records it contains. On a book’s label, call numbers are usually printed on two or more lines. To include both lines of the call number in your search, type in the information from the top line, then a space, and then the information from the bottom line. Unlike other searches, this one is case-sensitive, so be sure to type in upper and lower case letters where appropriate. Call number search is probably the least used of all of the searches, but can still be very useful in cases where people list an item and its call number as a reference source without any indication to the information which it contains.

The online Family History Library Catalog is a window to the two million plus records (print and microfilm) which the Family History Library maintains in its collection. For those of us around the world who can't easily make it to Salt Lake City, UT, it is absolutely invaluable both as an avenue for research and as a learning tool. Practice using the different searches and play around with different techniques and you may find yourself amazed at the things you find.

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Your Citation
Powell, Kimberly. "The Family History Library Catalog." ThoughtCo, Oct. 2, 2021, Powell, Kimberly. (2021, October 2). The Family History Library Catalog. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "The Family History Library Catalog." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).