Thursday, April 23, 2009

FamilySearch: Volunteers Transcribe 250 Million Historical Records

NOTE from DearMYRTLE: The following was just received from our friends at FamilySearch. Please address all inquiries to

Volunteers Transcribe 250 Million Historical Records
Incredible Effort Speeds Up Access to Online Genealogical Information

SALT LAKE CITY—FamilySearch volunteers reached a monumental milestone this week, transcribing their 250 millionth historical record. The incredible online initiative started in January 2006 with a few thousand volunteers and has now grown to be the largest Web-based initiative of its kind with over 100,000 volunteers worldwide. The 250 millionth record was part of the current Nicaragua Civil Registration indexing project online at—one of 45 projects being indexed by online volunteers. It was extracted by three different online indexers from Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras.

FamilySearch manages the largest collection of genealogical collections in the world—2.5 million rolls of microfilm and millions of additional digital images from over 100 countries worldwide.

For decades, FamilySearch has allowed the public to use its collection for free through 4,500 family history centers throughout the world. In 2005, it began to improve access to its collection by converting microfilm to digital images that could be searched online. The next step was to create an online tool that volunteers around the world could use to look at the digital images and extract relevant data that could then be published online in searchable indexes linked to the digital images. FamilySearch Indexing is that tool.

“What makes the 250 million record milestone even more impressive is the fact that each record was actually indexed at least twice to ensure accuracy,” reported Paul Nauta, FamilySearch public affairs manager. “The result is an amazing searchable online index for people around the world,” Nauta added.

The unique quality control process means each document is transcribed by two different indexers. In the case of the 250 millionth record, the two indexers were from Nicaragua and Guatemala. Any discrepancies in their two transcriptions were then forwarded to a third volunteer—an arbitrator—who would have made any needed corrections between the two transcriptions. In this case, that arbitrator was from Honduras. “Three volunteers, three countries, one common goal—to provide access to the world’s genealogical records quicker and more economically,” said Nauta.

In 2006, FamilySearch volunteers indexed a total of 11 million records. “Today, thanks to the growth in our volunteer numbers, FamilySearch volunteers are now transcribing about a million names per day. At that rate, we expect to hit the 500 million milestone much quicker than the 250 million marker,” added Nauta.

Today, tens of thousands of volunteers, young and old, log on to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from all over the world to help with the ongoing goal to transcribe the world’s genealogical records. Some donate a few minutes a month, others hours a day. Some do it as a sort of “pay it forward” activity because they have personally benefited in their family history research by using FamilySearch’s collections over the years. Others help because they like the idea that just a little bit of donated time can help preserve historic information and make it more available for public access.

Completed indexes are ultimately made available online for public access through or through one of FamilySearch’s family history centers.

FamilySearch, at any given time, has over 35 online indexing projects underway—many of them international projects. “Volunteers usually have a preference for one type of indexing project over another,” said Paul Starkey, FamilySearch Indexing project manager. “For example, if you have ancestors from Spain, you might be very motivated to help index the Spain Catholic Church records because it could facilitate your personal research once the completed indexes are published online.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or seeing what projects are being indexed can do so at

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