Preserving, sharing records of world

As solid as the granite that protects billions of genealogical records in the mountains east of Salt Lake Valley is the commitment by the Church to preserving and sharing the records of the world.

That was the message conveyed in the opening presentation April 28 at the National Genealogical Society 2010 Family History Conference in Salt Lake City.

Jay L. Verkler, president and CEO of FamilySearch, the Church’s worldwide genealogical service, gave the presentation in the Salt Palace to genealogists gathered from throughout the country and parts of the world for the four-day conference. It was the first time in 25 years the 107-year-old society had convened in Utah’s capital.

Brother Verkler posed the question of how genealogy might benefit from technology. His response was that it involves billions of records, millions of users, global interest, billions of questions and difficult problems.

“I believe that technology has a role to play, and in fact, in some ways, we’re really starting to come of age technologically in the genealogical world,” he said.

Brother Verkler said genealogy is inherently collaborative because the problems are usually over one person’s head. Moreover, the genealogy community has strong and helpful members, great mentors, an open community and an ethic of giving back to the community, he added.

FamilySearch and the genealogy community as a whole has come of age in gathering and preserving records; providing access to those records; facilitating, documenting and preserving conclusions; and organizing knowledge and help, he said.

Brother Verkler showed a new video produced for FamilySearch about the Granite Mountain Storage Vault in the mountains southeast of Salt Lake City. Completed in 1965, it houses microfilmed images of records, now numbering about 3.5 billion, that the Church has collected since 1938. Some 700 feet of solid stone protects the collection from the ravages of decay, natural disasters and man-made calamities. The collection is made accessible to the public by means of more than 4,600 family history centers around the world offering their services free of charge.

Another video highlighted the effort to digitize those microfilmed images, a task once estimated to take more than a century, but with current technology, projected to last about 10 years. New records being gathered are now stored directly on digital hard drives and tapes.

In 2006, Brother Verkler said, a FamilySearch debuted a new system that now involves more than 300,000 registered volunteers working at their home computers to index the digitized records. That leads to related descendants being able to collaborate through the Internet to share and preserve their family history research in a revolutionary way, through a web site called FamilyTree (currently known to Church members as New FamilySearch.

And through the FamilySearch Wiki, an on-line encyclopedia type reference to which anyone can contribute, experts and other users can share their genealogical knowledge. Brother Verkler characterized it as a “paradigm shift,” an “abundance model” built on “sharing instead of hoarding” knowledge.