Monday, November 23, 2009

Digitized Records Not Just for Mormons

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I've been reading your column/blog since you began - and have always been interested in the content -EXCEPT for the recent columns re "the rollout of New FamilySearch (NFS) to all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world (‘cept for the Orient)."

At a recent Board meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Palm Beach County, Florida - a Board member who had visited our local FHC in Boca Raton, informed us he was told that the digitalized records for the NEW FAMILY SEARCH would not be available in this location.

Is this correct?

Please clarify exactly what this means - and if the digitalized records will only be available at various FHCs in the Utah area.

Thank you.

Sylvia Furshman Nusinov
President Emerita
Genealogical Workbook Editor

Sylvia subsequently forwarded a message she received Sunday morning:

I understand no LDS library outside Salt Lake City holds any films - they have to be ordered and yes, it takes up to 4 months for them to arrive. They seem to be closing Family History Centers regularly and I have been told that within the next two years they are going to make the whole collection available online - to members that is. At present it seems a mystery how non-members will be able to access the records. Any information welcome.

Nicole, Belgium

Dear Sylvia and Nicole,

I have good news for you. THIS RUMOR IS FALSE!

Have you ever played a party game variously called Gossip, Telephone (U.S.), Whispers, (England), Le Téléphone Arabe (France), or Stille Post (Germany)? Players sit in a circle. One person whispers a message to the next person, who passes it on around the circle. After the message has completed the circuit, the group compares the original message with its final incarnation.

At a publicity stunt in Las Vegas in 2004, a record breaking 614 participants played the game. The starting phrase, "Mac King is a comedy magic genius," became "Macaroni cantaloupe knows the future."

Let me catalog some possible sources for your rumor:

New FamilySearch

Don’t let my comment about New FamilySearch (NFS) confuse you. While it is currently available only to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as I’ve reported, the leaders of “the Church are anxious to get New FamilySearch out to genealogists outside the Church.”

Don’t let the name “New FamilySearch” confuse you. It is the FamilySearch Family Tree offering. The name is astonishingly ambiguous. The name practically demands misunderstanding and I’ve had to deal with my share. Back in September 2008 Carolynne vowed to never index again when the ambiguity led her to believe that only Church members would have access to the resulting records. Not true!

Record Search

You can already access some of the indexed, converted microfilm on the Record Search Pilot website (at or via Once Record Search emerges from the pilot stage, you will see lots more records show up. Once the pipeline emerges from its pilot stage, then you will see a continuous flow of lots more records. Click here to review articles I’ve written about Record Search.

Unfortunately, participation in FamilySearch Indexing is not expanding as fast as it could.  While most of the 2.5 million rolls of microfilm may be digitized in 3 to 5 years, indexing at current rates will take several hundred years. Do yourself a favor and resolve to spend some time each week indexing.

New Website

Don’t be confused by information about a new website. Eventually, the old will be replaced with a new website that consolidates the many pieces currently under separate development:

A beta preview of the new site has replaced the alpha on and can be seen

To make the confusion worse, FamilySearch insists on using a lowercase “n” for “new FamilySearch” (the tree). As a result, it is easy to confuse the new FamilySearch and the new

To avoid confusion, the Ancestry Insider always uses “New FamilySearch” (capital “N” and no “.org”) to reference the tree and “new” (lowercase “n” and always with “.org”) to reference the website. With other sources, you’re on your own.

FamilySearch Member

Don’t confuse the term “FamilySearch Member” with “Church Member.” As I reported last year, access to some images will be limited to FamilySearch Members, defined at the time as:

  • Volunteers and indexers who meet basic contribution requirements each quarter
  • Patrons at family history centers
  • Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Church members provide the millions of dollars needed to keep FamilySearch operating

In the July 2008 announcement, FamilySearch pledged, “All data indexed by FamilySearch volunteers will continue to be made available for free to the public through—now and in the future.” This option has not yet shown up in the Record Search pilot and exact details have not been announced.

Family History Centers

As I’ve previously reported, rumors that FamilySearch is closing all its family history centers (FHCs) are not true. FamilySearch’s Russell Webster stated that the overall number of centers is actually on the increase. The number quoted on FamilySearch press releases recently jumped from 4,500 to 4,600.

Webster said that FHCs are being repurposed. In the past they were needed for microfilm access and TempleReady for Church members. As both these purposes are largely replaced by Internet offerings, the reasons to have FHCs become:

  • computer access,
  • Internet access,
  • access to FamilySearch Member records,
  • access to some premium genealogy websites,
  • access to CD databases that can’t be published on,
  • access to microfilms that can’t be digitized, and
  • face-to-face research assistance.

Home access to the internet only replaces the first three items, so there is an ongoing need for FHCs. The way I interpret Webster’s comments, repurposing leaves Utah and Idaho with too many centers, and developing countries with too few centers. (Also see KD 101753.)


In summary, Sylvia and Nicole, digitized records will be available to all, member or otherwise. If you do your part indexing, then you’ll have access in your home. Otherwise, you’ll have access in your local family history center—which generally is not closing. Even New FamilySearch, currently open only to Church members, will eventually be available to all.


-- The Ancestry Insider


  1. Thank you for straightening out the confusion.
    I appreciate your taking the time to give your readers and those who frequent their local FHCs, an explanation of the transitions taking place at FamilySearch.

  2. AI,

    You covered a lot of ground in this post. First let me comment on NFS for non-Mormons since I did not on your earlier post. Adding and maintaining ones trees on NFS offers nothing of value that I can see to the non-Mormon, and little to Mormons either if they are serious researchers. It has less functionality than PAF in reports, charts and so on. And there is the prospect of never-ending corrections where as soon as one corrects something, someone new comes along and duplicates the same error yet again. This comes from allowing Gedcoms to be uploaded even if such is discouraged. Naturally however NFS is a big improvement over Temple Ready for Mormons.

    Re Record Search, since Indexing recently changed the way they track our indexing efforts to a scoring system based on difficulty as well as quantity, people should know that access to Record Search in the future depends on how much one indexes. While there is an incentive to index, it is less if one subscribes to one or more commercial providers like Ancestry who will end up hosting such images while offering the indexes for free, i.e. one can just wait for it.

    As to digitization and indexing perhaps the way to up participation is for Record Search to massively expand hosting of unindexed images and let people index on the fly with records of choice in the way one can on Ancestry with census and some other images. This would allow local genealogical societies to collaborate informally on the RS platform to index records of interest locally, while RS pushed larger projects. Also I fear that participation in the current indexing scheme will fall once the US census is finally completed, since non-census records take more time and concentration.

    There are some shortcuts with local and state records in many instances though. Virtually every county has deed indexes, both grantor and grantee. If only one of those two were indexed, it would not be necessary to actually index from the originals. However one would lose the benefit of an everyname index as in adjacent properties, witnesses, etc.

    On the future of FHCs, I will comment based on my experience this year of volunteering one Saturday a month at my local FHC where I think I am one of two non-Mormon volunteers. We get a lot of first time users seeking advice on where to begin. While we are glad to help them, I am perplexed as to why they first don't stop by the library to check out a couple beginning type books, or if they have internet at home, why they don't check out free resources online.

    Overall I would say that most of the transition is already in place since most users by number tend not to order films or only order one or two a year, but rather seek beginning advice as above, or internet resource access. A small number of regular and semi-regular users seems to order the lion's share of the microfilm from what I can see.

    And since Mormons can now do their temple work from home, fewer church members seem stop by for advice (and since I don't do NFS my Mormon partner who is an IT professional takes care of them).

    I should also thank you for your previous post some months ago re Ancestry FHC edition, since I inquired based on that and after some doing a couple volunteers with assistance from SLC were able to get it available at the FHC. In doing so, they also got the FHC portal which made available other premium sites. My biggest peeve though re Ancestry FHC edition (unless we are doing something wrong), is that it does not just show the much reduced list of databases available at an FHC, but instead shows everything with the predictable message to subscribe fully to get access to most of it. We should only see a list of those databases actually available for free at an FHC.

    Thanks for another informative post, and especially the parts on my favorite topics of microfilm and digitization.


  3. I am part of an organization based in the UK, and we are indexing the parish records and some other records for our county there. We get the images from the LDS church and put the information into an Excel database. We put that information up on our own website and give a copy back to the church.

    However, I have not seen any of our data showing up on Record Search (on Family Search Labs) yet. I don't know how many years' lag time there will be for it to show up there, but it is on our website immediately.

    It does have the great advantage that we are doing records that are important to us, and we can do them much more accurately because we are all intimately acquainted with the people and the area there.

    As this is also volunteer, we have the same situation as Family Search, which is that some people spend more time at it than do others.

  4. This is an excellent blog post. I am a family history consultant at a Family History Center in Florida where 90% of our patrons are not members of the Church. Most people come in because they love that an actual person will help them with their family history face-to-face! I think this is the greatest asset of the FHCs, and the biggest reason why they won't be closing.

    We already have all of our patrons using the Record Search pilot site, and almost all of them (including myself) are finding information on their ancestors. As for the use of the New FamilySearch, I think it is an excellent resource. Since the IGI, Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, and all of the record searching will be combined, it will be much like a free version of Ancestry. I find information in people's family trees in NFS that I have not found in family trees elsewhere online, and that has been a great help to me. Overall, I think the entire FamilySearch program is moving in a great direction.

    Thanks again for your great post!

  5. Mike,

    Thanks for your excellent response. FamilySearch hopes to make as many indexes and images free as is possible. But there's just too many records out there for FamilySearch to tackle them all. Commercial firms will always find a place in the market so long as indexing remains such an expensive proposition.

    I too like the concept of indexing-on-the-fly and have campaigned for it internally.

    -- The Insider

  6. I agree that the enormous volume of information that could be indexed makes it unlikely that such a task will ever be accomplished in my lifetime. That is precisely why our organization has undertaken our own indexing program in cooperation with the church and using the images provided by the church.

    Unfortunately, I don't think that Family Search would give the time of day to an individual wishing to "index on the fly" with records that are important to him. That is why it is so important that organizations step up to the plate and take on significant projects.

    Everyone wins that way. The records get indexed, the Church gets the job done, and researchers have access to the specific records of interest to them that they need.

    I hope that your internal campaign for more of this would succeed and that more of this would be done. I am sure that there are many more people willing to volunteer for indexing when the records are those that are important to them. The indexing that I have done directly for the church has been done with more urgency when I have found a database on the indexing list that was important to me.

  7. As the photographer of the image used in this article, I request that you use another. The image is in fact all Rights Reserved an not Creative Commons (as most of mine are). This is at my client's request in order to protect the children. Thank you for your understanding.

  8. Dear readers,

    Just to make it clear, the photograph originally published with this article was posted on Flickr with a creative commons license. The photographer has since revoked that license so I have removed the photograph.

    -- The Insider

  9. Love you blog and I hope you can clear something up for me. I prefer the search interface at because the advanced search allow for searching by parents' names. The current search interface at NFS does not allow this, even in "advanced search."

    They keep warning us that the FamilySearch Labs is going away and I notice they've been removing collections from that site.

    All of this is a long-winded way of asking if the more sophisticated search interface will show up at NFS eventually?



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.