Technology is making it possible for genealogists and novices to search out ancestors on the Internet, often eliminating the need to visit libraries or travel to distant ancestral sites, speakers said Wednesday during the National Genealogical Society's annual meeting in Salt Lake City.
More than 2,000 family history specialists, librarians and hobbyists gathered at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center for the conference, which ends Saturday.
Early in the day, Family Search, the world's largest repository of genealogical information, announced it will release records containing 300 million names that can now be researched online for free.
Jay Verkler, president of Family Search, the genealogy division of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said these records and millions of names are being indexed, digitized and published through Family-Search.org.
The records contain information genealogists would have had to painstakingly pick through to find an ancestor's name or they would have had to contact a specific government agency or travel to the area of study to research. Among the indexed records are the 1935 South Dakota state census; Washington, D.C., deaths and burials 1840-1964; and Utah marriages, 1887-1966.
"That's a huge, free edition of indexed names," said Janet Alpert, president of the 107-year-old National Genealogical Society, based in Virginia. "This is why I tell students that they must check Family Search and other online ancestry sites every year. They're adding more information all the time."
Family Search has established a temporary website, fsbeta.FamilySearch.org for the newly released names. In the next several weeks, the site will become a permanent part of FamilySearch.org.
The indexed records come from a massive stone vault carved into the mountains overlooking Salt Lake City. The Granite Mountain Records Vault contains worldwide historical documents preserved on 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. Eventually all the microfilm will be digitized, giving the public access to billions of people's names in more than 100 countries and recorded in 170 languages.
Ancestry.com also announced the launch of a new website at the conference. The public may view the Provo-based company's two largest reference books for free. Articles explain how to use census and military and immigration records. They also provide state-by-state summaries of available reference sources.
Ancestry.com, which has 1 million subscribers, also will release a Mac version of its Family Tree Maker, which helps users record family histories, memories, photos, videos and audio clips.
"Every innovation or update we make is driven by what customers tell us they need to further their family history research," said Eric Shoup, a senior vice president with Ancestry.com, which has put more than 4 billion records online over the past 13 years.
Conferencegoers were given virtual tours of the LDS Church's vault, carved 700 feet into solid granite and protected against deterioration, natural disasters or man-made calamities. The 65,000-square-foot site includes a network of storage rooms, containing walls of 10-foot-high steel cabinets. A separate section houses office spaces, shipping docks and microfilm processing stations.
The LDS Church began an organized search for genealogical information in 1894, eventually sending teams worldwide to bring back copies of records. Its record collections were expedited by the development of microfilm technology in the 1930s.
Today, information on the films is being digitized using a complex computer program that adjusts for density variations in each film.
Family Search, the world's largest repository of genealogical resources, has released records containing the names of more than 300 million people. The Family Search website, FamilySearch.org, may be accessed online, searching by record containing an ancestor's name or by the individual's name. The service is free.
The public may also view Ancestry.com's two largest reference books, The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy" and Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources. The beta version of the books are available, for free, at http://www.ancestry.com/wiki.
Learn more about genealogy
Genealogy classes open to the public are offered at the Salt Palace Convention Center Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Classes include:
"Kids Camp" for children in grades four through 11. Free.
"Getting Started with Family History." Nominal fee.
"Working with Records." Nominal fee.
For more information, visit ngsgenealogy.org.
Looking for family? Visit fsbeta.familysearch.org or FamilySearch.org.