SALT LAKE CITY — Since it was completed nearly 50 years ago, the LDS Church's Granite Mountain Records Vault in Utah's Little Cottonwood Canyon has protected in its safe, dry and climate-controlled environment billions of pages of genealogical records on 2.4 million rolls of microfilm and 1 million microfiche.
Now a new five-year, $60 million deal between FamilySearch International, the LDS Church's nonprofit genealogical organization, and Ancestry.com will mine 1 billion records from that trove, bringing them out of storage and to the public.
The agreement announced Thursday brings together what are generally considered to be the world's two largest providers of family history and genealogical research resources. Together they will digitize, index and publish these records from the vault. As part of the long-term strategic agreement, the Ancestry.com and FamilySearch will also be looking at other ways to share content.
That should mean more access for those who are interested in family history and genealogical research, which hobby experts claim ranks second only to gardening as America's favorite pastime.
"What this means is the end user is going to get faster access to more genealogical records," Paul Nauta, manager of marketing and communications for FamilySearch, told the Deseret News Thursday evening. "A billion new records are going to see the light of the Internet because (FamilySearch and Ancestry.com) are working together. That's significant. For those who are interested in genealogy this is great news."
Ancestry.com CEO Tim Sullivan said the "agreement sets a path for the future for Ancestry.com and FamilySearch to increasingly share international sets of records more collaboratively."
"A significant part of our vision for family history is helping provide a rich, engaging experience on a global scale," Sullivan said. "We are excited about the opportunities it will bring to help benefit the family history community and look forward to collaborating with FamilySearch to identify other opportunities to help people discover and share their family history."
FamilySearch president Dennis Brimhall thinks that collaboration stems from "a vision we both share," adding that "expanding online access to historical records through this type of collaboration can help millions more people discover and share their family's history."
The two organizations aren't strangers to each other. Hundreds of millions of records have already been shared and are available on both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. Earlier this year the two organizations announced a plan to collaboratively publish 140 million U.S. wills and probate images and indexes over the next three years, creating the first online database of wills and other probate documents spanning from 1800 to 1930.
But Ancestry.com officials say this new agreement is "groundbreaking," as the two organizations pool their various resources and strengths to expedite public access to historic records that are currently not accessible.
Although Nauta called Ancestry.com's $60 million investment in the agreement "aggressive," he said that "it's not all decided at this point what that pays for."
"They are currently looking at the microfilms that we have up in the vault right now," Nauta said. "We've got more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilm from more than 100 countries. They are interested in the content that we have there, and we're working out the details of all of that."
Those details will be announced "as we go along," Nauta said.
But even without knowing all the details, Nauta said the financial injection from Ancestry.com "will help us do more records and get them indexed and available online faster than we could if we were doing it alone."
"You're going to see, with their investment, expedited activity in getting digital images online," Nauta said. "Collections from various archives worldwide that have not been digitally preserved to this point will now be available to the public."
The LDS Church will also continue its considerable effort in gathering more genealogical records from around the world. Nauta said there are currently volunteer camera teams photographing records in more than 40 countries, "and we'll continue to expand those camera operations."
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that families and family relationships are eternal, so for them the work of identifying and preserving family relationships has religious meaning and significance.
"It's a lot of money, but it's a great thing that we're doing," Nauta said. "A billion new records to see the light of the Internet because these two organizations are working together ... that's a big deal."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company