Monday, March 15, 2010

New FamilySearch Technology

Welcome to the new FamilySearchThe technology of the New FamilySearch tree (NFS) was one topic FamilySearch product manager, Ron Tanner, talked about at the recent South Davis Family History Fair.

Tanner shared a 1995 quote from Howard W. Hunter, a deceased president of FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The quote expresses the Church’s belief that technology plays a divine role in FamilySearch’s genealogical efforts:

Howard W Hunter, © IRIIn recent years we have begun using information technology to hasten the sacred work of providing ordinances for the deceased. The role of technology in this work has been accelerated by the Lord himself, who has had a guiding hand in its development and will continue to do so. However, we stand only on the threshold of what we can do with these tools. I feel that our most enthusiastic projections can capture only a tiny glimpse of how these tools can help us—and of the eternal consequences of these efforts.1

The NFS tree website uses quite a bit of heavy technology. The tree runs on 640 servers, 370 of which are needed just to provide search capabilities. The tree now contains 1.4 billion people and takes 20 terabytes to store it. The tree database is so large, according to Tanner, that server manufacturers send them computers to test the computer’s ability to handle databases of that size. “We’re pushing the envelope,” said Tanner.

FamilySearch creates two separate backups of the NFS tree. One copy is created by continuously copying changes that are made to the tree. Periodically, they make complete copies that they also copy to microfilm.

Currently, new releases of the NFS tree software are rolled live on Sunday mornings from 2 to 3 AM. This one hour is the only window during the entire week that none of the Church’s temples are communicating with the system. FamilySearch is investigating technology to allow “hot” updates. While this makes changes more convenient, the technology is partly needed because bringing Asia online will completely close the current release window.


     1. Howard W. Hunter, “We Have a Work to Do,” Ensign, March 1995, 64; online archives ( : accessed 13 March 2010).

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