FamilySearch Forges Partnerships to Preserve Vital Records

  By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 11 February 2014

Collaborating with commercial genealogy organizations will help expedite the monumental effort to index and digitally preserve the world’s historic records.

Article Highlights

  • FamilySearch teamed up with Ancestry.com, findmypast, Fold3, and MyHeritage to expedite indexing.
  • This collaboration, along with community involvement, could reduce the project time from 300 years to 30 years.
  • New historical records collections will be available on FamilySearch.org and for free on Ancestry.com, findmypast.com or MyHeritage.com to members of the Church.

“We can do significantly better by working together with other organizations and as a community.” —Elder Dennis Brimhall, CEO of the Church’s FamilySearch genealogy service and an Area Seventy

Digitally preserving the world’s family history records and making them searchable online to help create the family tree of mankind is a worthy pursuit, but even the Church, with the best efforts of its members and volunteers, can’t do the job alone. The task is too immense.

But alliances forged over the past few months with some of the premiere commercial genealogical organizations in the world—including Ancestry.com, findmypast, Fold3, and MyHeritage—offer hope for cutting the job down to size. Such collaboration puts the goal of indexing the massive collection of records already on film or in digital format within a generation or two, perhaps, of being reached.

Consider the message conveyed by the graphic chart accompanying this article provided by FamilySearch, the Church’s family history service.

Over the past 80 years or so, some 5 billion genealogical records have been captured by teams from the Church using microfilm and, more recently, digital scanning of documents. These records have come mostly from North and South America and Western Europe. Even so, in those regions of the world, an estimated 10 billion more records remain to be captured.

And, as reflected in the graphic, much of the world remains unaccessed for records. In total, some 69 billion records remain to be digitally captured from all regions of the world.

Elder Dennis Brimhall, CEO of the Church’s FamilySearch genealogy service and an Area Seventy, said that joining forces with other organizations, where possible, brings significantly more financial investment and technological resources to the family history industry than the nonprofit community could provide on its own.

FamilySearch plans to collaborate on digitization projects with commercial family history companies to publish new historical records collections on FamilySearch.org.

In a keynote address at last year’s RootsTech 2013 conference, Elder Brimhall shared FamilySearch’s vision: “Imagine if your ancestors had easy access to computers, digital cameras, and family history websites that allowed them to upload, preserve, and share important family memories through photos, stories, and vital names, dates, and places. How amazing would that be?”

He said that for the top countries with the highest online research demand, using existing records and volunteers, it will take up to 300 years to index the 5.3 billion records already gathered by the Church.

“That means you and I and the next 10 generations of our posterity would not live to personally benefit from them,” he remarked. “And there are another 60 billion records that still need to be digitally preserved. We can do significantly better by working together with other organizations and as a community.”

Paul G. Nauta, marketing manager for FamilySearch, said that working with other organizations and increasing community involvement could drop the project time it will take to index the Church’s already gathered records from 300 years to 20–30 years.

As new historical records collections are published under the latest agreements with FamilySearch affiliates, they will be available on FamilySearch.org and for free on Ancestry.com, findmypast.com, or MyHeritage.com to members of the Church.

In addition, FamilySearch offers free public access to Ancestry.com and findmypast.com through 4,175 local family history centers worldwide.

“Record keeping didn’t start until the 1500s,” Brother Nauta said. “About 28 billion people have lived on the earth from A.D. 1500 to now.”

Of those, only about 4 billion have been linked and preserved in family trees accessible on the Internet, leaving about 24 billion people who still need to be identified and linked online to complete the family tree of mankind, as the chart reflects.

But collaborating with the commercial genealogy organizations will help. They will create broader online access to much of the Church’s genealogical records through their websites to more people globally, and their contributions will create better experiences for FamilySearch.org patrons and help expedite the monumental effort to index and digitally preserve the world’s historic records, Brother Nauta said.

For example FindMyPast, based in Venice, California, has about 1.6 billion records globally, with about 850 million from the United States, and has 18 million subscribers around the world.

MyHeritage, based in Or Yehuda, near Tel Aviv, Israel, has more than 75 million users worldwide and has more than 4 billion records in its database and more than 27 million family trees and 163 million photos on its website.

Ancestry.com, according to a recent news release announcing its collaboration with FamilySearch, is the world’s largest online family history resource, with approximately 2.7 million paying subscribers across all its websites. More than 12 billion records have been added to the Ancestry.com sites, and users have created more than 55 million family trees containing more than 5 billion profiles.

And Fold3, according to its website, is the Internet’s premiere collection of original military records.

Meanwhile, Church members interested in serving a records-preservation mission can go to this link to get more information: http://www.familysearch.org/records-mission.

An infographic illustrating the goal of the family history collaboration.