Family History Web Site Launched

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“Family History Web Site Launched,” Ensign, Aug. 1999, 74–75

Family History Web Site Launched

Genealogical information for nearly 400 million deceased people is now available at no charge via the Internet at the Church’s new Web site: www.familysearch.org.

“In recent years, computer technology has made it possible to transfer genealogical records to large databases and to publish the information on-line or on compact discs,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley during a press conference held 24 May in the Family History Library® in Salt Lake City. “Today, however, we take the long-awaited step of allowing home access via the Internet to some of the most significant materials in the Family History Library.”

He added: “We began testing this Web site on April 1, and the response has been overwhelming. Users are profuse in expressing thanks. Since then, without any promotion or requested publicity, the site has had more than 200 million hits, making it one of the most sought-after sites on the Internet even before its formal launch.”

The press conference was simulcast via satellite to reporters gathered in Washington, D.C., where Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered remarks. “This is an historic day for the families of the world and for people who are interested in identifying their origins, their roots, and their ancestors,” he said. “It’s an historic day and privilege for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to host this significant contribution to the genealogical effort of the world.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Presidency of the Seventy, Executive Director of the Family History Department, said: “This new genealogical search service will revolutionize the way people trace their roots on the Web. It has been an enormous undertaking. Hundreds of volunteers have been enlisted to evaluate the thousands of genealogical databases already out there, from individual home pages to substantial resources.”

During the press conference, President Hinckley said: “Seeking to understand our family history can change our lives. It helps bring unity and cohesion to families. There is something about understanding the past that helps give our young people something to live up to, a legacy to respect. We’re grateful to be able to make a significant contribution to that.”

Features and Services

  • The Web site’s new search engine allows users to search for specific names and relationships throughout the Church’s on-line database, which initially includes Ancestral File™ and portions of the International Genealogical Index® (IGI) and will be continuously expanded.

  • The search engine also allows advanced searches among thousands of independent genealogical Web sites that have been evaluated by Church volunteers. Interested individuals, groups, institutions, and companies can recommend their own or others’ Web sites for inclusion.

  • Users have on-line access to the catalog of the world’s largest genealogical library, the Church’s Family History Library, which holds more than three million microfilms, microfiches, and books. Through familysearch.org, most of those materials can be ordered for hands-on use at any of 3,400 Family History Centers™ worldwide.

  • Through the Web site, users can collaborate on-line to share their research and cooperate with others searching the same family lines.

  • Users can preserve their own family history information by submitting electronic files through the Web site to be indexed for posterity. A database called the Pedigree Resource File will compile user-submitted pedigrees as well as pedigrees gathered from printed family histories and other sources, including government archives.

  • If users choose, they can review family history resources—including publications, software, and compact discs—available for purchase from the Church, or they can learn more about the beliefs and doctrines of the Church.

Unexpected Demand

The familysearch.org Web site was designed to handle 25 million hits per day, but soon after the official launch, the site was overwhelmed by more than 40 million hits per day—representing roughly 400,000 users—as well as an estimated additional 60 million unsuccessful daily hits. Because of this unprecedented use, many people experienced delays or difficulties logging on to the site. Church technicians worked closely with site host IBM and LavaStorm, developers of the system, to spread the load and help resolve the challenge.

“Seeking to understand our family history can change our lives,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley at the press conference launching the Church’s new family history Web site. (Photo by Don Grayston, Deseret News.)

The www.familysearch.org home page allows users to immediately begin searching for their ancestors or choose from other options. (Photo courtesy of Public Affairs Department.)