Indexing the World: FamilySearch (R) Retooled, Scanstone (R), and Searchable Maps

Saturday, 2 August, I attended the Winslow Farr, Sr. 2006 Family Reunion. And changed the subject of this News Sheet. David Rencher, AG, CG, FUGA, and Director of Records and Information Division, Family and Church History, Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, was one of the first speakers of the all-day family history program. And I have permission to summarize his remarks for you.

Next week, 14 August, we’ll examine the astounding success of the Farr Family DNA project which was also presented at the Reunion.

FamilySearch (R) Retooled–The Family Search website is being re-designed and soon will accomodate several new research tools as well as more direct access to the massive databanks already stored there. One of the most-used internet genealogy sites now, it is expected to more than double in its usefulness.

Before internet launch, the original DOS Family Search databases had search functions that were discontinued when the data were placed online. One of these functions arranged data in obvious family groups. Genealogists still have access to the DOS files on in-house computers at the Family History Library and its many local branches. However, access is slow and awkward and frustrating to use. If you print a screen, the program reverts back to the beginning black screen and you have to relocate the entries every time. So it is rarely consulted by searchers in a hurry and is not available online. This function will be restored and available online.
Scanstone (R)–ribbon-scan of digital images is audited every 3-5 minutes to determine if every image has been captured from the original film. An estimated 32 million images will be electronically stored. New, massive servers will store the data in one location, while back-up storage is safe, thousands of miles away.

The records and Information Division estimates that it will take 6-7 years to scan all 2.5 million microfilm rolls stored in the Granite Mountain Vaults. In the meantime, technology development continues so that every word in those frames can be digitally indexed and electronically stored for retrieval.

Rencher described his own research experience in Eastern Pennsylvania archives and libraries. One required retrieval of documents by knowing jurisdictions that created them in the first place, and requesting records by locality. This is the way most repositories are organized, including the Family History Library and its Library Catalog.

Another library organized all of its holdings by surname. Research took less time with faster results. For beginners, (and for weekend genealogists) the surname approach ensures some success quickly.

With electronic help, each and every name, each and every word in each and every record can be indexed! So that all of us can find particular ancestors quickly. Names become the primary focus of the databases; localities and jurisdictions become identifiers.

We need a whole News Sheet to discuss the dramatic impact of an every name and every word index to the original genealogical documents of the world. And we need some time to let the above news sink in! Let me mention just one exciting option: surname intersections. This search feature will identify where 2 surnames intersect in marriage records so you can find the place of the marriage and print the marriage document itself.

Can you imagine genealogy where your laptop could literally construct your genealogy by pushing the right buttons! What surprises await you? Father, mother, and all the kids. Extensions of long stuck lines. Whole lineages lopped off your pedigree because they were compiled incorrectly. Maiden names identified. Unknown children discovered. I had a hard time sleeping Saturday night because my mind whirred round and round with all the possibilities.

While beginners can jump right in to find ancestors, I believe that sophisticated researchers and professional genealogists, genealogy writers, compilers of internet directories and research guides will benefit most from electronic access to the genealogy world: research on your lunch break, on the company desktop when you have an extra minute, during your train or bus commute, on your laptop anytime, anywhere, even on your home computer.

FamilySearch Indexing 1.0–new extraction templates for indexing records electronically are being tested in several locations in the US, including the Ohio Genealogical Society in Mansfield OH. These templates allow indexing to be done by anyone according to the same standards and controls the LDS Church has maintained–less than 8% error which is statistically perfect. Multiple indexing projects can be supported at the same time, making indexes available as they are completed. And cutting the indexing time. As fast as you can type the information into the template, you can index the record.  An official announcement will be made sometime in 2006. So prime your computers and plan to participate with those records you use and understand and can already read easily

Records have already been prioritized for extraction: US vital records, British parish records, etc.  And regional record datasets will be created: Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is an example.

Searchable MapsFamily Search will be expanded with searchable maps. Partnering with the University of Austria Map Department, the maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were selected to add first. Jurisdictions overlap, several localities appear to have the same name, countries have been destroyed and wiped off the map, others have been created and added to the map, territory assigned to a new country carries a different name in each country–one place has two or more different names. What a morass to entrap us.

Family Search will index the ancestor’s name, the places where that ancestor is found, and the map reference so with a click you can view and print the actuall locality where your ancestors lived. This one feature alone will save you hours of research time. Then you can retrieve a copy of the record images to document your genealogy. All the proof you require can be yours at a fraction of the cost and time we spend today.

I may never sleep again with all the mind-boggling implications these three announcements envision.

And Director Rencher put to rest rumors that PAF was about to die. This data-input program will continue to be supported by the LDS Church for the foreseeable future. The Church will also continue to support computer development in those countries where commercial firms cannot make enough money to offer programs, storage of data, training, etc.

This News Sheet is being sent to subscribers who have registered to receive it.  If you get it by mistake, please notify and  we will remove your name from the  list.  Obviously we believe that every genealogist would like to receive these pearls; and, we wish to force them on no one.

My schedule:  I will be doing field research for several clients in TN-Ky and AL from 14 August to 28 August and perhaps a little longer. Your News Sheets will continue to publish on schedule, 14 August, 21 August, and 28 August.  I will not be available to reply to comments or emails until my return.  Hang in there and I’ll get back to you.

Four to five times per year I will do client research in the field.  You will get a preliminary notice of each trip so you can take advantage of my finely-honed research skills if you want to.  Then on my return I will report to all of you some of the genealogical diamonds I found.  Do you ever think that one lifetime is not enough to learn about them all?

Your favorite genealogist, Arlene

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7 Responses to Indexing the World: FamilySearch (R) Retooled, Scanstone (R), and Searchable Maps

  1. rjseaver says:


    That is fantastic news about the new Family Search.

    I seriously question whether they will be able to transcribe accurately every word on every document on every film. That seems like too big a mountain, even for the FHL. When I think of the land records and probate records done in Elizabethan hand, well, I wonder about the accuracy. An index of names on documents would be doable, in my opinion, and would be extremely valuable to all researchers.

    You quoted an accuracy rate of 8% in your article, and said that was statistically perfect. May I ask if the figure is really 8% and not 0.8% or less? Who defines “statistically perfect?” I’m not an expert in this, just an engineer, but 8% strikes me as imperfect. Good, but imperfect.

    Regards — Randy Seaver

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  3. arlene says:

    You will hear that some polls on television have an error factor of + or – 4 %. Since all of the data in the databanks of the LDS Church are entered by volunteers, trained to read the writing and to pull from the documents specific details only, the 8% is considered perfect for those conditions. Then 2 record in-put auditors check the entries. If there is a question about the reading, the auditors re-check the original document. You will find misreadings. Abstracting data is often as much about recognition as it is about actually reading the letters or numbers. When confronted with a foreign language written in unfamiliar script, as with the In-coming Passenger lists for Ellis Island, experience with the writing and the language increases the accuracy of the readings. Under the new indexing system, the entries are entered directly into the computer so the copy step is iliminated–writing the entry on a card and then typing it into the database. This alone is a vast improvement in both accuracy and time. Thanks for your comment and questions. Arlene

  4. Judy says:

    These are wonderful and informative articles.
    re: FHL microfilm scans & indexing. Having the scans of the microfilms online is such a huge deal even without the indexes. What a boon to be able to seach the online catalog and just click to browse through the records. I have signed up to help with the indexing and am very grateful to have the opportunity to participate. I look forward to hearing more about this wonderful project. –

  5. Judy says:

    This is all wonderful news. I have signed up to participate with the indexing when they are ready and consider it an honor to help with such a worthwhile project. You are so right it boggles the mind to think that we will be able to view the contents of the FHL from our own computers and that eventually these images will be indexed and even more useful. Good Luck with your great new site. Judy

  6. JediMormon says:

    I have a minor question. You comment that there are “2.5 million microfilm rolls stored in the Granite Mountain Vaults” and that “an estimated 32 million images will be electronically stored”. Doing the math, this works out to 12.8 images per roll. That seems like a pretty low number to me.

    Fantastic article, by the way, and very exciting news! As the editor for my local genealogy society’s newsletter, I’m trying to keep the reader’s up to date on all the latest news having to do with the FamilySearch™ Scanning project. I’ll definately be referring readers to your blog in the next issue of the newsletter! Thank you!

  7. arlene says:

    Doing the math does appear to limit the images. I’ll ask. It may be that the estimates of rolls and images were described without the math. Arlene Eakle

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