Through technology, "a significant and welcome change" is being made in simplifying family history work, said Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, addressing the BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference devotional Aug. 1.
The new technology, an Internet-based system being developed by the Church, will consolidate software products and eliminate duplication, said Elder Jensen, executive director of the Family and Church History Department and Church historian/recorder.
About 650 people attended the 38th Annual BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference held Aug. 1-4, with the theme, "Strengthening Ties that Bind Families Together Forever." Sixty-seven presenters taught more than 120 classes.
The new technology system was mentioned by President Gordon B. Hinckley in October 2005 general conference, in which he said: "One of the most troublesome aspects of our temple activity is that as we get more and more temples scattered across the earth there is duplication of effort in proxy work. People in various nations simultaneously work on the same family lines and come up with the same names. . . . . The solution lies in complex computer technology. Preliminary indications are that it will work, and if this is so, it will be a truly remarkable thing with worldwide implications."
Elder Jensen continued, "Where possible, we want to make temple and family history work conveniently available to members in their own homes, or at nearby family history centers in those areas of the world where technology is not yet readily available in homes."
The goal is to "use the technology with which the Lord has blessed us to support processes that will enable all members, worldwide, to experience success and find joy in this work without needing to be expert genealogists or skilled technologists."
Components of the new system are built around what is called a "common pedigree" that will begin with the user's name and that of his or her ancestors who have been identified and data submitted to the system, Elder Jensen explained. "Members will be able to tell at a glance if temple work has been completed or needs to be done for ancestors in the system. Any other relatives who are interested in the same lines will see the same information," he said, thus allowing relatives to work together, reducing both unnecessary temple work and duplicate research.
More support will also be provided to members locally, instead of mostly at Church headquarters. An updated "Temple and Family History" section of the Church Handbook of Instructions suggests that family history consultants will receive more training and have more online resources that will enable them to take a more active role in supporting members' efforts in family history work.
Over time, the Church's vast collections will be made available online. First, the Church's 2.4 million rolls of microfilm are being scanned into a digital format. Second, the collection of additional records is being done with digital cameras instead of microfilm cameras.
However, all digitized records will need to be described and indexed before being made available on the Internet, said Elder Jensen.
Family Search Indexing is a new research system being created from the indexes of these records. It will contain names, dates, places and other vital genealogical information.
"The indexes will also link the searcher directly to the digital images of original birth certificates, marriage licenses or other relevant documents," said Elder Jensen. "The software for this system is very user friendly and contains all of the tools and instructions one needs to be an efficient and successful extractor. Designed to eventually replace the current program of Family Record Extraction, Family Search Indexing will allow users to participate in extraction work in the convenience of their own homes, at any time of day, and contribute as little or as much work as time permits."
Through this system, various members of the genealogical community can partner to create indexes for use by all.
"This new and vastly improved approach to extraction work has recently been made available in most Utah stakes that were participating in Family Record Extraction," said Elder Jensen. "If you are not yet a participant, I invite those of you who live in Utah to contact your stake family record extraction director, or if you live outside Utah, to visit the website at familysearchindexing.org to register and participate in a volunteer-based project."
He expects that online assistance will eventually be made available to guide researchers to the most pertinent documents for their research.
"I testify that the hand of the Lord is in these changes and I know they will bless both the living researchers and the deceased recipients of sacred ordinances."
Family history research and temple work are inseparably connected, he said, indicating the family history research should be the primary source for names for temple ordinances.
"In the commercial vernacular, family history 'ships' and the temples 'receive,' " he said.
Elder Jensen commended family history enthusiasts, such as those in attendance at the BYU conference, and said their example gives "much needed hope to those who once stood or still stand on the outside of family history looking in."
"Even in this age of exploding technology, the human element is and always will be the key ingredient in a successful program of family history."
He encouraged each family history researcher to become a mentor to others, to bear "pure testimony" to help foster increased family history research.
"When we do family history and temple work. . . we also participate in a work calculated to help us learn to love and serve others as our Savior loves and serves them. The ultimate reward we receive in doing family history work is to be found in the relationship and feelings we develop for those for whom we stand as proxy or saviors on Mt. Zion or in the temple," he said.