Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Make More Data Free

“Our goal at FamilySearch is to make as much genealogical data available for free as possible,” said Robert Kehrer, senior product manager for search technology at FamilySearch. Kehrer spoke about FamilySearch’s genealogical data at the 2011 BYU Family History Conference.

“We are adding new record collections almost every day or augmenting records to existing collections,” said Kehrer. This point was proved in the second session when Kehrer noticed that the collection count had increased from 680 to 681.

Toward their goal, sometimes FamilYSearch publishes collections without free access to images, according to Kehrer. As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes record custodians limit what FamilySearch can show. (See “South Davis Fair: Selective Blindness.”) Kehrer presented various limitation scenarios. Here are some of them, with an illustrative collection.

Kehrer says that FamilySearch has asked people if they think that FamilySearch should still publish the collections, even with such limitations. “They always say, ‘Yes, give me what you can.’”

Kehrer emphasized that FamilySearch never charges to see the images on FamilySearch.org.

The FamilySearch.org collection list shows a camera icon next to each collection with images. While it doesn’t currently differentiate among these scenarios, Kehrer said that in the future there would be some indication.

The FamilySearch.org collection list

Collections are shown with the number of indexed records or the annotation “Browse Images.” Kehrer compared the latter to “digital microfilm.” Without an index, you have to browse through the images, sometimes one at a time, to find a record of interest. FamilySearch provides waypoints to facilitate browsing. Waypoints are like signposts marking off sets of images. Depending on the record type and organization, waypoints might divide up the images by location, date, or surname.

New collections are marked with a brown asterisk. Kehrer said that collections are marked new for about 2 weeks.

Family Group Records Collection

The Family Group Records Collection was originally available in binders in the Salt Lake Genealogy Library An audience member asked about the binders of family group charts that used to be in the Family History Library. Have they been digitized and put online?

Kehrer didn’t know the answer, but I do. No; they are not online.

This is a hot button for me. I think of these family group charts like family bibles created by Mormons in the the ‘60s and ‘70s as part of the “four generation program.” Better than many family bibles, the charts specify the relationship between the informant and the husband on the chart. This gives an indication of how accurate the information might be. A couple even list sources. For descendency research, these records contain information not yet made public in state vital records or the U.S. census. For more information, see “Family Group Records Collection” in the FamilySearch Wiki.

Kehrer directed the audience members to the two programs that subsequently replaced the Four Generation Program: the Ancestral File and the Pedigree Resource File (PRF). Both of these are online. In fact, a new version of each was just published on www.FamilySearch.org. (See “The July 2011 Release of FamilySearch.org.”)


  1. The link (See “The July 2011 Release of FamilySearch.org.”) in today's article (Make more data free) is circuitous, it takes you to the article it is in.


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