Microfiche, Older but Still Important Technology

With all the advances in technology such as the mobile phone and tablet pcs that put the internet in our hands as well as memory storage devices that keep getting smaller and less expensive over time, there’s one piece of older media storage technology that is still useful…the microfiche/microfilm machine.

This machine is used to view media such as photographs, newspapers, magazines, catalogs, etc. that have been photographed and shrunk down to a micro size that can only be viewed on a magnified screen.

Microfiche – a flat piece of film containing microphotographs of the pages of a newspaper, catalog, or other documents.

Microfilm – a length of film containing microphotographs of a newspaper, catalog, or other documents.

History of Microfiche

Microfiche was invented in 1839 by John Benjamin Dancer, an English scientist, known as the “Father of Microphotography”.

How Does It Work?

The machine works like a microscope but for media images. Documents and photographs are scanned and developed into extremely small negatives that cannot be read by the naked eye.

  1. Insert microfiche film under the glass plate or microfilm on the reels.
    1. The glass plate can be moved with your hand as it’s under the lens to view the images on the film.
    2. The film, once place on the reel, can be scrolled through using the wheel or automatic scrolling device if available.
  2. The lens can be adjusted to zoom in and out as well as the focus to obtain a crisp image on the viewing screen.
  3. Printing – if the machine has printing capabilities, there should be guides on the screen to show you exactly what will be printed. If the screen is negative (black to white), you may have the option to print negative to positive (white and black).

How is This Technology Useful for Genealogy Research?

As people and institutions all over the world started to understand the importance of preserving and archiving documents, a wide variety of printed media was placed on microfiche or microfilm to help preserve it for the future.

  • Newspapers
    • Obituaries
    • Birth/death notices
    • Marriage notices
    • Real estate transactions
    • Local news stories
  • Church records
  • Immigration records
  • Local Government Records

Where Can You Find a Microfiche Machine?

Microfiche machines are commonly found in libraries, archive centers, museums, and some historical societies.

They are easy to use but any employee or volunteer should be able to assist you.

Since this isn’t like a computer storage device that might contain a virus, you can even bring in your own film that you might have.

What’s Next for Microfilm and Microfiche?

As technology continues to advance with better ways to store media, the need for microfilm and microfiche is quickly decreasing.

These machines and media are no longer being produced. However, there is equipment that can read microfilm and microfiche media for the purposes of safely converting them to digital files that can be indexed and searched on the internet.

Have you ever conducted research that required the use of these machines? What was your experience? Tell us about it.