Church News and Events

Family History Volunteers Reach Billion-Record Milestone

  By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 25 April 2013

Watch this FamilySearch video to learn why indexing is so vital to the work of salvation. 

Volunteers around the world indexing the Church’s vast collection of genealogical records collectively reached a major milestone April 19. On that date, they attained one billion searchable records added to the Church’s FamilySearch website in less than seven years.

The event had been eagerly awaited for several weeks. An attraction at the RootsTech family history conference exhibit hall in Salt Lake City in March invited attendees to join the indexing effort, with a digital counter clicking the total as it got closer to the billion mark.

It was in September 2006 that the Family History Department launched a major innovation inviting virtually anyone anywhere to log on to the site and sign up to participate in the indexing project. The intent is to create computer-searchable indexes for scanned images of historical documents that are viewable on the website.

“The documents are drawn primarily from a collection of 2.4 million rolls of microfilm containing photographic images of historical documents from 110 countries and principalities,” explains a wiki entry on the FamilySearch site. “The documents include census records, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, military and property records, and other vital records maintained by local, state, and national governments.”

Volunteers go to the indexing site where they download and install free software on their home computers, download images of the documents, type the data they read, and submit it back to the FamilySearch site.

The indexed information is eventually made available for people researching their ancestors on FamilySearch or at any of the Church’s thousands of family history centers.

Currently, volunteers are indexing more than a million records a day. In the past year, more than 263 million records were indexed and published, said Paul M. Nauta, senior marketing manager for FamilySearch.

“This means that 263 million records were actually indexed twice, and most were reviewed by an arbitrator, totaling nearly 900 million separate indexing tasks that were performed by volunteers, both members of the LDS faith and those of other persuasions,” Brother Nauta said.

Of course, indexing of genealogical records by the Church began much earlier than 2006.

“Extraction or indexing of records sponsored by the Genealogical Society of Utah (now FamilySearch) began in earnest in 1978,” Brother Nauta said. “Various methods were employed over the succeeding years involving paper and then CD-based copies of records. The work was slow, but by 2005 many diligent volunteers managed to digitize roughly 1 billion records.”

A booth at the 2013 RootsTech Family History and Technology Conference in March shows volunteers indexing in an effort to reach the goal of indexing 1 billion names. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

The launch of Internet-based indexing seven years ago gradually has replaced the previous extraction methods and has involved the work of hundreds of thousands of more volunteers since it is so convenient to become involved.

For example, last year’s 1940 U.S. Census Community Project, a joint effort between FamilySearch and several commercial and noncommercial entities to index the newly released census, marshaled an army of more than 184,000 volunteers who indexed and arbitrated (checked for accuracy) 132 million records in just more than four months.

“This project demonstrated not only the power of the crowd but also the level of interest that exists for being able to search and make discoveries from historical records,” Brother Nauta observed. “The project set numerous records, including most records indexed in a day (more than 7 million), most records arbitrated in a day (3 million), and most volunteers contributing in a day (49,000).

Now, volunteers in North America are focusing largely on an effort to index the records of immigrant ancestors with the goal of making it possible for everyone in the United States who has descended from immigrants to find information connecting them to those ancestors. More than 30 million such records have been indexed and published thus far, with some 100 million remaining. (See FamilySearch.org/immigration for more information.)

And FamilySearch is partnering with the National Archives of Italy to index and publish the Italian civil registration, consisting of birth, marriage, and death records from 1802 to 1943. With some 115 million images of historic records containing more than 500 million names, the project is expected to last 10 years. FamilySearch is enlisting the help of volunteers of Italian descent in Italy and throughout Europe, Latin America, and North America for the effort.

In Latin America, another major initiative encourages the indexing of local records, with the current focus being on Brazil and Mexico but expected in time to cover all of Latin America.

But with all the plans and goals, reaching the one billion-record milestone is an occasion for a bit of celebration. An emailed “Indexing Update” sent out to interested recipients by FamilySearch noted that Kenneth B. of California, Brittney S. of Idaho, and April R. of Canada were the ones who happened to index and arbitrate the billionth record. For the distinction, they were each awarded a FamilySearch backpack “stuffed with FamilySearch goodies.”

“How long do you think it will take us to reach the next billion?” the email asked. “The advances of technology and the dedication of our volunteers have increased the speed in which we can process and deliver records for publication. Join the global effort to make the next billion records available for family history research. Start indexing now!”