If you are lucky, the vital or other genealogy records you need for your family history research are available from relatives, from your local public library or Family History Center, online somewhere for free, whether at familysearch or elsewhere, or from a subscription site that you have already subscribed to.
But if you are not able to obtain the records you need at no charge from the above sources, you can get free scans or very low cost photocopies from the LDS Photocopy Service. We could choose to wait until the records go online, whether at Family Search or somewhere else, but there are never any guarantees as to whether or when they will become available online, and how many of us want to wait very long for the information we need to move our family history research forward now?
Many readers may be surprised and wonder where they might find historical genealogical documents online for free. The Mormon (LDS) Family Search website and a few government sites, for example, allow their visitors to view and download vital record documents from many parts of the world for free. Transcriptions of various immigration documents, as well as census records, historical newspapers and city directories can also be found online at no charge on a growing number of websites, but this webpage is devoted to explaining how to order free scans and inexpensive photocopies of vital records and various other genealogical documents from the LDS.
If you want to skip our other suggested steps and just find out about where to get the form, go to Step 4: Obtain the order form and to find out about filling out the form, go to Step 5: Fill out the form.
If you want to learn more about the truly free online genealogy resources which you can access from home on the web, see our resources page. If you want to locate more comprehensive lists of both free and paid genealogical and vital records websites, whether organized by location or by type of record, see http://cyndislist.com.
If you have no idea what kinds of records FamilySearch has that might be of use to you, one possibility is to browse their full collections list, which has a search box in upper left where you can put the name of a state or country and it will narrow down to that area for you to see what is there. If you find a record of interest that has not been put online, then you can order a scan or photocopy.
The other option is to visit their Place Search Page, which will enable you to find out what films they have, including those which have not had any of their content placed online. Enter the location of interest, click on the hit list to select the specific place you are interested in, and then scroll down the list of available films. For tips on how to order copies of name lists from the films not yet indexed online, see the comments and tips section at the bottom of this page
If you find more examples, have any ordering tips we have not listed here, or find any errors or broken links, be sure to email that information to me so I can update the information this page.
Decide what records you need. Make sure the records you want to order are likely to contain the information you are seeking. For example, your grandparents' marriage certificate will probably NOT contain the names of their parents, if they were married in, for example, Chicago, Illinois in the early 1900s, although it may contain their parents' names if they were married elsewhere in Illinois.
So, if you want a certificate as a souvenir, fine, but if you are looking for specific information on it, you might want to make sure that documents for the time period are likely to contain the information your are seeking for the particular location of the event. One great way to find this out is to search the Rootsweb Mailing List Archives, or join a Rootsweb Mailing Lists other online forums and boards such as Rootsweb, RootsChat, GenForum, or Family Search Forums, and on Rootsweb mailing lists.
Once you feel confident that the documents you want are appropriate to your purpose, check to make sure you do not already have the records. If you are doing a lot of research, consider starting a log or card file listing all your orders if you do not already have one.
Make sure the records are not available for free from relatives, fellow researchers, or online. There are many, many ways to search for free records online, but it can be very frustrating when all the search engines present to you are sites that cost which have free trials but no free information. So, try the suggested resources and pages we list below in this section and in the free resources section of our beginner's online genealogy resources page, which clearly indicate what records are available for free.
The LDS Family Search website has many genealogical documents available online. You can do a search on their main page, select a specific collection to search from their collection list, or search their International Genealogical Index (IGI):
HOME PAGE: http://www.familysearch.org
COLLECTION LIST: https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/list
If you search the IGI, be sure to select the option for "Community Indexed" records to search for vital records that you can order.
If you are looking specifically for free online birth records, you also might want to check out the sites and databases on our pages about Free Birth Databases.
If the records you need are not online but have been filmed by the Mormon Church, you also can view these films at a local LDS Family History Center, but you may need to order in advance the film or films of interest. You will be charged a fee to order in a film unless you are a member of the church.
If you want to learn more about the truly free online genealogy resources which you can access from home on the web, see our resources page. If you want to locate more comprehensive lists of both free and paid genealogical and vital records websites, whether organized by location or by type of record, see http://www.cyndislist.com.
If the records you need seem likely to be available from the Mormon Church, you will need to identify the films or batch numbers the records may be on. You can obtain this information from search results at FamilySearch, from other genealogy websites, or from searching the FamilySearch catalogue.
Search results from records indexed on Family Search will tell you the batch number or film number for the record you want. In these cases, your search results screens give you all the information you need to order specific films or photocopies. In these cases, you will be provided with an actual film number.
However, in other cases, especially those which are only browsable images of indexes, all you will find is a certificate number, and you will still need to find out if the certificates or documents of interest have themselves been filmed. See the resources in the section below to identify films numbers in these other cases.
Our finding aids page has links to pages explaining how to order vital records from the LDS church using the batch numbers of the films.
But there are alternate ways to order copies of vital records from the LDS, besides using batch numbers. One of these is to obtain the official government certificate number for the birth, marriage, or death from online indexes on various free and paid sites. For vital events in New York City, the Italian Genealogy Group and German Genealogy Group are good examples. For more ideas about such free transcription sites for around the world, see our free online birth records resource pages.
Another way to order copies without knowing a batch or certificate number, is to first order a listing of all entries for a particular surname on a particular film, for the standard photocopy fee of $2 with a $4 minimum order. Once you get the listing, study it and decide which pages or entries you wish to order copies of, and order your copy or copies!
Again, for more detailed information and links to pages on other sites about finding film and batch numbers for ordering films to view and copies of certificates from the LDS, you can also see our finding aids page.
You also have the option of looking for the film numbers yourself on the FamilySearch site. The following link to their search page can help in finding listings of all the films they have for any given location.
***NEWS FLASH*** FamilySearch is now allowing email requests, and no form is necessary, although you may still find their form helpful. For more details, see the following page: We will be updating the information in the other sections of this page as time permits, but for the most recent information, do visit their site.
Here is a direct link to the order form for requesting copies of records from Family Search. They have frequently changed the link to this form, so if you have problems retrieving it, email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance. The service is ongoing.
The Photocopy Service generally provides you with another blank form when they send your photocopies to you, so you will not need to print more blank copies unless you want to fill your next form out before your order is completed. They also include blank copies of other types of forms, which you will not need.
You can either print the order form to fill it out by hand, or first fill out the form using your computer and then print out the completed form. If you are unable to squeeze the information into the small boxes on the form, you can use two lines per item requested and staple two pages together when you submit your request if you need more than 4 documents.
For copies of census records, use the section entitled "Census Records on Microfilm." For copies of birth, marriage, death, naturalization, and most other general genealogical records, use the middle section, entitled "General Microfilm or Microfiche."
If you are ordering copies using the "General Microfilm or Microfiche." section, the labels above each column, and type of information to enter for a successful order, are as follows:
Family History Library Microfilm Number: If you have a film or batch number, it goes here. The Photocopy Department needs this number to complete your order. If you need help finding a film or batch number, see our finding aids page.
Item Number: This field is not required, but it is helpful if you assign each item requested a number or control number, which you can use in referring to the item should there be any problems with your order.
Name: This is the name of the person whose record you are ordering. If it is a marriage record, you can use the names of both the bride and the groom, or just one of the parties. If you are ordering an index listing for a specific surname, see our comments below, and write the surname along with the word "Surname." If you are ordering an index of an unusual surname with many possible ways to spell the surname, see our comments below about possible solutions for this problem.
Title of Record: This would be the name of the film, such as "Kings County, New York Death Records." For results from FamilySearch databases, this would be the name of the database or record group, such as "Ohio-EASy" or "Michigan Marriages 1869-1925."
Event Type: Use "B" if it is a birth record, "M" if it is a marriage record, "D" if it is a death record. If it is some other type of record, use an abbreviation such as "Dir" for Directory, "Natlzn" for Naturalization.
Event Date: The date of the event goes here. If you are ordering an index listing, you may need to provide at least a year or range of years for the event, as some films have separate indexes for each year. If you do not know an exact date and the catalogue entry for the film has several ranges of years listed, you must specify one of those year ranges.
Event Place: Location of event goes here. We use the full location (i.e., city, county, state) where applicable.
Parish and Volume Number: Note this question has been removed from newer versions of the order form. For Church records, there may be a parish listed. For civil records (i.e., Births, Marriages, Deaths), we use just the name of the city or county in this field, such as ""Kings," "Alameda," or "Cook". If relevant, add this information to the Place field if there is no Parish field on the form you have.
Registration or Page Number: Use the certificate number if you are ordering a vital record. For records from some countries, this will be an action or AKT number. If you are ordering an index listing, the word "Index" should suffice. If the item was indexed at familysearch.org and you do not have a film number, use the Reference number, or any other identifying numbers provided on your search results screen such as the image number.
When filling out and submitting your form, remember that they ask you not to order any more than eight records per request and, to be fair to everyone else and not overload them with too many requests at once, to please wait at least two to three weeks before placing another order.
If you are worried about making a mistake when you fill out the order form, remember that, unlike government and commercial enterprises, which will keep your money whether or not they find a record, if you ask the LDS Photocopy Service for a record which they are unable to locate, they will issue you a credit slip, which you can use on your next order.
So, the worst that can happen if you have trouble filling out the form correctly or enter a wrong film number, is they either send you a record that is different from what you expected, or they give you credit and you can try again. But our experience has been that there are so many cross checks in the questions asked on the form, that you are not likely to get the wrong record unless you have either provided a wrong vital records certificate number, or have requested a certificate for a specific person who is not who you were hoping they would be.
We eventually will be posting examples to help with completing the form. But, until we add those examples, if you still are not sure how to fill out the form after reading the above information and looking at the sample entry provided on the form itself, you can email email@example.com, or ask for help from or search the archives of online genealogy forums and boards such as Rootsweb, RootsChat, or GenForum, and on Rootsweb mailing lists, as well as the Family Search Forums.
Keep a copy of the form you send in. This is not absolutely essential as the LDS will return your original order form with the requested documents. However, if they forget to do that or your order gets lost in the mail, it is wise to have a copy.
This can help you later in a variety of ways, whether to allow you to resubmit a lost order without a lot of extra work, to show you what you have done that was successful, or show you what you did that did not work. If something goes wrong with your order, you will know for sure what you submitted. Rather than just having your notes, you will be able to check and make sure you did not transpose any numbers, leave any essential words out, or accidentally misspell any names.
Add appropriate entries to a card file or order log, indicating exactly which records have been ordered and when.
You do not have to keep a log or card file, but it will help a lot if you keep careful records that are easy to check, so you know exactly what records you have ordered photocopies of. Otherwise, it could be a lot of work to figure out whether you have already ordered a record, and you could end up unnecessarily ordering a copy of a record you have already paid for.
My personal system for keeping track of what I order is to enter the information in a file on my computer, including the number of the certificate that was ordered. You could also do the same, putting the information in a Word document, a text file or a spreadsheet, whichever is easier for you to search.
***UPDATED NEWS FLASH*** The Photocopy Service is now able to email scans of records to patrons for free, but will continue to fill requests for paper copies at the rate indicated below. The process for ordering is the same, but you will need to include your email address when you email, fax, or mail your order to them. For the most current details, visit the following page:
When submitting your form, please be fair to everyone who orders and do not overload the Photocopy Department with too many separate requests at once. Please wait at least two to three weeks before placing another order. We usually wait until our last order arrives before placing the next order. This also is a good idea so if you have done something wrong, you know what will need to be done differently on your following order or orders.
Submit your completed order form along with the appropriate remittance if you have chosen to order paper copies instead of free scans. As of January 2013 this was $2 per certificate, with a $4 minimum order. Confirm the amount required by checking the LDS website or order form, or emailing or calling them. Remember to enclose any credit slips they may have sent you from previous orders, if you are paying for physical copies.
Mark your calendar or checkbook the day you mail the form in. You do not have to do this, but it makes life a lot easier when you wonder when your order will be arriving, if you can check your calendar and know for sure when you really mailed that envelope to Utah.
In about 4 to 5 weeks, check your inbox (and maybe spam folder if necessary) if you requested scans, or start watching for a big envelope arriving from the Mormon Church in Utah. On rare occasion, you might receive your order back as early as 3 weeks after submission, but orders generally take longer and can take up to 7 or 8 weeks. If your order is taking a long time and you wonder if it got lost, the surest way to know whether they received your order is to review your checking account, to see if and when your check cleared the bank.
When the envelope arrives, there will be a cover sheet detailing the contents and also refund credit slips for any items which were not provided that you paid for, as well as a new blank order form. They also will return your original order form with the requested documents, will have marked up that form with their reference information, and should indicate any problems very clearly.
It will be wise to keep the cover letter because, if you have a question about or problem with the order and decide to write or email them, you will need to include the number they assigned to your request.
This may seem pretty obvious, but be sure you note in your log or card or computer file, the results of your request. Note the date the envelope arrived, and whether each request was filled, and what was wrong with any requests that were not filled.
If you intend to send copies to relatives or other researchers, or to ask for translation assistance, then be sure to scan the documents now, if you can take the time. And when your scanner software asks you if you want to save the file, we suggest that you give each image file a meaningful name.
Automatic file names like Scan001, Scan002, and so on are easy now, but will require a lot of unnecessary time later when you want to view a particular image or send a copy to someone, and you have to open and view every file until you find the right one.
So, instead of selecting "Save", select "Save As" and give the file a useful name. We suggest naming the file with the name of the person or couple, the type of event, and the date of the event. You can, of course, decide what information you want to put in the file names, but make sure that it will be easy to figure out several years from now when you really may not remember as many details as you do now.
Different programs and computers work differently, and you will have to experiment to see what is needed on your particular computer. But in some cases, you will have to give the type of the file as part of the file name because the computer will not do that for you. All you have to do in this case is make the very end of the file name ".jpg" or ".pdf" or ".tiff", depending on what type of image you want to have your computer make.
With some programs on some computers, you may have to open up the file in a different program to change the name, such as Irfanview, Gimp or Adobe Acrobat. But take that extra step now, while the information in the documents is fresh in your mind, to make life easier for yourself later.
Now comes the fun part - you get to review the contents of the documents and add the information to your family tree. Be sure to indicate the source of each piece of information as you add it to your family tree. This is a little more work, but one of those essential steps that often saves a lot of time and confusion later on when discrepancies arise or you want to check your sources for some other reason. And it really is better genealogy to provide source information if you are sharing your tree with other people.
This seems pretty obvious, but make sure you have a special place to put your photocopies, or some sort of filing system, so you can find them when you need them.
One very exciting feature is the ability to order index lists of a particular surname on a film for a given time period. In my case, we have been searching for births that have not yet been indexed online anywhere yet for New York City, and we were able to order a list of all births in a particular year for that surname. It was an unusual surname, and they could not find any listings for it in the index, so we received a credit slip.
We have discovered that if the name might have been spelled many ways, they were willing to hunt for similar alternate spellings if the primary spelling was not found. I do not know if they will do this all the time, but so far they have been willing to do so. It makes sense, as if they are that part of the alphabet, they might as well check the nearby pages and be able to fill the request, than go through the more labor intensive hassle of issuing a credit slip and having us reorder.
To do this, instead of saying, for example, "Surname Jonesby", we put "Surname Jonesby; if Jonesby not found, look for Jonesbee." When there is not room for this kind of detail, we have used the space in the boxes above the ones we use for writing out the details, and simply put in the Name field, something like "Surname Jonesby, if not found, see note above."
However, in some cases there are no alphabetical indexes available for them to photocopy. At best, the records might be only be grouped by soundex code or first letter of the surname. In these instances and some others as well, there will be many pages instead of one page which might contain the relevant surname group. In these cases, they most likely will not be able to fill your request and suggest you view the film yourself.
I also do not think they will honor the request if the alternative names you give are not logical alternative spellings, but you certainly can try. However, you cannot specifically order two spellings and have them count as one request - if they are on different pages, they will count as two items on your order. The alternative spelling can only be searched as part of the same single item if the original spelling is not found.
One problem we have had is that, once in a while, they put the copies on paper that is much too big for scanning. In our family research, we want to share the documents with family members, and the paper size is a crucial factor. We take a proactive approach in preventing this problem from occuring again, by asking them to please only make copies on standard size paper, and state that we would prefer to have our order delayed until 8.5x11 paper is back in stock, if they are out of stock of paper to make 8.5x11 copies.
Page Revised January 27, 2013
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