Since 1894, the Church has been compiling, preserving and providing access to the world’s genealogy records, pioneering the use of microfilm as a records preservation tool beginning in 1938 and amassing over the years a collection of billions of images of historic records.
As microfilm was superseded by digital photography, the Church’s FamilySearch genealogical service has been at the forefront in use of that technological tool as well.
Now FamilySearch is observing a milestone: Early this week it announced the online publication of its 1 billionth image of historic records, a feat that took only seven years to achieve.
Paul Nauta, public affairs manager at FamilySearch, puts it in a historic context.
“It took us 46 years to publish our first billion images on microfilm,” he noted, “and 12 years to publish our second billion images on microfilm. We began in 2007 to put digital images online, and it took us seven years to publish our first billion images digitally. We suspect it will probably take just around half that time to do the next billion images.”
No other organization — including the Library of Congress or the National Archives — comes even close to having a billion historical records online, he said, though social media sites like Facebook and Flickr can boast of having over a billion photos contributed by users.
“A single digital image can have several historic records on it,” explained Rod DeGiulio, director of FamilySearch Records Division, “which means there are actually billions of records in our image collections online for people to discover and volunteers to index.”
Of the images preserved digitally so far, approximately 70 percent have been converted from microfilm stored over the past half century at the Church’s Granite Mountain Record Vault, a remarkable facility excavated from solid rock near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon southeast of Salt Lake City. Another 25 percent of the images have been captured by camera crews sent out by the Church to various locales around the world. And 5 percent come from partnerships formed between FamilySearch and various national, state, municipal and religious archives.
In fact, the 1 billionth image came from such a partnership, with an archive in Peru that houses civil registration documents.
The partnerships are a growing trend, where archives are becoming more interested in opening their collections to preservation by FamilySearch.
“They’re seeking us out now, instead of us seeking them out,” said Jennifer Davis of the FamilySearch Records Division. “They want a low-cost or no-cost option to their records preservation.”
“So it’s a win-win for them,” Brother Nauta added. “They get to preserve their records digitally as a safeguard in case of damage or destruction because of natural disaster, civil conflict or whatever it might be.”
Moreover, the archives see the partnership with FamilySearch as a cost-saving innovation, as the archive can make the records available to patrons online, often referring them to the FamilySearch.org website.
To date, FamilySearch has worked with more than 10,000 archives in more than 100 countries.
The work of digital records preservation is being hastened by a dramatic reduction in the cost to store digital content and by the speed at which digital images can be downloaded to computer databases, Brother Nauta noted. Ten years ago, he said, it cost $1.24 to store digital images on a single gigabyte of memory; today, the cost is less than 3 cents.