Tuesday, March 8, 2011

South Davis Fair: Selective Blindness

Not all visitors to FamilySearch.org will be able to see all images. Photograph used with permission of FeaturePics.com. During his keynote at the South Davis Family History Fair, Dan Lawyer mentioned scenarios allowing different groups of people to see record images on FamilySearch.org. FamilySearch negotiates contractual agreements with record custodians to photograph, digitize, and post records online. In addition to those Lawyer mentioned, I’ve added others I’ve heard publicly.

Sometimes record custodians (archives, governments, libraries, companies, and so forth) have no problems letting FamilySearch publish images online for anyone to use without limitation. But sometimes custodians will allow FamilySearch to acquire and publish records only with restrictions.

A custodian may need the revenue it might get from selling images of its records. FamilySearch might negotiate rights to publish an index for the benefit of its visitors. In exchange, FamilySearch provides links to the custodian’s website where visitors pay the custodian to see images.

A record custodian may feel their custodial duty requires some degree of control over use of the records. The obligation might even be statutory. The control can result in these scenarios:

  • Even though the images are available for free, a custodian may not allow FamilySearch to host them. A visitor searches an index on the FamilySearch website and then follows links to freely see the images on the custodian’s site.
  • A custodian may wish to curtail wholesale piracy by requiring FamilySearch visitors to identify themselves through registration before freely accessing the images.
  • A custodian may allow FamilySearch visitors to see images but not download or print them.
  • A custodian may allow FamilySearch visitors to see images if at a family history center.
  • A custodian may allow FamilySearch visitors to see images if the visitor’s contributions qualify him or her for premier status.

Premier status is granted to a FamilySearch account holder for

  • Indexing 900 points during a calendar quarter. Premier status continues through the end of the following quarter.
  • Belonging to a sponsoring organization. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently funds all FamilySearch operations.
  • Additional methods may be available in the future. If volunteer hours in a family history center is not one of them, I will be very angry.

The good news is, FamilySearch has been able to use these image access restrictions to open records that were previously closed.

The bad news is, it will take FamilySearch some time to create the technology to implement these scenarios. FamilySearch has not announced any timeframes or collections involved, but software development always takes longer than a non-programmer might expect.

Stay tuned…


For more information about image viewing and restrictions, see:


  1. I had an extended discussion with FamilySearch support recently. They told me that (1) VOLUNTEER HOURS IN A FAMILY HISTORY CENTER IS *NOT* ONE OF THE METHODS FOR ACQUIRING PREMIER STATUS; and (2) there is no such thing as "Premier Status" anyway - the online description of this FamilySearch feature has not yet been implemented. They thanked me for the thousands of hours I have volunteered at my FHC.

    I am very angry.

  2. There are (or were) legislated restrictions on viewing microfilms in certain countries, eg. some German films could not be ordered in Germany (for privacy reasons), but were available in North America. How are these kinds of restrictions going to play out in the digital age? (There certainly were already ways around the restrictions, such as requests on message boards).

  3. If I cannot see a page image and then sign in FamilySearch with my LDS Account I STILL cannot see the page image.

    So I believe that Anonymous is right in saying that there is currently no "Premier Status". The information is misleading. The result is unnecessary frustration.


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