Not far from Salt Lake City and just up Little Cottonwood Canyon on the north slope is the Granite Mountain Records Vault — the largest archives in the world. If it were not for four large arched windows peering out toward the south slope and a road that takes off leading to it, a person driving past may not even notice it.
The step-by-step forming of the vault inside granite rock was carefully watched by our family. Between reading the newspapers my brothers and I delivered to people in Centerville, Utah, and watching the progress of it on television, the vaults became a point of discussion at the family dinner table.
On one occasion, I remember dad pointing out the vault housed in rock being something like Moroni, the ancient Nephite prophet sealing up the record of his ancestors, afterwhich he buried them in Cumorah's Hill. "I seal up these records..." (Moroni 10:2), wrote Moroni. I wondered how this vault would help protect people's family records waiting to be researched.
As we discussed the progress of the construction, I was impressed with the facility drilled and blasted out of the mammoth granite rock. "How is it that by drilling and blasting such an archive can be carved out INSIDE such a mammoth rock?" I wondered.
Soon, my interest moved from the outside of the vaults to the inside. I asked dad many questions, including: "What about the inside of the vault?" "What process will be used to protect genealogy and other records?" "What types of records will be sent there?"
Over time, I learned that the vault would become home for microfilm sent from camera operators stationed throughout the world for processing and eventual use by researchers. Genealogy, and possibly government records, would be copied on to film, sent to the vault and processed there. The microfilm would be copies of paper documents as they were at the moment of filming. Microfilming paper documents would avoid any chance of further decay over time, weather stains, water marks, etc., because film does not decay like paper or parchment.
In 1972, upon completing a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was hired to work at the church-owned vault as a microfilm evaluator. I was elated at the prospect of examining and preserving microfilm containing genealogical records. This was a dream come true for me. I saw direct connections between this job and what my siblings and I were doing helping my parents by proof reading documents of our own ancestors. It was further advancing my skills in genealogy. By so doing, I gained experience in the "big picture process" I could not get anywhere else. All of this was a work-in-process and I was a part of it. I was headed right for the vocation I now pursue as a degreed professional researcher running my own research company.
I remember my first day of work in the vault. There was a long counter with seats for each evaluator. At each work station, the counter had reel drives on the left (output reel) and right (takeup reel) and a light on the counter between the drives. Operating the drives by motor using a switch, the output reel fed the film slowly over the light to the take-up reel. As I examined the film, I noted defects such as nicks and cracks. I determined whether the exposure was too light or too dark for researchers to read the films. I marked where the deficiencies were, afterwhich I returned the films to the processing rooms for correction, re-do, and re-inspection.
Some months later, I left for a new job, but even today I look back on those work experiences at the vault as a necessary and important time in my career development. Even today, when I put a microfilm roll on a reader to do research in the Family History Library, I catch myself looking at the quality of the film. I have found this training has enhanced my ability with film and documents, which is a plus for our clients.
Efforts to digitize the records have been ongoing since 1999, according to Wikipedia.1 comment on this story
During the past 41 years, changes in technology such as computers and other machines has significantly altered the way information and documents are processed at the vault. Nowadays, it is so much faster and easier to simply go to the Family History Library or one of the satellite research centers to use a computer to request a digitized document. In a flash, the document appears on the screen. Most likely, the document had at some point been evaluated and digitized from microfilm at the Granite Mountain Records Vault.
The Granite Mountain Records Vaults Part 1
This video explains how records stored in microfilm and other formats are digitized, indexed, and published online in a searchable format, where they can be accessed by researchers around the world at www.familysearch.org.
Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc., at ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and adviser to Treasured Souls to Keep, at treasuredsoulstokeep.com.