[Note: The history of genealogy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never been adequately reported. Much of the information about this history is scattered in various publications and mentioned in Wikipedia articles. The only complete attempt at a history is the following book which is now outdated.
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.
The remaining and more recent information is difficult to discover.]
One of the constant realities of doing genealogical research has been my involvement with microfilm and its cousin, microfiche. Its use in genealogical document preservation began in 1938 when the Genealogical Society of Utah, which now does business as FamilySearch International the official organization for the genealogy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began its microfilm project. However as this quote from the University of California at Los Angeles indicates, microfilm goes back many years before its use as a genealogical resource for record preservation.
Although treated as a novelty until the 1920's, microforms originated much earlier. John Benjamin Dancer, an English scientist, known as the "Father of Microphotography," began to experiment with and manufacture microproduced novelty texts as early as 1839. In 1853 he successfully sold microphotographs as slides to be viewed with a microscope. Utilizing Dancer's techniques, a French optician, Rene Dagron, was granted the first patent for microfilm in 1859. He also began the first commercial microfilming enterprise, manufacturing and selling microphotographic trinkets. Dagron, in the fall and winter of 1870-71, during the Franco-Prussian War, demonstrated a practical use for microforms when carrier pigeons were used to transport microfilmed messages across German lines to the besieged city of Paris.
In the 1920s microfilm began to be used in a commercial setting. New York City banker George McCarthy was issued a patent in 1925 for his "Checkograph" machine, designed to make micrographic copies of cancelled checks for permanent storage by financial institutions. In 1928, the Eastman Kodak Company bought McCarthy's invention and began marketing check microfilming devices under its "Recordak" division.Meanwhile, the Genealogical Society of Utah was being transformed. Quoting from Wikipedia: Genealogical Society of Utah:
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. Later this decision was reversed and the Family History Department was separated from the Church History Department, becoming its own department.In about 1999, the GSU began using the trade name of FamilySearch and on 2 March 1999, FamilySearch International was registered as a corporation in Utah. The Genealogical Society of Utah is shown as the former business name of FamilySearch on the Utah State Corporation Commission records. See What is the Genealogical Society of Utah?
Beginning back in 1894, the Church began gathering genealogical records to assist the members and eventually everyone in researching their family history. That small collection grew through the years into the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, now the largest library in the world dedicated solely to genealogy. As the collections in the Library grew, branch libraries were created as is explained in this quote from Wikipedia: Family History Centers (LDS Church):
The first Family History Center (FHC), then called a branch genealogical library, was organized in the Harold B. Lee Library on Brigham Young University Campus in May, 1964. Plans to organize family history centers in Mesa, Arizona, Logan, Utah, Cardston, Alberta, and Oakland, California, each adjacent to a temple in one of those cities, had been announced at the 1963 October General Conference.
The Family History Centers were put under the overall direction of Archibald F. Bennett. By December, 1964, there were 29 FHCs, and by 1968, there were 75. In 1987, these institutions were renamed "Family History Centers."These original Family History Centers have evolved over the years and there are now almost 5000 Family History Centers worldwide. Concerning the BYU Family History Library, it is now The BYU Family History Library is part of the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. It was formerly known as the Utah Valley Regional Family History Center. It is now semi-independent of the LDS FHC system.
Over the years since 1938, the worldwide microfilming efforts of FamilySearch (and its predecessors) accumulated about 2.4 million rolls of microfilm and with the establishment of Family History Libraries and Centers, the Church began renting microfilm for use by individuals around the world. Meanwhile, in 1999, the FamilySearch.org website was introduced online. See "How technology revolutionized family history work in recent decades."
Ordering and managing the rental and use of microfilm is still one of the major activities of Family History Centers around the world. However, that role is about to disappear. For some time now, FamilySearch has been involved in a project to digitize the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm in the Granite Vault in Little Cottonwood Canyon outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. When that project is completed, all of the microfilms will be digitized and available for free online.
There has been a lot of speculation when this will happen, but all we can really say is that billions of images from this vast microfilm collection have already been put online on the FamilySearch.org website and this process is continuing. Recent estimates from FamilySearch representatives indicate that this process may be completed withing the next one and a half to two years.