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LDS Church completes major microfilm digitization initiative

By Genelle Pugmire - | Sep 21, 2021

Servers maintained by the Church store billions of digitized family history records. (Courtesy Intellectual Reserves)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known worldwide for its vast collection of genealogical information and for the work it has done to keep world family records safe.

On Tuesday, the church announced just how many there are, and how safe they will be.

Billions of historical family history records are available to the public with the completion of a microfilm digitization initiative by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to a statement.

“This is a really incredible milestone,” said Joseph Monsen, director of preservation services for the Church History Department. “For 83 years, the Church has been collecting and using microfilm records to support genealogical research. … 2.4 million rolls of microfilm are all digitally saved now and available.”

These records are not just in reserve for member of the LDS Church but for anyone throughout the world who is interested in their ancestry and genealogy as a hobby.

The Church has completed a microfilm digitization initiative. “This is a really incredible milestone,” said Joseph Monsen, director of preservation services for the Church History Department. (Courtesy Intellectual Reserves)

“These family history records are now available to anyone who has a computer, anyone who has an Internet connection, and you can find documents and records now anywhere in the world that relate to your family,” explained Kris Whitehead, a manager for FamilySearch International, based in Salt Lake City.

“Nearly every day, we work with someone who finds an ancestor online and, or, even at home,” said Fritz Juengling, a research specialist in the Family History Library, located on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

“Even people who have full trees really don’t. So, if the low-hanging fruit is already picked, you just need to climb further up your tree,” he said.

It’s a game-changer for everybody in the world, noted Becky Adamson, a research specialist at the Family History Library.

“So, instead of having to come to the library, people can start accessing these records from home,” Adamson said. “You click with a mouse instead of scrolling and winding and reading and reading and being confused at some of the handwriting.”

Microfilm will continue to be stored and preserved in the Church’s physically secured and climate-controlled archives to ensure the world’s family history data is available for future. (Courtesy Intellectual Reserves)

The microfilm can sometimes be a challenge to view. You can blow it up bigger and you’re not getting your shadow in the way of the light, according to Adamson.

“It means things are going to get a lot easier,” added Christopher Utley, a family historian who works with people seeking information about their ancestors. “It means that I can be more proficient in my research.”

The church has been releasing millions of records online for years as they were digitized. Now that the project has been completed, the records of more than 11.5 billion people from around the world are accessible for millions of family history enthusiasts.

“[The records] are not all available today,” said Monsen, who explained that it will take time to index and publish the digital images. “A large percentage of these are available today on http://FamilySearch.org and the rest of them are in process to end up there as well.”

Over 200 countries and principalities, and more than 100 languages, are represented in the documents. Completion of the project also makes it easier for Latter-day Saints and others to increase family discoveries.

“All of God’s children benefit from these images. These are family history records that in some cases don’t exist anymore through fires, floods [or] natural disasters,” Whitehead said.

The church has been collecting, preserving and providing access to genealogically significant historical records for more than 100 years. The records include birth, death, marriage, census, military service, immigration and other documents.

The LDS Church was one of the first major organizations to embrace the use of microfilm imaging in a grand vision to gather all the world’s family history information in one location and then make it universally available. The global effort involved church staff and senior missionaries who visited countless religious and government archives in numerous locations over the past eight decades.

“Over the 83 years since we started microfilming, there have been thousands and thousands and thousands of volunteers who have helped to microfilm, who have helped to preserve, to scan these records,” said Whitehead, who said his own family history work has benefitted by the documents.

FamilySearch developed a network of Family History Centers worldwide to share the information with patrons, along with a process for duplicating and distributing microfilm copies to these centers. Microfilm distribution to the church’s Family History Centers ended in September 2017 when the church announced it would transition to an all-digital operation by the end of 2021.

“All of our cameras today are digital,” said Whitehead. “So, we are continuing to grow our collection of images. We’re just not growing it by microfilm. It’s growing straight digital now.”

The microfilm will continue to be stored and preserved in the church’s physically secured and climate-controlled archives, to ensure the world’s family history data is available for future generations.

FamilySearch is committed to collecting, preserving and providing access to the world’s genealogical records to help individuals and families worldwide discover and connect with their family histories. The organization plans to increase the digitization of new records worldwide from its digital camera operations. It is also in the process of digitizing its microfiche collection, which should be completed in the next several years, according to the church statement.

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