People of every age, locale, and background share a need to know where they come from. How would it be to find a website that could provide stories along with information and family clues? Then, what if the website could help guide searchers to discover more about their families’ past? It’s not a dream. FamilySearch.org is uniquely qualified to fill those needs. During 2016, it expanded its resources and improved its interface to make the process ever easier.
To meet its objective to help the world’s people connect with their families’ stories, FamilySearch.org has millions of stories, histories, and photographs along with new record collections and online records in their massive collection. Their research hints are becoming more accurate, and during 2016, they improved their system to support new, more powerful apps, built new research centers, hosted hundreds of free local events worldwide, and added improved patron assistance and more.
“Family history is about stories; it is more than dates and facts,” said Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch. People of every age, locale, and heritage share a universal need to know where they come from and to learn the fun, inspiring, real stories of their ancestors. Rockwood said FamilySearch is focusing its efforts on helping people find their ancestral connections—their stories—something FamilySearch is uniquely prepared to do.
FamilySearch.org, a top-rated, free website hosted by FamilySearch International, one of the foremost family history organizations in the world, has released a 2016 year-end summary of its global efforts to connect families across generations.
Since 1894, FamilySearch and its predecessors have gathered and preserved records from around the globe, creating the largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world. In the past 26 years, they have incorporated technology and initiatives that engage a broadening swath of consumers to experience emotional, endearing experiences with their family and family history. Partnerships formed with other genealogy search companies, such as Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com, broaden its searchable databases.
FamilySearch’s nonprofit status helps it to rally the growing sea of commercial companies—large and small—in the genealogy and family markets to join in these notable efforts and create compatible apps.
Millions more searchable records were added this year as employees and volunteers digitally converted FamilySearch’s vaults of microfilm for online viewing and added millions of new record images from archives across the globe. The FamilySearch website is designed to help researchers collaborate in finding their ancestors.
Highlights for 2016
FamilySearch.org completed extensive system upgrades in 2016, making its free website more robust and much faster. It added millions more records; improved search capabilities to reduce duplication, improve search results, and provide more insights at a glance across varied records sources on FamilySearch.org; and simplified collaboration.
In the past, the FamilySearch Family Tree had some limitations in merging duplicate records that had been combined many times, creating many pieces of data that had previously been merged. With the upgrade of the system, that limitation is now gone so these large duplicate records can be merged.
The dynamic records hints feature is faster and more accurate and includes online collections and additional record types.
Patrons can identify their relationships to people in the Family Tree using a new relationship feature.
Adding family photos, stories, documents, and audio files has become easier and is now compatible with mobile devices.
FamilySearch, with other genealogy-related companies, hosted RootsTech 2016, the largest family history and technology conference in the world in Salt Lake City, Utah, last January. The event included technology education and fun experiences to expand family connections. It attracted a record 375,000 attendees in person, online, and through local events throughout the year.
FamilySearch opened a fun new FamilySearch Center in Layton, Utah, and broke ground for a large FamilySearch library in St. George, Utah, that will include discovery experience stations when it opens in 2017. FamilySearch added 103 family history centers around the world this year, making 4,960 centers in 129 countries—3,108 located outside the United States—to provide free personal research assistance to patrons.
In addition to in-person visitors to the FamilySearch family history centers in 2016, FamilySearch.org received 133 million online visits during the year and now has 7.3 million registered users.
FamilySearch’s Family Tree is collaborative. Contributions from patrons continue to fuel the tree’s expansion. In 2016, more than 561,000 new contributors added to Family Tree, making a total of 3.45 million contributors.
The new user-to-user messaging feature in Family Tree simplifies collaboration with others seeking the same ancestors. Now 1.1 billion records of individuals are linked in the FamilySearch Family Tree.
Mobile Apps—FamilySearch Family Tree and Memories
FamilySearch’s mobile apps—Family Tree and Memories—enable users to attach photos and stories (audio and text) to individuals in their family trees, add other information, and receive notifications when others add content to specific individuals.
The new memories gallery view on the website and mobile apps allow users to add photos, stories, and scanned documents and to sort their memories collections more easily. The memories include contributor information so participants can send messages. Patrons can now record stories of relatives with a new mobile audio recording feature and save the stories directly to Memories from a mobile device.
The details section of the mobile FamilyTree displays information, images, documents, and sources by simply swiping the screen.
Getting and Giving Help
In 2016, FamilySearch added a Help Others feature to guide consultants and more experienced genealogists in assisting others. People seeking help provide their username and a helper number that allow helpers to look online at their records, find opportunities for research, and help guide that research.
Patrons needing online help can get immediate assistance by telephone (one-on-one to online volunteer assistants), by viewing the hundreds of free video courses online, and by accessing the FamilySearch Research Wiki, an online reference source with over 100,000 helpful articles that are updated weekly.
In 2016, along with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and other organizations, FamilySearch finished indexing and publishing online images of the Freedmen’s Bureau records, which document the lives of freed slaves and slave owners struggling to redefine themselves after the American Civil War. The digitized records are searchable on DiscoverFreedmen.org and are also available on FamilySearch.org and other sites. FamilySearch presented a copy of the newly completed records to the Smithsonian Museum on December 6, 2016.
In 2016, third parties added and updated useful apps in the app gallery that link with FamilySearch.org.
A dedicated team of employees and a vast array of volunteers fuel personal discoveries by making online historical records easily and quickly accessible. This year, United States censuses were updated as needed to make them more easily searchable.
Most of the indexed records at FamilySearch.org are in English because most indexers come from North America, with English as their native language. This year FamilySearch expanded their online language training to include Italian, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, effectively teaching English speakers with no prior foreign language experience to recognize key words and index accurately in another language without becoming fluent in that language. Language experts still handle very difficult records.
Telephone, chat, and email assistance for language training are available at FamilySearch.org/languageindexing.
Around the world, 320 camera teams digitally preserved over 60 million records in 45 countries, and online volunteer indexers helped make them searchable.
More than 5.57 billion searchable names are available in four billion searchable historical documents that are published to date.
FamilySearch.org added 125 new historical collections in 2016, bringing the total to 2,174. They added 59.5 million online digitized record images, making 1.22 billion.
During the year, 4,807 volunteer FamilySearch missionaries helped support the worldwide operation. These generous volunteers donated a staggering 3.8 million hours of service. Online volunteers who are not missionaries are also critical to the indexing process. Nearly 315,000 volunteers logged nearly 11 million hours during the year. Together, missionaries and other volunteers indexed 274.8 million records in 2016, bringing the total number of indexed records to 2.4 billion. Of those newly-indexed records, 36 million were in languages other than English, bringing the total of non-English indexed records to 872 million.
During 2016, using both mobile and desktop applications, patrons uploaded 4.7 million family photos, 520,000 documents, 360,000 family stories, and 50,000 audio files. With these additions during the year, FamilySearch.org now has 14.5 million photos, 1.6 million documents, 1.1 million stories, and nearly 92,000 audio files.