News of the Church

By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church Magazines


Technology Helps FamilySearch Volunteers Hit Major Milestone

FamilySearch volunteers expect to have transcribed more than 325 million names by the end of 2009, just three years since the organization began its online indexing program.

The milestone was a number once thought impossible to reach in such a short period of time. In 2006, a few thousand volunteers indexed only 11 million names. But thanks to continuing advances in technology and a growing number of volunteers—more than 100,000 across five continents—an estimated half million individual names are indexed each day.

At that rate, Paul Nauta, FamilySearch public affairs manager, expects that 500 million names will be transcribed by the end of 2010.

And yet all this work barely makes a dent in the vast stores of historical records throughout the world, which grow by more than 100 million records (each with multiple names) every year.

“We are not catching up,” Brother Nauta said. “In preserving records alone, there are more records created in one year than we could ever film in years with current technology.”

To hasten the work of making important historical records available online, FamilySearch is continually trying to improve upon current technologies and find additional dedicated volunteers.

Over time, the Church’s Family History Department has developed new ways to preserve records not only as quickly as possible but at the highest quality possible. This has resulted in specially designed digital cameras, innovative scanning technology, and new computer software.

“It is not necessarily that we want to be pioneers in this field and this technology,” Brother Nauta said. “But we are compelled to do it.”

Capturing the Records

Digital cameras that have been adapted to the work are at the center of each operation. They are the tool used to capture images of the original documents once a project is identified and permission gained.

Employees of the Church’s Family History Department oversee the effort to acquire records, beginning with the decision about what records they would like to acquire and from where.

“It’s about how it helps us connect the family of man,” said Duane Barson, one of three area managers for the Family History Department, who manages the family history work in the Americas. “There’s a well thought out process to help us allocate our very limited human resources to gather those records.”

Once records are identified, employees of the Family History Department work with various churches, municipalities, archives, and governments to acquire or create copies. Most institutions welcome the Church’s efforts.

“We have a good reputation as an organization that cares about the records as much as the archivists do,” said Steven L. Waters, strategic relations manager for Europe. “In general, they are thankful to have an organization like ours that puts so many resources into preserving history.”

After the negotiations are finalized, an area is set up on-site where the cameras are used to create digital images of the historical documents. The process can take from a few weeks to several years depending on the size of the collection, the type of documents being copied, and the workers’ experience levels.

With cameras similar to those used by NASA and in other industrial settings, workers produce an image at a high resolution of 50 megapixels, or 50 million pixels. Adjustments to the cameras’ technology, made by Church camera specialists, increase their durability.

“Some of the best high-quality cameras would take 300,000 pictures and die,” said Larry Telford, camera operations manager for the Family History Department. “A typical camera operator might take half a million images in one year, and we expect ours to last four or five years or more.”

In addition to the camera, each unit requires a computer, a camera stand, and special software.

“[The software] dCamX was designed by in-house engineers to do the hard work while the operators do the easy work,” Brother Telford said. It makes operating the cameras easier for the Church employees, missionaries, and contractors who handle them. Step by step, it guides operators through calibrating the camera. Through a computer connection, the image is processed and displayed on the monitor, so the operators can ensure that the image is of the highest quality.

Every image that is captured undergoes an in-depth audit involving cropping the image, recording metadata, quality control, and other improvement processes to ensure quality images.

Once a project is complete, up to a terabyte of images and information is transferred onto an external hard drive and mailed to Salt Lake City, where the images will be processed, preserved, copied, and distributed.

The availability of the images depends on the contract specifications of each project. Many images are published on familysearch.org; some are published on commercial genealogical Web sites; sometimes the archive itself publishes the work; and sometimes the work is published but with restrictions as to who may access it.

“In the end, we may or may not get to personally publish the records—there all are sorts of barriers,” Brother Waters said. “But it’s about making as many records as possible available to as many people as possible.”

A Different Kind of Conversion

One of the most significant advancements for FamilySearch in recent years was put into place in 2005, when 15 high-speed scanners were developed to convert images previously contained on microfilm into digital images to allow them to be viewed on a computer. These scanners are converting 2.5 million rolls of microfilm from the Church’s Granite Mountain Records Vault into tens of millions of ready-to-index digital images.

These rolls of microfilm include images of important historical documents gathered from all over the world—birth and death records, hospital records, family histories, immigration forms, historical books, and more.

“To our knowledge, there is no company that does the level of vital records preservation that Family Search does,” said Brother Nauta. “The records FamilySearch contains currently, when digitized, would equal 132 Libraries of Congress or 18 petabytes of data—and that doesn’t include our ongoing acquisition efforts.”

The scanners are like a camera: as the microfilm unwinds, the images on the microfilm are converted into a long ribbon of high-quality digital images. A computer program quality-checks the ribbon and uses special algorithms to break it up into individual images.

Scanning the original pictures from the microfilm, preparing the images to be viewed with an online image viewer, and quality-checking them may take only 18 minutes per roll.

Taking It to the World

FamilySearchIndexing.org is just one of a number of new Web-based programs that have been developed to advance family history endeavors.

FamilySearch Labs (labs.FamilySearch.org) showcases new family history technologies that are still undergoing development. Users test them, and their feedback allows the developers to refine the technology. For over two years, Labs has developed multiple innovative programs to aid in family history work.

The Research Wiki (wiki.familysearch.org) is an open, online community where research experts and genealogists share information on how to research sources for family history work.

Record Search gives access to millions of historical records—a culmination of all the digitizing of records that is being done. Users can see what records exist for a specific geographic area or enter what they know about an ancestor to see matching records—all online. (Access Record Search by visiting FamilySearch.org. Click Search Records, then click Record Search pilot.)

At forums.FamilySearch.org, thousands of users of varying levels of expertise can collaborate in an online discussion to find answers to questions about product features, research techniques, hints and tips, or even about specific families in specific locations.

These and many other projects are making family history come alive more than ever, said Paul D. Starkey, digital information process manager in the Family History Department. “That evolution of technology has been remarkable in getting everyone involved everywhere,” he added. “The Internet has been an amazing technology to help this kind of work.”

Of course, one of the most successful programs developed by the Family History Department can be found at FamilySearchIndexing.org. At any given time, the indexing program has 35 or more projects in different areas of the world. People can download images of historical documents to a computer and transcribe the information to create a searchable online database of names, dates, locations, and other information—free for all to view online at FamilySearch.org.

Anyone can participate in indexing. If a home computer doesn’t meet the requirements to run the indexing application (available for download at FamilySearchIndexing.org), the application can be found on computers at any one of the 4,600 family history centers around the world.

Already available in English, French, German, and Spanish, FamilySearch indexing added three new languages in early April—Italian, Portuguese, and Russian—and Swedish in August.

Three separate volunteers from Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras helped index the milestone 250 millionth record in Spanish as part of the Nicaragua Civil Registration indexing project.

“We’ve come from transcribing by hand to delivering digital images on CDs through the mail to Web-based applications where virtually anyone can be involved,” Brother Nauta said. “We are quantum leaps from where we began. It’s just faster and more reliable and efficient.”

With the technological advances and the ever-increasing number of indexing volunteers, the Ellis Island historical records—which a decade ago took 12,000 volunteers 12 years to complete—would take three weeks to index today.

Beyond the Technology

Beyond the innovations in technology, at the heart of the hastening of the work are people.

At any given moment, thousands of volunteers from around the world are working with FamilySearch Indexing. A growing number of them are not members of the Church. They contribute an increasing volume of the indexing being done.

For some, preserving historical records is a commission to preserve the identity and heritage of a nation, organization, or community. For others, it lends a deepened sense of personal identity.

“They confirm that they are part of a larger family fabric that has a rich history,” Brother Nauta said. “We quickly learn that life as we know it isn’t just about us in the here and now. Knowing the richer context of our family history gives us and our posterity something more to live up to—a legacy to fulfill and pass on after doing our part.”

For Church members, the real value and legacy in family history lies in the saving ordinances of the temple. For example, Brother Nauta said that the greatest rewards come in doing temple work for his own family that he has discovered thanks to the indexes produced by Family Search volunteers. “There is a distinct difference … in doing the work for family I know or did the research for,” he said. “I kind of know them because I’ve spent time with them, researching them, learning about who they were.”

But for members of the Church and those who aren’t, the growing interest in family history work was foretold.

“It’s in the scriptures,” Brother Nauta said. “Elijah ‘will plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers’” (see D&C 2:1–2).

The Spirit of Elijah is “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family” (Russell M. Nelson, “A New Harvest Time,” Liahona, July 1998, 34).

Indexing in Action

Youth in the Mexico City Zarahemla Stake are experiencing the rich blessings of doing family history work for themselves.

Of the 1,000 youth who study within the walls of the Church-owned Benemerito de las Americas school in Mexico, more than 600 volunteer online on the Family Search Indexing program.

“The students would sometimes have free time and nothing to do, so I talked with the stake president, and he asked me what we could do,” said Rodolfo Derbez, area manager for the Family History Department in Mexico. “I said if we have 1,000 indexers with a minimum goal of 1,000 names a semester, then we can have one million names.”

After overcoming some startup problems with equipment, the students began indexing in April. They work on three Mexico projects at a time, Brother Derbez said.

In just over a month, the student volunteers indexed more than 200,000 names, some students indexing several thousand names.

At this rate, the youth hoped to complete the goal of one million names indexed by their September deadline. Each semester they will work to index another million names.

Students at Benemerito de las Americas in Mexico are indexing millions of names.

Photograph courtesy of Bruce Yerman

FamilySearch is using technology in new ways to both preserve family history and make it available to others.

Photograph by Matthew Reier

Using modified high-end digital cameras and software developed by the Church, FamilySearch volunteers capture historical documents and records.

Photograph courtesy of Larry Telford

A number of different Web sites and Web-based applications are making family history more accessible.

President Monson, Elder Oaks Present U.S. President with Family History

In July, President Thomas S. Monson met with United States president Barack Obama, presenting him with five large leather-bound volumes of his family history going back multiple generations and covering hundreds of years.

President Monson was accompanied by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is also a member of the Church.

“President Obama’s heritage is rich with examples of leadership, sacrifice, and service,” President Monson said at the event. “We were very pleased to research his family history and are honored to present it to him today.”

Elder Oaks, who oversees the Church’s family history program, said, “The Church has great resources and experience in genealogy work, and we are proud to have researched such a unique and impressive family history.”

President Obama and Elder Oaks, a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court, also had an opportunity to discuss their shared passion for the law.

“I thank President Monson and Elder Oaks for sharing our religion’s tradition of genealogical research with the president and his family,” Senator Reid said. “Recognizing the president and first lady’s deep regard for family, I am honored that our Church can have any part in documenting their family history.”

President Obama said he enjoyed the meeting. “I’m grateful for the genealogical records that they brought with them and am looking forward to reading through the materials with my daughters,” he said. “It’s something our family will treasure for years to come.”

The Church has also presented personal histories to other U.S. presidents, including Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

President Barack Obama (second from right) meets with (from left) Senator Harry Reid; Joshua DuBois, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; President Thomas S. Monson; and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Oval Office.

Photograph by Pete Souza, © Official White House Photography

New Temple Presidents Begin Service

The following new temple presidents and their wives began serving on November 1, 2009, as assigned by the First Presidency.

Temple

New Temple President and Matron

Aba Nigeria

Douglas M. and Carol Ann Robinson

Accra Ghana

Julian P. and Gaye S. Breillatt

Albuquerque New Mexico

W. Douglas and Dixie J. Shumway

Boston Massachusetts

Robert S. and Dixie Jones Wood

Bountiful Utah

Douglas L. and Jeannette M. Callister

Brisbane Australia

John R. and Kathryn E. Gibson

Cardston Alberta

Brent L and Barbara Nielson

Colonia Juárez Chihuahua Mexico

Robert J. and Raquel L. Whetten

Denver Colorado

Mark A. and Jane W. Baer

Frankfurt Germany

Peter J. G. and Ilona L. Berkhahn

Fukuoka Japan

Asao and Kumiko Y. Miyashita

Guatemala City Guatemala

Clate W. and Paula G. Mask

Helsinki Finland

Kari J. A. and Auli A. Haikkola

Hermosillo Sonora Mexico

G. Farrell and Doratha R. Young

Houston Texas

D. Channing and Charlotte M. Bradshaw

Las Vegas Nevada

Bruce M. and Barbara J. Ballard

Manila Philippines

Moises M. and Amparo A. Mabunga

Manti Utah

Ed J. and Patricia P. Pinegar

Mesa Arizona

Daryl H. and Irene H. Garn

Mexico City Mexico

Santiago and Rosa G. Mejía Mora

Montevideo Uruguay

Lynn R. and Alma Don M. Shurtleff

Monticello Utah

Vaughn A. and Karen C. Johnson

Montreal Quebec

David B. and Frieda K. Galbraith

Oaxaca Mexico

Adolfo and Josefina H. Ávalos Rico

Oklahoma City Oklahoma

Michael L. and Victoria M. Southward

DVDs Bring Old Testament to Life

The Old Testament just got a lot more accessible.

In October, the Church released the Old Testament Visual Resource DVDs—a set of three DVDs containing more than 300 visual resources to assist members as they study the Old Testament.

The DVDs, which were used by the Church Educational System last year, are now available for use in homes and Church classrooms to enrich comprehension of Old Testament passages.

The first two discs contain videos, interactive charts, quotations from latter-day apostles and prophets, and paintings that supplement the doctrines and events found in the Old Testament.

A scripture-study activity accompanies each visual resource and can be used for personal, family, or classroom study to help unlock understanding of the Old Testament.

The third DVD contains stories for children based on the book Old Testament Stories. People such as Joseph, Ruth, Elijah, Jonah, and Esther will come to life for children as they listen to the simple narrations and view the illustrations for each story.

Now available in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, the DVDs will become available in 25 other languages over the next year.

The set of Old Testament Visual Resource DVDs is $6.25 USD and is available through Church distribution centers and online at ldscatalog.com.

In the News

Elder Pieper Represents Church at Congress of World Religions

In July 2009, Elder Paul B. Pieper of the Seventy, then President of the Europe East Area, presented a paper at the Third Congress of Traditional and World Religions convened in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The triennial congress was established in 2003 on the premise that through dialogue, religions can find ways to work together to bless mankind.

Representing the Church, Elder Pieper, who speaks fluent Russian, sat on a panel of distinguished religious leaders discussing the topic of “Solidarity, Especially in the Period of Crises.”

Elder Pieper called it a moral imperative to follow the Savior’s teachings.

“We try to emulate His obedience, love, compassion, and service to others collectively as a church and in our personal lives,” he said.

Elder Pieper offered three guiding principles to expand solidarity with other religions: the right to choose one’s worship, friendship to all denominations, and a unified approach to the world’s challenges where possible.

Elder Pieper praised the organizers of the congress and extended the Church’s willingness and desire to work with any and all religious leaders in achieving a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world.

Approximately 75 delegations from religious traditions including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, and Zoroastrianism attended, as well as leaders of academic and governmental institutions.

Broadcast Marks 80 Years

From the crossroads of the West, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir welcomed listeners to its 4,166th broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word in July, marking 80 years for the world’s longest-running continuous network broadcast.

At a special ceremony held in the Conference Center after the landmark broadcast, President Thomas S. Monson said he could not remember a time when the program was not a part of his life and remarked that countless lives have been changed and hearts lifted by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The program of beautiful music and brief, inspirational messages first aired on July 15, 1929, from the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

Through eight decades and only three program announcers— Richard L. Evans (1930–71), J. Spencer Kinard (1972–90), and Lloyd D. Newell (1990–present)—Music and the Spoken Word has grown to be broadcast by more than 2,000 radio, television, and cable stations.

Brother Newell said that the broadcast is as needed today as it was when it began in 1929. “Today’s challenges are different in some ways—the world seems more noisy and confusing than it once was—but we continue to find in Music and the Spoken Word a welcome reprieve, a beacon of hope steadying troubled hearts and enhancing life’s joys.”

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir celebrated 80 years of Music and the Spoken Word.

Photograph by Craig Dimond

Additional Sharing Time Ideas, December 2009

The following are additional ideas Primary leaders may use with the Sharing Time printed in the December 2009 Liahona. For the lesson, instructions, and activity that correspond with these ideas, see “I Will Remember Jesus Christ on pages F12 and F13 of the children’s section in this issue.

  1. 1.

    Jesus was born into a family. Work with the music leader to prepare a sing-a-story to teach about Jesus’s birth into a family (see “Music with Narratives,” Teaching, No Greater Call [1999], 174–75). You might consider having children dress in simple costumes to represent the characters in the story, or use pictures from the Gospel Art Picture Kit.

    Example: Christmas is the season when we celebrate the joyful birth of Jesus Christ. Sing a song or hymn about the nativity. Heavenly Father promised to send His Son to be the Savior of the World (see John 3:16). Sing a song or hymn about the Savior. Prophets such as Samuel the Lamanite foretold the birth and mission of Jesus Christ (see Helaman 14:1–6). Sing a song or hymn about the Book of Mormon. An angel told Mary she would be the mother of Jesus (see Luke 1:26–35). Joseph was Mary’s husband. Heavenly Father chose them to help take care of Jesus (see Matthew 1:20–24). Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem to be counted in a census (see Luke 2:1–5). Sing a Christmas song or hymn. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a stable because there was no room for His family at the inn (see Luke 2:6–7). Sing “Away in a Manger” (Children’s Songbook, 42–43). Angels and shepherds shared in the joy of the birth of Jesus (see Luke 2:8–16). Sing “Joy to the World” (Hymns, no. 201). Bear testimony of the divinity of Christ’s birth.

  2. 2.

    Jesus will come again. Show Gospel Art Picture Kit 238 (The Second Coming). Tell the children that when Jesus comes again, He will come in power and glory and everyone will know who He is. Sing “When He Comes Again” (Children’s Songbook, 82–83). Have the children repeat the phrase “I wonder, when he comes again, will I be ready there.” Teach that when Jesus comes again, it will be a great day for those who are prepared. Jesus taught the importance of preparing for His Second Coming in a parable about 10 women and their lamps. Help the children dramatize the story found in Matthew 25:1–13. Explain that the Savior compared the wedding to His Second Coming. Emphasize that because the five wise women were prepared, they were allowed into the wedding. Likewise, if we are prepared when Jesus comes, we will be able to live with Him and Heavenly Father again.

    Have the children use clay or salt dough (for recipe, see Teaching, No Greater Call, 165) to mold a small bowl that fits inside a cupped hand. Explain that this would be similar in size and shape to the ancient lamps used by the 10 women. Emphasize that oil lamps cannot give light unless they have oil to burn. Give each class a copy of My Gospel Standards, and explain that living those standards is like adding oil to their lamps in preparation for Jesus’s Second Coming. Have the teachers read through the standards with their classes, and then help each child choose a standard to work on in the coming week. Provide beans or small pebbles to represent oil. Have the teachers put one in the children’s lamps when they make their choice. Encourage the children to tell their family the story of the 10 women and to share with them what their bean or pebble represents. Bear testimony that Jesus will come again.