Church News and Events

Genealogy Tech Work Increasing at Unprecedented Pace

  By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer

  • 5 August 2013

Advancements in technology and the help of many volunteers have accelerated the speed at which family history work is being completed at an unprecedented pace.

In April of 1987 President Monson said, “As we organize our personal and family genealogical efforts, we will be in a position to take full advantage of the computer techniques now available and soon to be expanded and perfected for our benefit and the advancement of the work of the Lord” (“Prophets Speak—The Wise Obey,” Apr. 3, 1987). Four months later, the IBM model 8525, sporting an 8 MHz 8086 processor, was released to the general public.

According to FamilySearch.org, it took over 80 years to make 1 billion records easily searchable online, but volunteers have completed another billion in seven. The speed at which family history work is being completed is unprecedented. Better technology and more volunteers have combined to accelerate the work substantially.

The Church has 100 missionary couples working just on family history imaging. About 400 million images of historic records are captured each year, with 100 million coming from new archive agreements around the world. The other 300 million images come from converting existing records found on microfilm in the Church’s records vault. Paul Nauta, senior marketing manager for FamilySearch, said, “There are 230 camera teams in 45 countries gathering new images today. These are millions of images of historic records that have never seen the light of day on the Internet.”

In the past, information contained on microfilm took 12 to 18 months to become available. The process included capturing, mailing, processing, duplicating, cataloging, and then making the microfilmed images available through a network of family history centers. Now that process has been refined with digital imaging technology, and the information is available online at FamilySearch.org and partner sites in about 45 days. The goal is to get that time down to 14 days. 

Although the work is moving forward quickly, the speed at which images are being captured has far outpaced the available capacity of workers and volunteers, said Brother Nauta. There are hundreds of millions of images that still need indexing (making them easily searchable by name online), and that number continues to increase. For every one image indexed, there are probably nine that will not get done because not enough online volunteers are available, said Brother Nauta.

Volunteering is easy and instructions for doing so are right on the FamilySearch website under the Indexing section. No special skills or fixed time commitments are required. People can volunteer whenever they have spare time and can get started by going to familysearch.org/volunteer/indexing. It can be done from any computer anywhere.

FamilySearch.org is the main online hub for the Church’s genealogy work. Visitors can view their family tree using a new tool called a “fan chart.”

With new technologies and growth of family history work, the family history consultant role is also changing. The Church has worked with members and consultants through interviews, videotape, and observation. Based on the research, consultants need to be able to relate well to a variety of “customers.” For beginners, the consultants need to provide personal attention. Instead of telling fellow members to fill out paperwork and direct them to a website, a proper question would be, “What would you like to accomplish?”

“The desire is for family history consultants to help members have some quick successes and accomplish work the member wants to get done by engaging with them at all need levels,” said Brother Nauta. “The key is not to get bogged down in minutia or overwhelming members by a process. [Consultants] work with members on their points of interest and ability levels.”

In reference to Malachi 4:6, he added, “There are many different ways to have heart-turning experiences.”

In April of 2013, the Church’s flagship genealogy site, FamilySearch.org, launched some significant changes by adding new features to attract a broader base of people to post ancestral photos and tell family stories in a collaborative online environment. Brother Nauta said, “Nothing invites the Spirit and creates family history moments like sharing treasured family photos and inspiring stories.”

President Monson said: “In our efforts to save the living, we must not neglect those who have lived and died without the blessings provided by the temples of God. Our renewed efforts are urgently required. This vital work cannot be postponed or neglected” (in “Shepherds to Seek Lost Sheep,” Church News, Apr. 11, 1987, 20).

Of the importance of family history and temple work, Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “I testify that the spirit of Elijah is touching the hearts of many of Father’s children throughout the world, causing the work for the dead to accelerate at an unprecedented pace” (“Redemption: The Harvest of Love,” Oct. 1990 general conference).