SALT LAKE CITY — Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will soon have unprecedented free access to family history records, including obituaries.
Earlier this week, FamilySearch.org announced plans to collaborate with several commercial family history organizations to share records, tools and other resources to allow more people to build, preserve and share their family trees online.
A new part of that agreement was revealed Wednesday night at a media/blogger event in connection with the 2014 RootsTech conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Don Anderson, a senior vice president of patron and partner services at FamilySearch, announced that for the general public, free access would be granted for Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com and MyHeritage.com in LDS Church family history centers worldwide.
Anderson also said that members of the LDS Church will be granted free subscriptions to Ancestry.com (the world edition subscription), MyHeritage.com (plus subscription) and FindMyPast.com (plus subscription), accessible from any location. These sites have between three and four times the number of records FamilySearch has, so it's a substantial amount of both records and technology, Anderson said.
An additional announcement was made that FamilySearch will begin working with the larger genealogical community to collect, digitize and index millions of obituaries from the United States, with other nations to follow.
Anderson emphasized that access to these commercial sites will not be granted immediately but will be rolled out over the next several months.
Anderson said a world edition subscription to Ancestry.com is $399 a year and the other two are in the price range of $120-140 each, which is a significant savings for any family historian.
"I think it's extraordinarily significant for several reasons," Anderson said. "One, in total it saves members of the church millions of dollars. Second, for those on the edge of family history, who maybe in the past couldn't afford or it wasn't a high enough priority to spend $400 a year, this means they can have access to all the resources of those sites for free. Not only will it save money, but it will dramatically broaden the number of individuals involved in family history who otherwise wouldn't have gotten involved or found records at these sites because it wasn't in FamilySearch."
Ben Bennett, vice president of partner services at FamilySearch, said the goal is to provide church members with as many tools as possible to find their families. The negotiation of these deals spanned most of 2013, Bennett said.
"FamilySearch has been doing this for a long time, but we can't do it alone. We don't have every record. These other sites have invested significantly in other technologies," he said.
FamilySearch kicked off its obituary project with a pirate theme of "dead men tell no tales ... but their obituaries do!" Those attending RootsTech this weekend should beware that a pirate named "Captain Jack" will be walking the halls of the Salt Palace to promote the project and encourage volunteers to help "unlock the treasure trove" of precious family information contained in obituaries, according to a FamilySearch press release.
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