FamilySearch.org, an outstanding free website hosted by FamilySearch International, the foremost family history organization in the world, has released a 2015 year-end summary of its global efforts to ultimately connect families across generations. It has made substantial progress in creating new personal and family discoveries through significantly more access to historical records, expanded partnerships, a more powerful and user-friendly online search experience, and hundreds of free localized events hosted worldwide.
For more than 100 years, FamilySearch and its predecessors have gathered and preserved worldwide records, creating the largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world. It continues to digitally convert its vaults of microfilm for online viewing, along with millions more newly captured record images from archives across the globe.
In the past 25 years, it has been influencing technology and initiatives that engage a broadening swath of consumers to have emotional, endearing experiences with their family and family history. It uses its nonprofit status to continue to rally the growing sea of commercial companies—large and small—in the genealogy and family markets to join in the noble efforts.
HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2015
Two Family Discovery Centers, which represent a new concept in presenting family history information, were opened in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Bellevue, Washington. Ground was also broken for a new FamilySearch Library in St. George, Utah, which will have some of the new discovery center experiences.
RootsTech 2015, a global family history event held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and hosted by FamilySearch, uses technology and fun experiences to expand family connections. It attracted a record 300,000 attendees in person, online, and through local post–Family Discovery Day events.
During 2015, FamilySearch, in cooperation with several other organizations, launched the Freedmen’s Bureau Campaign (discoverfreedmen.org) to finish digitizing and indexing Civil War–era records that are crucial to African American research success. This project should be completed in 2016.
On October 23, 2015, FamilySearch celebrated the 30th anniversary of its well-known Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, which houses the largest and most expansive collection of family history records in the world. Hundreds of thousands of patrons still frequent the facility from around the world.
The My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together booklet, which was launched in 2014, provides an engaging way to capture and preserve family trees—particularly for those individuals and cultures who are less tech-savvy. In 2015 the number of languages the popular booklet was published in was expanded to 42.
More and more people made use of the local 4,891 FamilySearch facilities (family history centers) in 2015. North America alone has seen a 25 percent increase in attendance at these local libraries during 2015. Online, FamilySearch.org has seen 291,806 visitors daily—an increase of 19 percent.
New patron discovery experiences have been launched in family history centers worldwide during 2015, and 1,505 local post–RootsTech family discovery day events were held.
Enhancements were introduced to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree to assist patrons in creating more accurate records and to find records of their ancestors more easily. The site has introduced a redesigned landscape pedigree view, easier access to indicators in other tree views, and safeguard reminders to help patrons avoid making common editing mistakes. The indicators clearly show possible data problems for an ancestor and opportunities to provide missing information and help to locate missing ancestors.
Dynamic record hints were added through the Search feature at FamilySearch.org to aid patrons in making new research discoveries. The hints are more plentiful as they comb through the mountain of new historic records added weekly to the site from its global records preservation efforts, and the interface has been improved to easily follow through with or dismiss hints. Over 670 million new patron hints were generated during the past year.
Through partnerships with other major online genealogy sites, patrons can now use a single click to search ancestry.com, findmypast.com, and myheritage.com for the person they are viewing in FamilySearch’s Family Tree.
This year’s FamilySearch innovations have made searching and recording personal and family experiences more user-friendly and have improved the accuracy of FamilySearch’s databases. Searchers can use improved exact matches in their search criteria to more easily locate records, attach records from search results to people in their Family Tree, and gather and sort information in the new hybrid view that combines historical records with their corresponding indexed information.
More than 120,000 new contributors added to Family Tree in 2015, making a total of 2.47 million. The new user-to-user messaging feature in Family Tree simplifies collaboration with others doing research on the same specific ancestors. There are now 1.1 billion persons in the FamilySearch Family Tree.
FamilySearch carries out its mission through a dedicated team of employees and overwhelming contributions of time by volunteers. FamilySearch has enabled the public worldwide to use its constantly expanding record collection to make family connections through 4,891 satellite family history centers in 129 countries, with 2,864 of those satellite centers located outside the United States. That’s an increase of 15% over 2014.
The site launched 158 new historical collections in 2015, (bringing the total to 2,049), and hundreds of millions of new published records have been added to FamilySearch.org.
Personal discoveries are fueled by making historical records easily and quickly accessible online. FamilySearch does this through a combination of digitizing the world’s historical records online and engaging online volunteers to make them searchable by patrons worldwide with a few keystrokes. Around the world, 319 camera teams—an increase of 11%—digitally preserved over 122 million records in 45 countries, and 304,000 online volunteer indexers helped make them searchable.
In fact, volunteers logged in over 9 million hours and indexed over 110 million records in 2015. And 19 million of the records indexed were of international origin, in languages other than English.
At the end of 2015, FamilySearch.org now has over 5.31 billion searchable names in historical records.
Jennifer Kerns Davis, a manager in FamilySearch’s Records Division, said, “We republished England Wales censuses with more fields and family groupings that will make them more easily searchable. It was a huge undertaking that took a lot of resources. We also have begun similar improvements on the US censuses that we plan to update in the near future.”
The FamilySearch Tree mobile app now enables users to attach photos and stories (audio and text) to individuals in their Family Tree and to receive notifications when others add content to specific individuals.
The new memories gallery view allows users to more easily organize, sort, and add photos, stories, and scanned documents to their memories collections.
Last year patrons uploaded 4 million personal family photos and 40,000 new family stories.
Volunteerism is one of FamilySearch’s greatest assets. In addition to online volunteers, 3,850 volunteers serve as FamilySearch missionaries, helping support the worldwide operations needs. These generous volunteers donated a staggering 3.04 million hours of service. FamilySearch joined with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and other organizations to index and publish online the Freedmen’s Bureau records, a Civil War era collection that will prove very pivotal for African American research success. A record 12,000 volunteers have enlisted online to assist (see DiscoverFreedmen.org).
Patrons needing 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 Wiki, an online reference source with over 100,000 helpful articles that are updated weekly.
FamilySearch enhanced its online help system in 2015. Users will now notice slide outs that provide contextual help in key areas on the site where users might need it the most.
FamilySearch also added 77 new family history centers around the world to provide free personal research assistance to patrons.
Access FamilySearch’s free services online at FamilySearch.org.