It was a massive project that was supposed to take between 50 to 100 years to complete.
It only took 15, thanks to rapid developments in technology and thousands of volunteers, said Kris Whitehead, a manager for FamilySearch.
“It’s something that I never thought that I would see in my lifetime with the projections that we had. I thought my kids, or my grandkids would see this,” Whitehead said. “To see the conclusion of this scanning effort, it’s a dream come true.”
Today FamilySearch International is celebrating the completion of a monumental microfilm digitization initiative by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to scan more than 2.4 million rolls of family history records and make them available to the public.
It will still take some time to index and publish all digital images, but a large percentage are already available on FamilySearch.org.
It’s an “incredible milestone” that was more than 80 years in the making, said Joseph Monsen, director of preservation services for the Church History Department.
“For 83 years, the church has been collecting and using microfilm records to support genealogical research,” Monsen said in a news release. “(Now) 2.4 million rolls of microfilm are all digitally saved and available.”
This is a global “game-changer” because people no longer have to fiddle with viewing microfilm, said Becky Adamson, a research consultant at the church’s Family History Library.
“Instead of having to come to the library, people can start accessing these records from home,” Adamson said. “You click with a mouse instead of scrolling and winding and reading and reading and being confused at some of the handwriting. You can blow it up bigger and you’re not getting your shadow in the way of the light.”
Access to the new records will make it easier for individuals and families to discover their heritage and perform family history work, Whitehead said.
“All of God’s children benefit from these images,” he said. “These are family history records that in some cases don’t exist anymore through fires, floods [or] natural disasters.”
Timeline for preserving FamilySearch records
When did the humongous project start and how was it accomplished? This timeline provides a glimpse of the milepost years and the process.
For more than 100 years, FamilySearch and its predecessors have collected, preserved and granted access to genealogical historic records, including birth, death, marriage, census, military service, immigration and other types of documents.
- 1938: The Genealogical Society of Utah (now FamilySearch) was one of the first major organizations to begin using microfilm imaging. Over the years the microfilm collection grew to more than 2.4 million rolls.
- 1998: FamilySearch purchased its first microfilm scanners and began digitizing the rolls of microfilm.
- 2006: The project accelerated in 2006 when software and processes were developed by FamilySearch, the Church History and Information and Communication Services departments. “This is one of the times that you just really saw the Lord’s hand in this work,” Monsen said.
- 2017: FamilySearch discontinued its microfilm distribution to family history centers and transitioned to a free, all-digital approach so information could be viewed and easily searched online.
- 2018: The last roll of film added to the collection was captured by FamilySearch’s in-field cameras.
- 2021: The last of the microfilm scanning was completed.
Who contributed to the microfilm digitization initiative?
The digitization effort was directed by the church’s Historian and Recorder. Preservation professionals in the Church History Department, as well as staff members and senior missionaries collected records from religious and government archives over several decades. Thousands more have volunteered in the preservation and scanning processes.
FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood expressed gratitude and praised all contributions over the years in a FamilySearch news release.
“We hope that all those who contributed to this milestone in the last 80 years feel a sense of humble accomplishment today,” Rockwood said. “And we hope the millions of individuals who will discover, gather, and connect generation upon generation of their family members for years to come because of these efforts will have a deep sense of gratitude for the many unheralded contributors who made those discoveries possible.”
The church will continue to store the microfilm in its climate-controlled archives to preserve it for future generations.
How do I access the new records?
To explore FamilySearch’s free collections of indexed records and images, go to FamilySearch.org and search both “Records” and “Images”. The Images feature enables users to peruse digitized images from the microfilm collection and more. A free FamilySearch account will be required to access the service.