Lecture Looks at Online Future of Family History

By Erin Pitcher, Church Magazines

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    “The future of family history researching may be closer than you think,” said Rich Running at a lecture held on January 9, 2007, as part of the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association.

    Nearly 200 people attended the lecture, “Opening the Granite Mountain Vault,” where production management leaders of the Church and Family History Department of the Church explained technological advances in two facets of genealogical research—scanning and indexing.

    As a manager of product management of the department, Brother Running describes these changes as steps in building a “digital highway” for genealogical researchers.

    FamilySearch Scanning

    This digital highway is being constructed through FamilySearch Scanning as the estimated five billion historic documents at the Church’s Granite Mountain Records Vault are being converted from microfilm to digital pictures that will eventually be accessible via the Internet, Brother Running said.

    The Granite Mountain Records Vault, located in the Wasatch Mountains, holds the largest collection of family history records in the world. Employees use advanced computer systems to convert the rolls of microfilm stored there into high-quality digital images.

    “This scanning process began at the vault five years ago,” Derek Dobson, FamilySearch Scanning product manager, explained. “Within that short period of time technological developments have made this process at least four times faster and much higher quality than a few years ago. … Now, in approximately 20 minutes the information in one roll of microfilm is made into some 1,200 digital images.”

    Brother Running said that this digitalization will make genealogy work much more convenient. Instead of traveling to one of the Church’s 4,500 family history centers and ordering rolls of microfilm, researchers will eventually be able to access those documents online in the comfort of their homes.

    FamilySearch, the Church’s Internet-based genealogy service, has as its main objectives to acquire and preserve data of genealogical significance and to improve accessibility to those records.

    “FamilySearch Scanning is an integral part of making those objectives a reality,” said Paul Nauta, manager of public affairs for the Family and Church History Department.

    FamilySearch Indexing

    In conjunction with FamilySearch Scanning, indexes of information are being compiled with the help of thousands of volunteers. These contributors extract family history information from digital images of historical documents that will help others search for relevant information more efficiently.

    Previously called extraction work, FamilySearch Indexing allows individuals to volunteer online, download historic documents, and input the necessary information using an online form that can be completed in less than an hour.

    “This system allows people to accomplish a substantial amount of work in a short period of time,” Brother Dobson said. “Many people may not be able to spend hours on genealogical research. However, anyone can spend half an hour to an hour indexing names in a simple, understandable system. Youth have even volunteered with FamilySearch Indexing and are finding it an enjoyable experience.”

    The first version of FamilySearch Indexing was released in September 2005, and by the end of 2006 more than 25,000 people within 1,200 stakes and partnering societies had registered as FamilySearch Indexing volunteers.

    Church members can contact their local ward or branch leaders for additional information about how to get involved. However, volunteering with FamilySearch Indexing is not restricted to members of the LDS faith.

    Brother Nauta feels the most important part of this genealogical digital highway is recognizing the desired destination.

    “All these things the Church is doing regarding genealogical work is to make records available so people can identify their ancestors and link themselves to their forebears,” he said.

    Additional information on FamilySearch Scanning and FamilySearch Indexing is available online at www.familysearch.org or www.familysearchindexing.org.

    Internet users around the world can now help make digitally scanned information available to family history researchers online.