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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Family History Mission: What is FamilySearch

No. 17

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.

Even though we are called and set apart full-time missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are also "volunteers" at the Maryland State Archives. We do not wear our black missionary badges or wear Sunday clothes to work at the Archives. First of all, it is dusty and physically demanding work at the Archives. We dress appropriately to do that kind of work. Also, it is inappropriate to mix the Church and the State. Just as the LDS Helping Hand volunteers wear the Yellow T-shirts, we wear what is appropriate for our service. We do wear an identification badge as shown above.

FamilySearch is essentially the Genealogical Society of Utah or GSU, founded back in 1894. The GSU does business as FamilySearch, International, a wholly owned corporation of the Church. Since 1938, FamilySearch and its predecessor organizations have been gathering genealogically important records from around the world. Originally, these records were made available through a rental program where duplicate copies of the microfilmed records were shipped to Family History Centers around the world for use in the centers by patrons. The cost of renting individual rolls of microfilm was subsidized by FamilySearch but was still a significant cost for those who did a lot of research. I used to accumulate a list of microfilm rolls that I wished to use in my research and when I got a long enough list, the cost of renting the microfilm was essentially equivalent to my cost to drive to Salt Lake City, Utah and visit the Family History Library where I could view the microfilm rolls for free. So I would plan a trip to Salt Lake to do research. It helped to have family in the Salt Lake area to visit also. Of course, not everyone could make a trip to Salt Lake just to see microfilm rolls.

As the technology changed, it became possible for FamilySearch to "digitize" the microfilm records and with the advent of the internet, those digitized records could be made available for free to everyone around the world. In some cases, the savings in time and expense to genealogical researchers could be significant.

This brings me to our calling as Record Preservation missionaries. We are FamilySearch missionaries. Our job is to digitize paper records so that the images can be viewed online on the website. If you view what we are doing in its historical context, you can see the value of the free, online digital images compared to the time-consuming and costly microfilm rental system. We are not just working at an archive, we are helping people around the world discover their families and their heritage. We are also helping to provide a valuable link in the process of providing the blessings of temple ordinances to those who are now waiting in the Spirit World.

FamilySearch is the organization that makes these records available. FamilySearch employs computer programmers and designers who create and maintain the online tools to do genealogical research such as the website. Volunteers, mainly missionaries, augment the FamilySearch employees in their work. As missionaries, we work closely with our FamilySearch employee supervisors and support personnel to provide quality images for online publication. FamilySearch also maintains the Family History Centers around the world and maintains the Granite Vault record storage facility. They are also involved in training and maintain online and print publications to help people discover their families.

We are looking forward to our opportunity to serve and help preserve genealogically valuable records.


  1. James,
    These posts are absolutely fascinating and provide a glimpse into how everything works. Please keep them coming (when you have time of course)!

  2. Thanks for your explanations of what you going to be doing. What a great service you will do.