Chapter 6: Computers and Family History Research

“Chapter 6: Computers and Family History Research,” Introduction to Family History Student Manual (2012), 48–55

“Chapter 6,” Introduction to Family History Student Manual, 48–55


Computers and Family History Research


Computers make millions of records readily accessible to you; among those records you may find information about many of your ancestors. In a sense, instead of traveling throughout the world to do research, computer technology brings the world to you. It also improves the speed and efficiency of the process of clearing names for temple ordinances to be completed.

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the many individuals who were developing new and more efficient computer technology to simplify our work in family history: “Many brilliant minds and sensitive hearts have harnessed advanced technology to provide personal computer helps to simplify family history work” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 4; or Ensign, Nov. 1990, 6).

This chapter will help you become more aware of the Lord’s influence in the ongoing development of new technology. The Church’s Family History Department (known publicly as FamilySearch) is using improved computer technology to provide you with the ability to seek out the names of your ancestors and provide saving ordinances for them. This chapter will inform you of several additional sources of help available through computer technology. As you read this chapter, identify the resources that will help you in your family history work.


The Spirit of the Lord Has Influenced Technological Advancements to Further His Work, Including Family History [6.1]

Modern inventions accelerate family history work. [6.1.1]

President Brigham Young

Susa Young Gates, the daughter of President Brigham Young (1801–1877), once asked her father “how it would ever be possible to accomplish the great amount of temple work that must be done, if all are given a full opportunity for exaltation. He told her there would be many inventions of labor-saving devices, so that our daily duties could be performed in a short time, leaving us more and more time for temple work” (Archibald F. Bennett, “Put on Thy Strength, O Zion!” Improvement Era, Oct. 1952, 720).

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) echoed this sentiment when he expressed his belief that the Lord will inspire new inventions to help us in advancing His work:

“I feel that when we have done all in our power that the Lord will find a way to open doors. That is my faith. …

“… I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse” (“When the World Will Be Converted,” Ensign, Oct. 1974, 7, 10).

The Lord will provide the means. [6.1.2]

The Lord will never give us a commandment that we will be unable to obey (see 1 Nephi 3:7). Some may look at the command to perform temple ordinances for all of our kindred dead and wonder how we will ever accomplish it. President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that when the Lord gives a commandment and His servants commit to follow it, such as redeeming the dead, men will be inspired to create the technology that will aid in fulfilling the Lord’s purposes:

“We must redeem the dead, all of them, for we are commanded to do it [see D&C 124:32–34]. …

“When the servants of the Lord determine to do as He commands, we move ahead. As we proceed, we are joined at the crossroads by those who have been prepared to help us.

“They come with skills and abilities precisely suited to our needs. And we find provisions; information, inventions, help of various kinds, set along the way waiting for us to take them up.

“It is as though someone knew we would be traveling that way. We see the invisible hand of the Almighty providing for us. …

“When we are ready, there will be revealed whatever we need—we will find it waiting at the crossroads” (in That They May Be Redeemed: A Genealogical Presentation by Elder Howard W. Hunter and Elder Boyd K. Packer [regional representatives’ seminar, Apr. 1, 1977], 3).

woman with laptop computer

You live in a time when the vision of Joel is being fulfilled: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28).

Ancient prophecies are being fulfilled. [6.1.3]

Speaking of ancient prophecies being fulfilled in our day, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) referred to scientific discovery as one of the ways the prophecy of Joel is unfolding today:

“From the day that [God] and His Beloved Son manifested themselves to the boy Joseph, there has been a tremendous cascade of enlightenment poured out upon the world. The hearts of men have turned to their fathers in fulfillment of the words of Malachi. The vision of Joel has been fulfilled wherein the Lord declared:

“‘And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

“‘And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit’ [Joel 2:28–29]. …

“There has been more of scientific discovery during these years than during all of the previous history of mankind. Transportation, communication, medicine, public hygiene, the unlocking of the atom, the miracle of the computer, with all of its ramifications, have blossomed forth, particularly in our own era. During my own lifetime, I have witnessed miracle after wondrous miracle come to pass. We take it for granted” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2001, 3; or Ensign, Nov. 2001, 4–5).

Joel’s prophecy is being fulfilled. [6.1.4]

Elder Russell M. Nelson

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also drew on the prophecy of Joel to teach that one result of the Lord pouring out His Spirit in these latter days has been the development of computers:

“Ultimately, the earth will become celestialized (see Revelation. 21:1; D&C 77:1; 88:25–26). But its last days must be preceded by its latter days!

“We live in those latter days, and they are really remarkable. The Lord’s Spirit is being poured out upon all inhabitants of the earth, precisely as the Prophet Joel foretold. His prophecy was of such significance that the angel Moroni reaffirmed it to the Prophet Joseph Smith (see Joel 2:28–32; Joseph Smith—History 1:41).

“For millennia, methods of farming, travel, and communication were largely unchanged from ancient techniques. Developments since the birth of Joseph Smith, however, have risen in remarkable contrast. …

“Computers have been developed that allow the Church to serve living members and to organize information relative to progenitors who live on the other side of the veil. People throughout the world, once little concerned with family history, now search for roots of their ancestral heritage using technologies unavailable a century ago” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1990, 18–19; or Ensign, May 1990, 17).

Youth have skills to contribute. [6.1.5]

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that there is a purpose for advanced technology coming forth at this time in the history of the world:

“Many of you [youth of the Church] may think family history work is to be performed primarily by older people. But I know of no age limit described in the scriptures or guidelines announced by Church leaders restricting this important service to mature adults. You are sons and daughters of God, children of the covenant, and builders of the kingdom. You need not wait until you reach an arbitrary age to fulfill your responsibility to assist in the work of salvation for the human family. …

“It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. Your fingers have been trained to text and tweet to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord—not just to communicate quickly with your friends. The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2011, 26; or Ensign, Nov. 2011, 26).

The Church’s Family History Department Develops and Maintains Computer Resources for Family History Research [6.2]

FamilySearch is a modern miracle. [6.2.1]

Elder David B. Haight

As computer programs have improved and become easier to use, the Church’s Family History Department has continually upgraded and made use of new programs and software. Shortly after the implementation of the Church’s FamilySearch program as a tool for assisting family history work, Elder David B. Haight (1906–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of its development:

“This period of time in which we live, the dispensation of the fulness of times, will see the culmination of all of God’s work on the earth. For this reason, we are anxiously engaged in the Lord’s work, which includes the performance of certain ordinances for all who have lived and will live upon the earth. …

two women at computer

“Genealogy has long been associated with tedium, painstaking research, and musty books. But no more! Now we have available a modern miracle called FamilySearch. FamilySearch is a powerful, innovative computer system. In response to your typing in a name of one of your ancestors at a keyboard, FamilySearch, in just moments, races through millions of names and finds any that match what you typed. It knows how to match names that are spelled differently but sound the same. It can guide you from one small fragment of sketchy information to full screens of information—dates and places of birth, marriage, and death; and names of parents, children, and spouses. …

“One of the most promising and helpful features of FamilySearch is Ancestral File. It has made the world much smaller because it has put total strangers with common ancestry in touch with each other. Suddenly, Church members and nonmembers alike are finding new cousins and thousands of deceased ancestors at the press of a computer key. …

“We know that God our Father is our greatest teacher, and nothing that we might read or hear should quicken our attention like His instructions and counsel. These marvelous new technological developments have been revealed in this dispensation in greater fulness and greater plainness than ever before in the history of the world as far as we know so that His purposes might be speedily brought to pass. The Church, in establishing family history centers, is now bringing these marvelous developments directly to you” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1991, 99, 101, 103; or Ensign, May 1991, 75–77).

FamilySearch includes databases and research options. [6.2.2]

FamilySearch contains the largest free collection of records, resources, and services for family history in the world. As you become familiar with FamilySearch and use it to search for names of your deceased ancestors, you will discover generations of your ancestors already linked together, and some (perhaps all) of them may need temple ordinances.

FamilySearch includes:

  1. Hundreds of millions of records about individuals. This information comes from many different sources, including:

    • Information that users enter directly into the system or contribute with a GEDCOM file.

    • Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published these computerized databases to help Church members and other family history enthusiasts coordinate family history research.

    • The International Genealogical Index (IGI)—a database of about 250 million names submitted to the Church or extracted from microfilmed records from around the world.

    • Numerous other records collections from around the world, such as birth, marriage, death, census, and other family history records.

  2. Forums where user communities can discuss products, research techniques, hints and tips, and even families or surnames in specific locations.

  3. The Research Wiki—a community tool that lists research hints, tips, and techniques based on geographical locations.

  4. The Family History Library Catalog—an online catalog of records and materials in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. These materials can be loaned to local family history libraries operated by the Church.

  5. Online training courses—both live and recorded classes from experts in genealogical topics.

The FamilySearch programs are constantly being expanded, updated, and improved.

building exterior

The Church’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah

Technology makes collecting and preserving records easier. [6.2.3]

A December 2009 Ensign article reported the use of new and efficient technology to make copies of historical documents from all over the world:

“One of the most significant advancements for FamilySearch in recent years was put into place in 2005, when 15 high-speed scanners were developed to convert images previously contained on microfilm into digital images. These scanners are converting 2.5 million rolls of microfilm from the Church’s Granite Mountain Records Vault into tens of millions of ready-to-index digital images.

“The scanners are like a camera: as the microfilm unwinds, the images on the microfilm are converted into a long ribbon of high-quality digital images. A computer program quality-checks the ribbon and uses special algorithms to break it up into individual images.

“These rolls of microfilm include images of important historical documents gathered from all over the world—birth and death records, hospital records, family histories, immigration forms, historical books, and more.

“… ‘The records FamilySearch contains currently, when digitized, would equal 132 Libraries of Congress or 18 petabytes ([18,000] terabytes) of data—and that doesn’t include our ongoing acquisition efforts’” (Heather Whittle Wrigley, “Technology Helps FamilySearch Volunteers Hit Major Milestone,” Ensign, Dec. 2009, 77).

FamilySearch works with other organizations around the world. [6.2.4]

FamilySearch and various agencies around the world cooperate with each other to allow the copying and preservation of important historical records. “Representatives of the Church’s Family History Department [FamilySearch] oversee the effort to acquire records, beginning with prioritizing what records would be most valuable to the public and matching limited human resources to gather them.

“Employees of [FamilySearch] then work with various churches, municipalities, archives, and governments to acquire or create copies of those records. Most institutions welcome the Church’s efforts. ‘We have a good reputation as an organization that cares about the records as much as the archivists do,’ said Steven L. Waters, strategic relations manager for Europe. ‘In general, they are thankful to have an organization like ours that puts so many resources into preserving history.’ …

“Once a project is complete, up to a terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of images and information is sent to Salt Lake City, where the images will be processed, preserved, copied, and distributed based on the contract specifications. Many images are published on; some are published on commercial genealogical Web sites; sometimes the archive itself publishes the work” (Wrigley, “Technology Helps FamilySearch,” 76–77).

Anyone can help with the Church’s indexing program. [6.2.5]

To help FamilySearch expand its collection of family history records and “to make all of these digitized records available to the public, the Family History Department developed [an online indexing program]. There, anyone can download images of historical documents to a computer and transcribe the information to help create a database of names, dates, locations, and other information—free for all to search online at” (Wrigley, “Technology Helps FamilySearch,” 77).

man with computer and family pictures

Much more information is now available and searchable at the touch of a finger.

Other Sources Are Available to Help You Progress in Your Family History Research [6.3]

FamilySearch tutorials can help. [6.3.1]

After you sign in at the website, click on Learn How to Use FamilySearch to access available tutorials and guides. In them you will find helpful videos, lessons, and documents explaining how to proceed. If you have not yet registered for an LDS Account, you may do so by clicking Register for the new FamilySearch on the opening screen and following the instructions. You will need your Church membership record number (available from your ward or branch clerk or printed on your temple recommend) and birth date.

Tutorials and help screens are easy to access and provide valuable information for users to make their tasks simpler and easier to understand. As you continue in your family history work on the Internet site, there will always be help options available, with labels such as “Help,” “Help Center,” or “Help with this page.”

Educational sites and commercial programs can help. [6.3.2]

Since so many people around the world are interested in family history work, educational and commercial websites and software products have been developed by groups other than the Church. One educational website was developed at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. This website has online lessons, assignments, and links to other helpful family history sites that can teach you how to do family history. It is free and available to anyone with Internet access. You may access this website at

Several commercial programs exist that can by synchronized with the FamilySearch website in order to submit names for temple work. If you are interested in commercial software, check with your instructor or a family history consultant who may have current information about good commercial programs. Remember, however, that it is not necessary to purchase any software to be successful in family history work.

women in front of computer

Family history consultants can help. [6.3.3]

Church family history consultants can help with family history tasks and learning. As part of their responsibility, Church family history consultants have the following basic responsibilities:

  1. Reach out to Church members to help them individually with their family history.

  2. Focus on helping those individuals and families suggested by the priesthood executive committee and ward council.

  3. Meet with new members of the Church to help them identify deceased ancestors and go to the temple to be baptized and confirmed for their ancestors.

Elder Russell M. Nelson stated that individuals without access to computers, or who prefer not to use computers, can ask a family history consultant for help: “Now, what about those of you who have no access to a computer or prefer not to use this technology? Don’t worry! Take one step at a time. … Avail yourself of assistance from your ward or branch family history consultant. The new FamilySearch system enables a consultant to perform all needed computer functions for you, including preparing names for the temple. About 60,000 consultants serve throughout the world. One in your ward or branch can be very helpful to you” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2010, 90; or Ensign, May 2010, 93).