The current FamilySearch microfilm issue has apparently engendered a sub-topic concern about the “restricted” records on the FamilySearch.org website. As more people view the records on FamilySearch and as more records are added to the website regularly, more people are encountering notices from FamilySearch indicating that the records are restricted in some way. The restricted records fall into three distinct categories:
- Records that are only available for review at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, i.e. when the researcher is physically present in the Library.
- Records that are only available for review when the researcher is in a Family History Center and using a computer connected to the Family History Center Portal.
- The very small category of records that are only available to researchers who have certain qualifications, i.e. members in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It is important to understand that these “restrictions” do not come from FamilySearch. The restrictions arise as a result of the following concerns:
- Privacy concerns
- Restrictions imposed by the custodians or originators of the documents when they were obtained by FamilySearch
- Changes in the laws in the country where the records originated
- Limitations imposed by the contract role arrangements providing for the use of the records by FamilySearch
- Copyright restrictions
There may be additional reasons why certain records are not available online at all. It is entirely possible that the restrictions imposed by those who originally supplied the records can change over time. As a matter of fact, when FamilySearch and its predecessors began acquiring microfilm records back in 1938, many of the countries in the world today did not exist and many of the countries that existed back in 1938 do not exist today.
I have heard complaints from a very small minority of the users of the FamilySearch.org website who complain that “all the records” are restricted. In fact, very few of the records are actually restricted even including those restricted to viewing within Family History Centers. Over time, some of these restricted records may become more freely available. However, the opposite can also occur; the original suppliers of the records may choose to have them removed from circulation. This occurs entirely independently of any of the issues involving microfilm.
If you take a moment to think about the situation, you will realize that the discontinuance of the shipment of microfilm has nothing to do with the restriction issue. Of the three types of restrictions listed above, each of the restrictions applies to microfilm and are only more evident now because of digitization. There have always been records that were restricted to viewing in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As for the microfilm, use of microfilm was always restricted to Family History Centers. The only thing that has changed is the fact that many more documents are now freely available online without restrictions than ever before.
To repeat, records with restrictions are not the fault of FamilySearch.