FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization and website offering genealogical records, education, and software. It is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and is closely connected with the church's Family History Department. The Family History Department was originally established in 1894 as the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) and is the largest genealogy organization in the world.
Genealogy organization operated by the LDS Church
FamilySearch maintains a collection of records, resources, and services designed to help people learn more about their family history. Facilitating the performance of LDS ordinances for deceased relatives is another major aim of the organization. Although it requires user account registration, it offers free access to its resources and service online at FamilySearch.org, one of the most heavily used genealogy sites on the Internet. In addition, FamilySearch offers personal assistance at more than 5,100 family history centers in 140 countries, including the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Family Tree section allows user-generated content to be contributed to the genealogical database. There are over 1 billion individuals in the tree. The historical records database contains over two billion digital images, including digitized books, digitized microfilm, and other digital records.
Genealogical Society of Utah
Logo of the Genealogical Society of Utah.
GSU, the predecessor of FamilySearch, was founded on 1 November 1894. Its purpose was to create a genealogical library to be used both by its members and other people, to share educational information about genealogy, and to gather genealogical records in order to perform religious ordinances for the dead. It was founded under the direction of LDS Church leaders, when the First Presidency appointed Franklin D. Richards as the first president.
The society published the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine from 1910 to 1940.
The GSU began microfilming records of genealogical importance in 1938. In 1963, the microfilm collection was moved to the newly completed Granite Mountain Records Vault for long-term preservation.
In 1975, the GSU became the LDS Church's Genealogical Department, which later became the Family History Department. At that time, its head officer was renamed president from executive director, starting during Theodore M. Burton's term. However, the title "President of the Genealogical Society of Utah" and other GSU titles were still used and bestowed upon department officers.
In 2000, the Church consolidated its Family History and Historical departments into the Family and Church History Department, and Richard E. Turley Jr. became managing director of the new department and president of the GSU. Later this decision was reversed and the Family History Department was separated from the Church History Department, becoming its own department.
In 2008, the Vatican issued a statement calling the practice known as baptism for the dead "erroneous" and directing its dioceses to keep parish records from Latter-Day Saints performing genealogical research.
Presidents of The Genealogical Society of Utah
FamilySearch logo used from 2006–2013.
In 1998, the GSU began digital imaging of records and in about August 1998 the decision was made by LDS Church leaders to build a genealogical website. In May 1999, the website first opened to the public as FamilySearch. The beta version, released April 1, almost immediately went off-line, overloaded because of high popularity. Only a few days after the official launch, the website had received an estimated 100 million hits. To handle the load, site visitors were only given access to the site for 15 minutes at a time. In November 1999, 240 million names were added, bringing the total number of entries to 640 million.
In 2009, the LDS Church launched a collaborative tree known as "New FamilySearch." It was the precursor to the current "FamilySearch Family Tree," and was only available to church members. The system was an attempt to combine multiple genealogical submissions to FamilySearch's databases into one single tree, but it did not allow users to edit information that they had not submitted. It also was difficult to add sources to individuals in the tree or determine what was the correct information among multiple submissions. By April 2011, plans were in place to redesign the database into a more collaborative platform.
In 2011, the FamilySearch website received a major redesign. The previous site had allowed users to only search one database at a time, but the new version allowed sitewide searches of multiple databases. It also included the addition of more databases as well as some digitized and indexed microfilms.
On 16 November 2012, it was announced that the new Family Tree database would be available to all users of New FamilySearch, and that the New FamilySearch database would eventually be phased out. On 5 March 2013, it was announced that Family Tree would now be available to everyone, whether or not they were members of the LDS Church. On 16 April 2013 FamilySearch completely revamped the site design generally, with new features and a changed color scheme. Some of the new features include an interactive fan chart and some printing capabilities, as well as the ability to add photos to Family Tree.
In February 2014, FamilySearch announced partnerships with Ancestry.com, findmypast and MyHeritage, which includes sharing massive amounts of their databases with those companies, and members of the LDS Church receiving free subscriptions with these companies. They also have a standing relationship with BillionGraves, in which the photographed and indexed images of graves are both searchable on FamilySearch and are linked to individuals in the family tree.
At the end of 2015, FamilyTree had 1.1 billion persons added by 2.47 million of contributors.
In August 2017, FamilySearch discontinued distribution of physical microfilm to its family history centers due to large-scale availability of digital images of those films and planned digitization of remaining films.
In May 2018, FamilySearch added and digitized their 2 billionth record.
Since 2011, FamilySearch International has organized an annual family history and technology conference called RootsTech. It is held annually in the Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, Utah. The conference is attended by genealogists, technology developers, and members of the LDS Church. In 2014 there were nearly 13,000 people in attendance. In 2017 it claimed to be the world's largest family-history technology conference. It is the successor to three former conferences: the Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy, the Family History Technology Workshop and the FamilySearch Developers Conference. Over the years, RootsTech has welcomed a number of celebrities, television personalities, and actors as keynote speakers.
The main service of the FamilySearch website is to offer access to digital images and indexes of genealogical records. These images can be searched along with a number of databases. While access to the records is always free, some records have restricted access, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center, an Affiliate Library or by LDS members. FamilySearch.org also contains the catalog of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The library holds genealogical records for over 110 countries, territories, and possessions, including over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 742,000 microfiche; 310,000 books, serials, and other formats; and 4,500 periodicals.
FamilySearch Family Tree
FamilySearch FamilyTree (FSFT) is a "one world tree," or a unified database that aims to contain one entry for each person recorded in genealogical records. All FamilySearch users are able to add persons, link them to existing persons or merge duplicates. Sources, images, and audio files can also be attached to persons in the tree.
There are also several features specific to the membership of the LDS Church, facilitating templeordinance work. In keeping with an agreement with Jewish groups and to prevent abuse, performing LDS ordinances for Holocaust victims or celebrities results in account suspension until the researcher proves a legitimate family connection to the subject of their search.
FamilySearch allows users to input same-sex marriages or other unions.
Searchable indexes of the records on FamilySearch are created by volunteers of the FamilySearch Indexing program. To ensure greater accuracy, each batch of records is indexed by an indexer and is then checked by a more experienced indexer. Indexing volunteers need not be members of the LDS Church. FamilySearch is currently working with genealogical societies all around the world to index local projects.
At the end of 2010, 548 million vital records had been transcribed and made publicly available through the FamilySearch website. In April 2013, FamilySearch Indexing completed their goal to offer 1 billion indexed records online.
FamilySearch offers free lessons on FamilySearch.org to help people learn how to find their ancestors. The topics range from basic research to training on specific record types and are designed for both beginners and experienced researchers. Most of the classes come from research consultants in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, but FamilySearch is also collaborating with partners such as the Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Missouri, to record and post classes.
In 2007, it was decided to start a Family History Research Wiki to help FamilySearch users and others researching genealogy and family history to find and share information on data sources and research tips. The first version of the wiki was built on the Plone wiki software product, but it was soon discovered that MediaWiki software was much more suitable, so in January 2008 it was moved to the MediaWiki platform. In the intervening years it was rolled out in other languages, and as of July 2014 it was available in 11 languages. The other language wikis are found via links at the bottom of the wiki homepage. The wiki in English had over 79,500 articles and over 150,000 registered users as of July 2014.
In 2009 a forums site, which grew to include a variety of subject and topic categories, was started. Some of the extra features included social groups where people could discuss a particular surname or other topic related to genealogy. Help topics were also featured with discussions related to New FamilySearch (new.familysearch.org), FamilySearch Indexing, and some other products and site features. The forums were never linked from the homepage, but were accessible at forums.familysearch.org. Effective 31 December 2012 the forums were closed, although they remain available in read-only form. In 2018, FamilySearch launched a new community forum, called "FamilySearch Community." 
Many FamilySearch users have created communities and Facebook groups in an effort to answering members’ genealogy research questions, aid in translation of documents, and other resources. These research communities cover the majority of the world's countries, allowing members constant help with genealogical research.
FamilySearch has two mobile apps: FamilySearch Tree and FamilySearch Memories. They are both supported in iOS and Android and are available in 10 different languages. The FamilySearch Tree app provides most of the features available on the FamilySearch website when exploring the Family Tree. The FamilySearch Memories app accesses the features in the "Memories" section of the Family Tree, and allows users to record audio and upload photos directly into the FamilySearch Family Tree from the mobile app.
Family History Library
FamilySearch operates the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The library was built in 1985 as a successor to previous libraries run by the Genealogical Society of Utah. The library is open to the public and has a large collection of international genealogical materials, including microfilm, books, and digital materials. The library's catalog and many of their digital materials are located at the FamilySearch website.
Granite Mountain Records Vault
FamilySearch stores copies of their records in a dry, environment-controlled facility built into Granite Mountain in Little Cottonwood Canyon, near Salt Lake City, Utah. The storage facility is known as the Granite Mountain Records Vault. The vault stores over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm and 1 million microfiches.
Family History Centers
FamilySearch operates over 5,100 Family History Centers in 140 countries around the world. The centers are branches of the Family History Library, often located within LDS Church buildings. Their purpose is to help people with their genealogy and provide access to and help with genealogical materials and software provided by FamilySearch.
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