What started as a passing hobby or just a list of ancestor names in a family bible has burgeoned and blossomed with modern technology.
The phenomenal growth in worldwide genealogical research was celebrated this week as FamilySearch, a nonprofit subsidiary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints, celebrated its 125th anniversary.
The church believes the Prophet Elijah of the Old Testament returned to the earth and gave the Prophet Joseph Smith the commandment of turning the hearts of the children to their fathers, interpreted as modern genealogy work.
What started as the Utah Genealogical Society in Nov. 13, 1894, under the direction of then church President Wilford Woodruff, has grown to be the largest genealogical society in the world.
“The purpose of the society was to help its members (who were predominantly immigrants from Europe) to gather genealogical records from their homelands so they could remember and build their ancestral connections,” according to a FamilySearch press release.
The name was changed in 1999 from the UGS to FamilySearch when the group went live on the web. Since 1938 genealogists had used microfilmed records to to do their research, which often took hours of scrolling through microfiche film. The personal computer and the World Wide Web changed the way genealogists conduct research.
There have been many milestones along the way for FamilySearch, including the major announcement in 2014 that it would partner with Ancestry.com, findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com as they would collectively share databases.
“What started out as a small conservator of genealogical books has morphed today into a full complement of free online services in 10 languages, including a collaborative family tree, billions of searchable historical records, the ability to digitally preserve family memories (stories, photos, audio files and documents), online help, and ever-expanding partner relationships,” said Stephen Valentine, senior vice president of FamilySearch International, in the press release.
If it seems incredible to have such a large library of searchable names, consider the following stats just on 2019 as the year comes to an end.
As of 2019, those researching their ancestors have more than 7.42 billion researchable names available in 4.79 billion researchable records.
FamilySearch and its popular FamilyTree family group and pedigree chart system has more than 1.21 billion people identified. There are 13.4 million members registered with FamilySearch with 7 million page views per day.
LDS members and the general public get help and are able to use computers and information in 5,170 family history centers throughout the world.
“The (LDS) Church believes family relations can extend beyond death, and that strong families are key to healthy communities,” the press release said. “The experiences FamilySearch creates through its products and services support those beliefs, and are freely accessible and helpful to people from all walks of life worldwide.”
The international nonprofit is grateful to have played a part in the meteoric rise of consumer interest in family history and helping to enrich the lives of millions of people in ways that were not anticipated in the beginning, according to the press release.
Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, is quick to remark that FamilySearch is not alone on its journey. He credits success and longevity to the involvement of a growing community of partners — innovative tech companies, archives, governments, societies and other entities.
“We are seeing such an amazing growth of new technical breakthroughs and creative services from our partners and others,” Rockwood said in the press release. “We are excited about the potential for every person on earth to tell and preserve their personal stories, to discover a better sense of who they are, and make more and more family connections for rising generations.”
Those interested can discover their personal and family history today for free at http://FamilySearch.org. The company encourages its users to share discoveries they make on FamilySearch using the #FoundatFamilySearch hashtag.