Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Very Short History of FamilySearch

Genealogy and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been closely associated for more than 150 years. Elder Orson Pratt is acknowledged as the first member of the Church to compile and publish a family history. Elder Pratt began his investigations while on a mission for the Church in 1853. He also founded the Jared Pratt Family Association in 1881, one of the oldest family history organizations in the nation. [Some of the facts in this post come from the book, Allen, James B., Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile B. Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995. Herein cited as "Hearts, page..."]

Apostle Franklin D. Richards served as Church Historian from 1889 until 1899 and is credited with donating his private genealogical book collection to the Church as the basis for the beginnings of the Church genealogical library. At the time, there was much discussion about the organization of a genealogical society and on 1 November 1894, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve approved the articles of incorporation of the Genealogical Society of Utah. [See Hearts, page 45.] Within days of its formal organization, the books donated by Elder Richards and others were moved to the Church Historian's Office and became, what we have today, as the Family History Library.[See Hearts, page 47] From 1910 to 1940 the Society published the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine. Many of the copies of this publication are now digitized and freely available in the online Google Books app. For example, see Volume 1, No. 1, January, 1910.

In Volume 1, the President of the Society, Anthon H. Lund, wrote the following at page 23:
Our experience has been that the great majority of those who attempt to search records and compile them from original sources, the genealogy of their forbears, make a failure of the undertakings because they are uninformed in many details of the work and lack the power to gain access to the files and documents containing the information. We desire to help them by placing before them in published form items that will assist them and also as far as circumstances will permit, the complete records. 
Given the huge collections of records now on, these words show the effect that very early determination to assist genealogy in all its forms.

In 1938, the Genealogical Society of Utah began the amazingly vast effort to preserve records through a world-wide microfilming project which resulted in the accumulation of over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. According to Wikipedia,
In 1975, the GSU became the Genealogical Department of the LDS Church, which later became the Family History Department. At that time, its head officer was renamed President from Executive Director, starting during Theodore M. Burton's term. However, the title "President of the Genealogical Society of Utah" and other GSU titles were still used and bestowed upon department officers. 
In 2000, the LDS Church consolidated its Family History and Historical departments into the Family and Church History Department, and Richard E. Turley, Jr.became managing director of the new department and president of the GSU. This broke with tradition, since the President of the GSU was no longer the department's executive director or a general authority of the LDS Church. See Wikipedia: Genealogical Society of Utah. 
At some point around 1998, the Genealogical Society of Utah began using the trade name of "FamilySearch." A website was planned also beginning in 1998. Quoting again from Wikipedia:
In 1998 the FamilySearch/GSU began digital imaging of records and in about August 1998 the decision was made by LDS Church leaders to build a genealogical website. In May 1999 the website first opened to the public. It almost immediately went off-line, overloaded because of extreme popularity. In October 1999 they surpassed 1.5 billion hits. Then in November 1999, 240 million names were added, bringing the total number of entries to 640 million.
 At about this time, the Genealogical Society of Utah began another, separate, corporation called FamilySearch, International. Here is a description of the corporation from the FamilySearch Research Wiki:
FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at or through over 4,600 family history centers in 132 countries, including the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
FamilySearch has currently evolved into a corporation employing around a thousand people both paid and volunteers. It maintains a huge complex website known as that fulfills the desire of Anthon H. Lund in providing complete copies of original documents for researchers all over the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment