Billions of family names to go online

LDS Church plans to be history 'clearinghouse'

Published: Thursday, May 17 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

In what officials say will be a quantum leap forward in providing family history information online, the LDS Church has announced a plan designed to eventually help provide access to billions of genealogical records on the Web, in addition to the billions of records it is currently indexing out of its own Granite Vault microfilm archives.

The new Records Access program is being announced this week at the annual meeting of the National Genealogical Society (NGS) in Richmond, Va. The announcement details specifics of how the church is creating partnerships with various archives and other records depositories in a move to become the world's premier international "clearinghouse" for family history.

The first cooperative project under the new program will be to digitize and index U.S. Revolutionary War Pension records with the National Archives in Washington, meaning anyone with ancestors who served in that war will soon be able to access details about that family member online.

Steve W. Anderson, manager of marketing for the church's FamilySearch.org, said the church is working to arrange agreements with commercial Web sites and genealogical organizations worldwide to provide digitizing, indexing and online posting for billions of records, many of which have never been indexed at all, let alone been available online.

"Archives all have two things in mind: preservation and making records available," he said. "When push comes to shove, they would rather preserve them than share them, but most would like to do both."

The church is forming agreements with organizations to help film or digitally image their collections, which can be posted on an organization's Web site, as well as on FamilySearch.org. In some cases, FamilySearch will simply provide a link to a specific organization's Web site, where a small fee for access will be charged to view the records.

The program "recruits volunteers from around the world to index a batch of records at a time. They transcribe those pieces of information — names, dates, locations, marriage, death and birth dates — and make an index that allows the record to be searched by name or place or event," Anderson said.

The project not only will provide "vital statistics," but by imaging the documents, users will be able to pull up a digitized image of the actual record itself. "That's a whole different experience, to see an image of the original document," he said.

The program provides the flexibility necessary to work with small archives as well as giant repositories, he said. It helps those without any resources to complete the entire imaging, indexing and online posting process, and those with more resources who may simply need help posting information online or driving traffic to their Web site.

Once the church has signed an agreement to work with a specific organization, personnel there "typically want to recruit their own patrons to help them index. But with imaging the documents — taking digital photos of them — we do that for them in almost all cases. ... They want preservation-quality digital images, and we do that better than anybody. We've been doing it for decades," to produce the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm that now reside in the church's Granite Mountain near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Anderson said.

FamilySearch can also put indexing projects in progress on its Web site, where volunteers can help index public collections of records. The Revolutionary War records are a "perfect example. We're doing the imaging, posting on our site and will recruit volunteers to help index." An online family history Web site called Footnote.com will create electronic indexes of the records and host the actual images there for public access.

The indexes and images of those records will also be viewable at LDS Family History Centers, as well as at FamilySearch.org.

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