The Pandemic: Closed Family History Centers and Restricted Records


In March of 2020, we received notice that the Brigham Young University Family History Library was closing for the duration of the pandemic. At the time, most of us thought about this event in terms of weeks. Now, more than a year later, the Library is still closed to patrons and only open to students and faculty at the university. Concurrently, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also closed all of the world’s other buildings. This closure included, of course, all of the over 5000 Family History Centers worldwide and the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library. Despite limited reopenings of some of the chapels around the world and many businesses, the Family History Libraries and Family History Centers remain closed. 

Both the BYU Family History Library and the Salt Lake City Family History Library have now created provisions for limited online consultations. See Research Consultations. However, there is still a major obstacle that is caused by the issue of many of the unique records on the website being designated "Restricted."

This notice on the website says:

Due to contractual obligations, FamilySearch cannot offer expanded access to historical records that are restricted to family history centers and affiliate libraries, despite the temporary closure of these facilities. We apologize for the inconvenience caused by COVID-19 precautionary measures.

In the meantime, we encourage you to explore the vast record collections that are available on FamilySearch. Millions of new indexed records and images are added weekly. And if you haven’t used our new Explore Historical Images tools, you might be surprised at the potential discoveries you can make in our growing unindexed image collections. We appreciate your patience, loyalty, and support.

On April 10, 2021, by a statute passed by the Utah State Legislature, the statewide mask-mandate imposed on the entire state of Utah was repealed. See "UTAH’S STATEWIDE MASK MANDATE ENDS TODAY. HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW." This means that despite a tremendous surge in COVID-19 new cases worldwide, Utah is sending a message that the pandemic is over. However, as the article above points out,  private businesses are still able to impose their own mask requirements. Brigham Young University has, as of the date of this post, still restricted visits to the Family History Library. 

I am certain that some of the Ward and Stake Family History Centers around the world are opening given the relaxation of the limits for church meetings. But the issue of rather extensive restricted records still exists for those of us that still do not have access. 

Why are the records restricted? Here is the official answer from an article entitled, "Why are there access restrictions on Historical Records?"

Access restrictions usually come from the organization who owns or manages the historical records. These restrictions determine where and how FamilySearch can make the records available. We do our best to support these agreements so that we can maintain the trust of those we partner with and continue to work with them on future projects.

The present question is why are the Family History Centers and Libraries closed to patrons when the chapels are open to Sunday meetings?

I can do almost all of my research now without visiting any library or Family History Center. But some people, especially those in certain countries are completely stopped by the worldwide closure. Personally, I can see the statistics. Worldwide levels of the Coronavirus are surging to almost their highest levels ever. Here is a copy of the graph from April 12, 2021.

This situation leaves the Church, FamilySearch, and Brigham Young University in a conflicting position. States in the United States, such as Utah, are acting as if the pandemic is over when it is just beginning. However, it is difficult to understand why I can go to stores in person, eat out at a restaurant in person, travel on an airplane in person, and still cannot go into a library or Family History Center. It doesn’t really matter to me because I have plenty of research I can do online anyway, but it does affect a lot of other people around the world. 

Perhaps, there is a middle ground where access to the Family History Center portal can be made more available and thereby allow people to view the records. By the way, even though I am participating in providing online research consultation to the patrons of the BYU and Salt Lake Family History Libraries, I don’t have access to the restricted records,

For the record, I am in favor of all of the health restrictions imposed by the pandemic including masks, limited access, and shutting down businesses. I don’t think the pandemic is over or will be for the foreseeable future. I just think that current policies here in the United States where some activities are restricted and others that are just as dangerous are allowed cause a lot of the confusion and controversy. I expect to see another round of general closures and a lot more controversy in the near future.

Source: Genealogy’s Star

Posted On: April 13, 2021 at 11:24AM