Digitizing the Records in the Granite Mountain

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Syllabus for class taught by David Ouimette, CG® from FamilySearch at the FGS Conference 2010

This presentation outlines how FamilySearch systematically prioritizes and digitizes the records in the Granite Mountain Records Vault for online publication. Details include the FamilySearch data strategy, scanning operations, waypointing, and indexing, with an update on digital capture throughout the world.

Brief Timeline of the Granite Mountain Records Vault[edit | edit source]

  • 1894: founding of the Genealogical Society of Utah, today known as FamilySearch
  • 1938: first microfilming of historical records
  • 1954: collection exceeds 100,000 microfilms
  • 1960: blasting and excavation of the vault begins
  • 1966: named the Granite Mountain Records Vault and dedicated
  • 1998: first digital images arrive at the vault from cameras in archives
  • 2004: first vault microfilms converted to digital images for online publication
  • 2007: first digital images from the vault published online on FamilySearch.org
  • 2010: launch of FamilySearch Record Search with over a billion names and millions of images

Deep in the Granite Mountain[edit | edit source]

The vault is operated by the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Carved deep into a mountain of solid quartz monzonite, the vault shields microfilm and digital content from the elements and thus provides an ideal environment for preserving historical records.

“Records will endure for hundreds of years in the vault’s ideal preservation environment. The cool, stable climate inside the mountain is maintained by a computer-controlled ventilation and air filtration system, ensuring a constant temperature of fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit, a relative humidity of 30 percent, and air scrubbed of dust and other particulates.

“All of these factors are essential for proper preservation of records. The cool temperature slows any degradation of the film base and emulsion. Maintaining the relative humidity under 50 percent is optimal; if the relative humidity were below 10 to 15 percent the microfilms may become brittle; if the relative humidity were above 50 percent, fungus may actually grow on the film emulsion. The removal of particulates from the air helps keep the surface of the microfilm masters clean and scratch-free. Records stored on film, paper, or digital media can be preserved for centuries in the Granite Mountain Records Vault.” (Ouimette, David S., “The Vault: A Mountain of Granite and Gold,” Ancestry Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 2, March/April 2005.)

Over the past few years FamilySearch has converted most archival camera setups from microfilm to digital capture operations. Five years ago, most of the 220 field cameras produced microfilm, with only a few dozen digital cameras deployed in archives. Today, 80% of the images acquired in the field by FamilySearch are digitally born. Seven decades of microfilming and one decade of digital capture in the world’s archives have generated over three billion images of historical manuscripts and published works of enormous value for family history.

Global Activities to Build the Vault Collection and Provide Online Access[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch negotiates with record custodians, genealogical societies, and commercial affiliates to preserve and provide access to the best records for genealogy and family history. The following chain of events typifies the process of building the vault collection and making more records available online:

  1. Plan: prioritize records and archives
  2. Negotiate: agree with a archive to digitize, preserve, and offer online access to targeted records
  3. Acquire: digitally capture original manuscripts
  4. Preserve: save original images and associated metadata in the Granite Mountain Records Vault
  5. Describe: add bibliographic description of records
  6. Waypoint: annotate record arrangement—places, dates, and record type—for image browsing
  7. Index: volunteers key names, dates, and places online with FamilySearch Indexing
  8. Standardize: apply name authorities so personal names and place names are easier to find
  9. Publish: assemble and publish materials online to enable name searching and image browsing

FamilySearch, archives, societies, affiliates, and thousands of volunteers work together on a number of digitization and publication projects. One scenario: FamilySearch digitally captures the original records, a commercial affiliate indexes the records, and both FamilySearch and the affiliate jointly publish the images and indexes online. Another scenario: FamilySearch digitizes an existing microfilm collection, a genealogical society indexes the records with FamilySearch Indexing, and FamilySearch publishes the records online. The more community participation, the more records become accessible.

Status of Digital Camera Operations Worldwide[edit | edit source]

Almost two hundred digital cameras and a few dozen microfilm cameras currently capture images of historical documents in forty-four countries: Australia, Austria, Azores, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Dominican Republic, England, Estonia, France, Germany, Ghana, Haiti, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Micronesia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, St. Thomas, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United States.

The greatest number of archival cameras are currently located (in descending order) in the United States, Italy, England, Ukraine, Brazil, Japan, Spain, Scotland, South Africa, Columbia, Hungary, Peru, Germany, Philippines, and Portugal.

In 2010, FamilySearch camera operations in the world’s archives will yield over 52 million high-quality preservation images of historical manuscripts valuable for family history research, adding to over three billion images already preserved in the vault. FamilySearch and the record custodians benefit from the record preservation and access services accompanying these camera operations, making more records available to more people faster.

Prioritizing Localities Worldwide[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch has archival camera operations actively engaged in digital preservation in all continents of the world. Locality priorities are calculated using the need for recent records and the need for earlier records. For example, priority ranking might look like this:

FamilySearch Locality Priorities
Recent records
Earlier records
  1. United States
  2. Brazil
  3. Mexico
  4. Philippines
  5. Peru
  6. Argentina
  7. Chile
  8. Honduras
  9. Colombia
  10. Guatemala
  11. Bolivia
  12. Ecuador
    . . .
  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Germany
  4. Brazil
  5. Mexico
  6. Canada
  7. Netherlands
  8. France
  9. Italy
  10. Poland
  11. Philippines
  12. Spain
    . . .

Prioritizing Records to Acquire in Each Country and State[edit | edit source]

Few historical documents were created specifically for future generations of family historians. Churches, government archives, libraries, and other organizations have kept many records of great value for genealogical research. FamilySearch judges the intrinsic value of records for family history research based on three criteria:

  1. Priority of locality
  2. Historical population coverage
  3. Value of record contents to people engaged in family history research, seeking to:
a. Begin their family history (e.g., 20th-century sources)
b. Locate ancestors over broad geography (e.g., census records)
c. Identify ancestors uniquely (e.g., birth, marriage, and death certificates)
d. Trace ancestors (e.g., parish registers)
e. Trace descendants (e.g., wills)

Each locality has different historical record sources best suited for these genealogical activities. The record-type priorities for Germany, France, and Japan illustrate the variety of locality-specific records targeted by FamilySearch:

  • Germany
  1. Civil registration (zivilstandsregister)
  2. Church records (kirchenbücher u. kirchenbuchduplikate)
  3. Genealogical collections (ortsfamilienbücher)
  4. Census records (volkszählungen)
  5. Population (einwohnermelderegister)
  • France
  1. Catholic parish registers (registres paroissiaux catholiques)
  2. Protestant church records (registres paroissiaux protestants)
  3. Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths (registres de l'état civil)
  4. Marriage supplements (pièces annexes or pièces justificatives)
  5. Notarial records (les minutes notariales)
  • Japan
  1. Household registration (koseki)
  2. Residence registers (juminhyo)
  3. Buddhist death registers (kakocho)
  4. Religious inquisition census (shumoncho)
  5. Pilgrimage records (dankaicho)

Making Vault Records More Accessible[edit | edit source]

Moving up the record-access continuum, more people have more success finding more ancestors faster:

Record access continuum.png

FamilySearch seeks to publish digital images and indexes of historical records for family history research. Church, civil, and census records receive the greatest attention in most of the western world. The current publication plan is focused on breadth of global coverage, with content released online for dozens of countries. With an emphasis on breadth, many record collections will be published as navigable images initially. Name indexes accompany only a fraction of the online records.

The Future of the Granite Mountain Records Vault[edit | edit source]

Vault conversion of microfilm to digital images will ramp up dramatically in 2010, increasing the publication of online images into the hundreds of millions. A growing international volunteer workforce will produce more indexes of non-English records, making the records even more accessible.

FamilySearch will continue to “open the vault” in the months and years to come. FamilySearch envisions “a global community actively contributing records and information in a free flow of data into an open repository of family-linked names that connect and preserve the human family.” To fulfill this vision, FamilySearch not only provides record-preservation services but also seeks to provide much greater access to online records and further enable a self-reliant genealogical community.