23 October 2012

Teaching us to fiche

See update of this post, below, under the section "Ordering just the Document from FHL." (26 Jan 2013)

A couple of recent posts on the JewishGen Discussion Group (JGDG) indicate that not everyone is familiar with a quick and inexpensive remote source for acquisition of many documents: the Family History Library (FHL). More and more, FHL is digitizing records from their microfilm vault and putting them online for free. But it will be quite a while before they have everything online. So, for those records not yet online, the old fashioned methods of looking through microfilm or using regular mail to order document copies are still useful.

In the most recent JGDG post, a researcher wanted to know how to acquire a particular naturalization record filed in 1910 with the Kings County, NY Supreme Court. I will use this record as my example, but any vital record or census record FHL holds may be ordered in a similar fashion with similar resources.


Finding the Record in an Index

I initially found the record via stevemorse.org , but one may go directly to the Kings County Naturalization Index page on the Jewish Genealogy Society of New York webpage, and find a large box with information on acquiring naturalization records from Kings County Supreme Court. One option is to contact the Kings County Clerk’s Office, directly. This may entail a wait of several months for ones order to be filled.

For those of us too anxious to wait, the better (less expensive and faster) option is to order either the microfilm containing an image of the record or a paper copy of the record, itself, from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Search in the JGSNY naturalization database located the following indexed naturalization record:
Swoff, Barnett; Declaration Volume – 33; Dec. Page – 21; Dec. Year – 1910; Petition Volume – 46, Pet. Page – 152
Since Barnett Swoff appears to have completed the naturalization process, the important information is related to the Petition, not the Declaration (also known as the first papers). Usually, documents filed earlier in the naturalization process will be placed with the final papers once the naturalization process is complete.


Locating the Correct Microfilm Number

JGSNY has, conveniently, provided a link to FamilySearch.org (the online arm of the FHL) so that one may easily locate the appropriate FHL microfilm. They have not, however, updated their information with the fact that microfilm must now be ordered online at https://familysearch.org . Since, one would have to go to that website anyway to order the microfilm and since I want to teach one how to fish (or fiche), I will walk through locating the microfilm number via familysearch.org .


FamilySearch.org Microfilm Search

From among the options near the top of the page, click on “Catalog.” A search box will appear. FamilySearch lists the larger jurisdiction first.  For the NY Kings County Supreme Court naturalization record, one would put in “New York, Kings, Brooklyn.” The resulting list will include numerous databases or records held by FHL from Kings County, NY. 

Scroll down to the ones for Naturalization. FHL has microfilm rolls of both indices and images of the documents. Since we already have the indexed results for Barnett Swoff (above), click on the option for the actual images.

Scroll through the microfilm roll index to find the roll that contains Petitions in volume 46. It is roll number 2,317,635.

If one would like the microfilm to be sent to the Family History Center of ones choice, one must have a free account with FamilySearch. It’s pretty simple to get one and set up a password. Microfilm rental is $7.50 for each film. And one may expect that the Family History Center one designates will receive the film in 10 days to a few weeks. One may track the progress of ones order online.


Ordering just the Document from FHL

As of 25 January 2013, FamilySearch has changed their document ordering procedure so that it is now better than ever(!). One may now order online and receive ordered images via email. And now there is NO FEE for the service - as long as the documents are sent via email. A few weeks ago I ordered some documents via snail mail and enclosed a $4 check. I received the documents via email with a very nice note saying my fees would be remitted and that they would soon provide ordering via email. Now it's live.

If one has the date, petition volume and page number or document number, one might consider ordering a copy of the document, rather than the whole microfilm from FHL. Given enough good information, the wonderful people at FHL will find the document on the microfilm, make a copy and send it to you. Understand, however, this is not a research service. One must first do ones own research and provide the information needed to easily find the image on the microfilm. This is a phenomenal service provided by the Family History Library. For those without a local respository of original records or a Family History Center nearby, this may be your best choice.

Once one has the film number (and make sure to check and recheck the number – one doesn’t want to make a mistake on the order), download the order form (unfortunately this process still requires paper and snail mail). These days the form is a tad difficult to locate on the familysearch webpage. 

Go to “Help” which is located on the upper right of the page and put “photocopies” in the search box. Among the returns on your search will be one for a form for ordering copies of documents from microfilm/fiche ("Request for Photocopies - Census records, Books, Microfilm, or Micofiche"). Save the form on your computer. The form is fillable .pdf, so one may type in the information and then print (the typed information cannot be saved on the form) or print and fill in by hand.

Fill in the first page with your contact information and decide how you will pay. Note that each page copied will be $2 and that the minimum order is $4. The maximum number of documents that may be requested in one order is 8. For a naturalization petition document, expect four pages: the Declaration of Intention, the Certificate of Arrival, the Petition of Naturalization and the Affidavit. There may be fewer pages, but sending money for four ($8) is the best bet. If you send too little, you may not get your copy with the first request. If you send too much they will send you a credit toward your next order.

Once you’ve filled out page one, go to page two and fill in the middle area. Write the document’s microfilm number with appropriate commas (i.e., 2,317,635) – this makes it easier for FHL employees to read it correctly. Then, move across the table filling in the subject's name, name of the document, date (as much as known) of the document, location of the court or original repository, volume number, document number, etc.

Make a copy of the order for your records. Write a check for the correct amount or provide your credit card information. Send the form to the address shown on the top of the first page.

If all goes well, in about a month your mailbox will be filled with a large white envelope containing your FHL prize!

For a follow-up post, see "Catch and Release Fiching"


  1. Thank you for your article. FamilySearch asked me last year to relocate from California to Salt Lake in order to help get this program up and running. Today, we are filling several hundred requests each week, both from people who call into FS requesting records as well as by those who follow the instructions on the FS wiki: https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Photoduplication_Services

    Facebook users can also request this service by going to my research firm’s FB page: http://www.facebook.com/RootsonomyGenealogy and clicking the button “Request Research or a Lookup”.

    All others can submit requests at: http://goo.gl/MlzYC. Records will be digitally downloaded and sent via email within a few days. FS officially states that it may take up to 1 week, but usually it’s within a day (depending on snow levels).

    Note: Rootsonomy uses professional researchers to locate the records. So if you are not sure about the record, we recommend submitting the request to them.

    Jim Heddell

  2. Great! Thanks for the info. And keep up the good work. Hope we don't overwhelm the system!


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