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

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Family History Mission: Immersed in Technology

A camera capture setup for digititizing records for
No. 10

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

The second week of our Missionary Training Center or MTC experience was spent learning how to apply the standards for digitizing used by To understand what we will be doing when we serve at the Maryland State Archives, it is necessary to understand about the steps involved in putting a document online on the website. 

First of all, you need to understand where the digitized documents will ultimately end up how that benefits everyone who is searching for ancestral connections. 

Here is a copy of a digitized document from the Catalog and as found in the Historical Record Collections. 

When indexed, this record will be available to anyone who searches for an ancestor or relative on the website. The unindexed records are also available but they are essentially copies of the original microfilm, i.e. digitized records that must be searched one by one in many cases. For beginning genealogists, this is a challenge, but for those of us who have been searching microfilm for years, it is still a great step forward because we can search anytime from home in most cases. Anyway, this is a topic for another post. 

Of course, there is quite a bit to learn to understand how to find these records on the website, but if there were no digitized records available, then the only place this document could be found would likely be in the originating entities' collections or perhaps on microfilm somewhere. In this case, this U.S. Census Record would be in the files of the National Archives. There is quite a process that these records have to go through before they appear in the Catalog or Historical Record Collections.

First, the FamilySearch acquisition team has to identify potentially valuable records around the world and make contact with the record repositories. Then, rights to digitize the original records must be acquired by FamilySearch through negotiation by its representatives (employees) with the various record repositories around the world.  After a formal contract is negotiated, missionaries or contractors can be assigned to digitize the records.This part of the process, negotiating the contracts, can be very complicated and time-consuming. You would think that all the repositories would like to have FamilySearch come in and digitize their records for free, but politics and other considerations often make the process either impossible or difficult. 

OK, so once the records are identified and the contracts are in place, teams of Record Preservation contractors or missionaries are assigned to digitize the records. 

Some of those who digitize records for FamilySearch are professional contractors who do this for a living. One interesting group of contractors in some parts of the world are the participants in the Perpetual Education Fund. The Perpetual Education Fund is a program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which loans money to needy students around the world who then can go to school and learn a trade or profession and then repay the money to the fund. The fund is supported by donations from members of the Church. Some of those who obtain loans can work at digitizing records to help pay for their loans. The rest of those helping to digitize the records are hopefully an increasing number of senior missionaries, like me and my wife. However, lately, the number of senior missionaries has been decreasing because of economic and family issues. More about that later.

As I am learning, the digitization process is complicated. In the Missionary Training Center, during our second week, we were given a thick binder of information about the equipment, the software and the process of digitizing the records. I am sure I will have a lot to say about this process as we get to Annapolis and get to work. But you can see a photo of the camera setup above on this post.

Once the records are digitized by the Record Preservation Specialists (us), they are sent on military grade hard drives to Salt Lake City to be processed into the system. The files on the hard disks are audited by a team of auditors and any images not up to the standards of FamilySearch are required to be retaken. For us, this will be like being back in school with a test every week as to how we did in digitizing the records. As I wrote above, I will likely have a lot to say about this process once we actually get going. 

If the digital copies are acceptable, then they go through another process to be put online and made available on the website. If you monitor the number of images going online every week, you will see that millions of images are moving onto the website every week. 

Well, we are on our way to Annapolis. It will take us about four or maybe five days of driving. We are not trying to drive 12 hours a day so it will take longer than it used to when I was younger and driving across the country. Stay tuned.