The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, and the Church's FamilySearch announced an agreement on Oct. 23 that will lead to the digitization of millions of historical documents over time.
The bulk of the digital images and related indices will then be freely accessible through www.FamilySearch.org, 4,500 family history centers worldwide, or at the National Archives and its regional centers.
Under the new agreement, FamilySearch will operate highly specialized digital cameras five days a week at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. FamilySearch intends to extend the digitization services to select regional facilities at a later date. This will create a continuous flow of new data. This means FamilySearch will be able to digitize the thousands of microfilms it has already created from NARA's holdings providing access to millions of images for genealogists to search from the convenience of their home computers with Internet access.
Wayne Metcalfe, director of FamilySearch record services, said, "No single group can preserve, organize, and make available all the information contained in the world's important genealogical documents like those found in the National Archives of the United States. Such immense undertakings require the co-operation of record custodians, researchers and specialized services. FamilySearch is committed to being an integral partner in this global effort."
The first fruit of this effort is a portion of a large collection of Civil War records, already under way and previously announced. In this pilot project, FamilySearch is digitizing the first 3,150 Civil War widow pension application files (approximately 500,000 pages). After digitization, these historical documents will be indexed and posted online by Footnote.com with the indices also available for free on www.FamilySearch.org.
FamilySearch intends to do all 1,280,000 of these files over the coming years.
The agreement between FamilySearch and NARA is the result of several years of discussions between the two organizations. NARA has recently begun a new long-term strategy for digitizing and making available major segments of its vast collection online. Ultimately, the records digitized by FamilySearch will consist of court, military, land and other government records that include information of genealogical significance for family historians. The records date as early as 1754 to as late as the 1990s.
Few of the records in the National Archives are readily accessible to patrons who visit the National Archives or one of its regional facilities. The newly digitized and indexed records produced under the agreement will be available online greatly increasing patron access.
"For a number of years, we have had a very productive relationship with FamilySearch," said Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States.
"This agreement expands our relationship to enable online access to some of the most popular and voluminous records in our holdings. It is an exciting step forward for our institutions and for the American people."
James Hastings, director of Access Programs at the National Archives, said, "Thanks to this agreement with FamilySearch, valuable information will now be available to millions of users around the world in a far more accessible format."
The Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) doing business as FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Church. FamilySearch maintains the world's largest repository of genealogical resources; these resources may be accessed through FamilySearch.org, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and more than 4,500 family history centers in 70 countries. FamilySearch is a trademark licensed to GSU and is registered in the United States and other countries.