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A family history overhaul

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 4 2006 3:29 p.m. MDT

Ken Holady of Milton-Freewater, Ore., views paintings by Robert Marshall and Shauna Cook Clinger at "Willie and Martin Remembered: A Tribute to the Mormon Handcart Pioneers" exhibit Friday at the Museum of Church History and Art.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

Whether your LDS ancestors pulled a handcart across the Plains or you have no affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there's a wealth of information being processed for placement on the Internet beginning next year that can tie you to your family tree — free.

Thousands of Latter-day Saints in town for the church's 176th Semi-annual General Conference, which begins at 10 a.m. today, know something about their ancestry because they've long been taught to know who their progenitors are.

But relatively few know all of what's now available to help fill out their family tree, including archives that chronicle the early history of the LDS Church in exacting — and often personal — detail.

And with a complete overhaul of the church's FamilySearch.org Web site planned for the months ahead, even those who have no experience researching family history will be able to "do something meaningful without having to learn anything prior," according to Steve W. Anderson, online marketing manager for the church's Family History department.

New online tools will allow novices to log on and — with a few mouse clicks — pull up their family tree, with details about ancestors, of any faith or none, that are part of the database. "You'll be able to attach images or photos to it, or something like a timeline of events. It will have all kind of things to make it a much richer resource."

Users will have their own login, allowing them to add information about living people to their family tree if they so choose, though that information will not be available for others to view in order to maintain privacy. Anderson said there is some concern about the accuracy of allowing people to simply add information, but "if someone disagrees with your account of it, there will be an opportunity to put additional information or opinion there."

In addition to the redesigned Web site, the church is pushing forward with a digitizing project that will eventually allow the images of such information as census records, birth, death, marriage, tax and land records — now contained on its 2.4 million rolls of microfilm — to not only be placed online, but to be indexed in order to allow nearly instant access.

The project is estimated to take from five to 15 years to complete. After that anyone looking for access to literally billions of individual documents will be able to search for them in minutes online. In the past, the only way to access those records was to order a copy of the microfilm through the mail.

"We're trying to make the information much more accessible and also much more meaningful," Anderson said. "The Web has made us all a little attention-challenged, yet we all flock to it. All that we're doing here

with online programs and databases puts us right at the doorstep of a mountain of significant change."

The church is currently working with thousands of volunteers worldwide to help index the digitized records — many of them through state and local genealogical societies. Public access to selected records that have been both digitized and indexed is anticipated "fairly soon — definitely by next year," he said.

Family History communications and planning manager Paul Nauta said the indexing technology is "coming along nicely" at this point, and managers will begin testing the indexing internally through church groups and with selected genealogical societies nationally who have volunteers now working to index records that their memberships find valuable.

The project, dubbed "FamilySearch Indexing," is drawing growing interest from volunteers in a variety of areas. A demonstration of the new technology will be featured at the Ogden Regional Family History Conference Oct. 6-7 at the Eccles Conference Center during a presentation called "Opening the Granite Mountain Vault." (For information, see www.myancestorsfound.com/NorthUtah/highlights.htm)

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