A FamilySearch patron posted this comment on FamilySearch’s public feedback website:
A big advantage to researching in the FHL is being able to use the microfilm, quickly find the volume and page without guessing the image numbers multiple times, enhance the images on the wonderful scanner/printers for better legibility, and choose the size of paper on which to print. Computers are great for accessing records for those who live away from the FHL, but I really hope the microfilms stay available for those of us who do serious research in original records. Please keep the microfilms available for research! The FHL is a treasure because of them.
I heartedly agree. Withdrawing microfilm from circulation or removing it from the Family History Library would be a major mistake.
Digitization and publication of microfilm is subject to error and usage is subject to extreme limitation.
Digitization is subject to optical error. Images might be blurred, out of focus, too light, too dark, backwards, or upside down. I recently came across an illegibly light image from the 1880 census. When I checked the original film, it was perfectly legible. A wiki article about errors in the “New York, Land Records, 1630-1975” says the collection has images that are backwards and upside down and recommends using microfilm to read them.
Digitization is subject to automation error. Algorithms can miss images or clip them.
Digitization is subject to human error. Operators can make mistakes during the digitization process.
Publication is subject to innocent error. I have come across several online publications where FamilySearch has left out images preceding and following record volumes. To the untrained eye, these appear useless. But what if they dropped the instructions for using a Russell or Cott Index? What if they dropped a volume guide or a sub-index? What if they dropped section dividers? What if they dropped title boards with coverage information? What if they dropped volume covers with citation information? There are lots of seemly useless images that are helpful or critical to utilize records.
The thumbnails to the left demonstrate the utility of even the most innocuous images. When browsing thumbnails the break between these two volumes is clear. When FamilySearch published this film they eliminated these images, running the two volumes together. Less obvious, but also apparent in these thumbnails, is a section divider. When the North Carolina archives microfilmed this volume they dropped the sub-indexes following the section dividers. This is rather serious as common names in this index are not in alphabetical order.
Publication is subject to human error. Given that FamilySearch has the technology to purposefully leave out images, it might do so inadvertently. I came across a missing Texas vital record. The certificates were in numerical order and one number was missing. Ancestry.com had published an index to the same records and the Ancestry.com index showed that the missing certificate existed. Had FamilySearch inadvertently dropped or misfiled the image when they published the collection? Without access to the microfilm, I could not have answered that question.
Publication is subject to organizational errors. A wiki article about errors in the “New York, Land Records, 1630-1975” collection states that records about Broome county are misfiled under Tioga county, and records from Wayne county under Chautauqua. Records from Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, and Tompkins are incorrectly filed under Chemung County. The list of problems continues for several pages.
Publication is subject to tonal error. When FamilySearch publishes images, it dramatically reduces tone resolution. Technically speaking, they reduce the scan depth from 8 bits to 4 bits. That reduces the number of shades of gray from 256 to 16. Remember the 1880 census image that was too light? I could have used Photoshop to restore legibility of the image had FamilySearch not reduced tone so aggressively.
Publication is subject to intended compression error. Compression speeds up how quickly an image loads in your browser. That’s good. But when legibility is at a premium, halo compression errors around pen strokes might render writing illegible.
Publication is subject to unintended compression error. Check out an example from Utah death certificates that is rife with compression errors.
Usage of digitized microfilm is subject to bandwidth limitations. Loading an image online usually takes me two to four seconds on a fast cable modem. It often takes five to ten seconds and not uncommonly takes longer. On a microfilm reader, viewing is instantaneous.
Usage of digitized microfilm eliminates slow scanning capabilities. With microfilm one can quickly scan for names while slowly cranking the wheel of a microfilm reader. This is not possible with current online viewers.
Usage of digitized microfilm eliminates fast scanning capabilities. With microfilm it is possible to pick out volume and section boundaries by scanning for brightness changes while quickly cranking the wheel of a microfilm reader. That is not possible with current online viewers.
Usage of digitized microfilm eliminates intuitive advancement through images. On a microfilm reader, one cranks the wheel several times and then stops to look to see how far one has advanced through the alphabet or through the page numbers. One intuitively can then crank the wheel numerous times to advance to the approximate location on the film. With current online viewers, this requires confusing arithmetic with image numbers that don’t match the page numbers.
In summary, the publication and usage of microfilm online is full of errors and limitations. I strongly recommend that FamilySearch not withdraw microfilm from circulation. And they should not remove the ready access to microfilm from their Salt Lake City Family History Library.
--The Ancestry Insider