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Archiver > XIMENES > 2006-03 > 1142531992

From: Dani Brown <>
Subject: Something that affects All us genealogists
Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2006 09:59:52 -0800 (PST)

Information Series on Genealogy%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
This article is another of a series that I will
present to the group for
information, education, or to enlighten.

List Administrator

The LDS church has just announced a new program that
will affect all
genealogists. See


Unlocking the Vault: Conversion to Digital Records is
By Brittany Karford, Church Magazines
Members may not have to wonder what lies behind the
14-ton vault door at
the Church's Granite Mountain Vault Records (GMVR)
facility for much
longer. In as little as 10 years, much of its
genealogical collection may
be at their fingertips.
The billions of names preserved on microfilmed records
at the vault are
being converted to digital images that can eventually
be viewed online at
FamilySearch.org and ultimately searched in and linked
to an online
index. The process of digitizing the microfilm is now
faster than ever
through a “bleeding edge” technology system called
“I call it unlocking the vault,” says Heath Nielson,
the program’s lead
software engineer. “I cannot wait for the day when
accessibility to these
records becomes available to all.”
When that day comes, the records will be available to
everyone, both
Latter-day Saints and the public—“God's children
everywhere”—according to
the project team. And for those researching family
history under either
title, it will mean no more microfilm, and no more
eyes strained from
looking at film under dim light.
The vision, says Brent Thompson, director of records
preservation, is
that in the future members in Lima, Peru, who now wait
up to six or eight
weeks for microfilm, will be able to go to a family
history center or
anywhere with Internet access and look at records with
the click of a
It is a giant first step toward putting most of the
family history
collection of the GMRV online. Online images and
indexes of birth,
marriage, and death records from all over the world
may altogether change
how family history work is done. Currently, only a
minority of members
pursue family history work, but the accessibility
enabled through
FamilySearch Scanning will make it simple for anyone
with Internet access
to get involved.
Brother Thompson believes they will, though at first
he didn’t dream
digitizing the collection would be possible.
“I couldn't imagine it possible in my lifetime,” he
says. “I couldn't
imagine it possible in my children’s lifetime.”
At the rate they were going prior to the FamilySearch
technology, it was estimated that it would take 120
years to convert
applicable films to digital. That same projection is
now less than 30
years, perhaps sooner with planned expansions of
additional scanners. The
team that couldn't fathom living to see the end result
will now be the
team that will someday complete the digitizing
So how does it work? One vault worker loads rolls of
film into a pod of
scanners and presses “Go”. The scanner then takes one
comprehensive video
picture and transfers that continuous file to another
computer, where an
application analyzes the contrast of the ribbon for
quality and splits
each frame into individual JPEGs (a digital file of an
image). To finish,
a good pair of eyes reviews the job and processes the
newly created
JPEGs. The digital images are then readied for use by
the Church's online
indexing program, where volunteers over time will help
extract the birth,
marriage, and death information from the images to
create free searchable
indexes online (like the 1880 U.S., 1880 Canada, and
1881 British
Censuses currently found at FamilySearch.org).
This is a great improvement over the process used just
a little more than
a year ago, where one person had to be present
throughout the entire
process, manually scrutinizing each frame. Through
three to four feet of
film, one technician would adjust the light and
contrast with the film
density changes, watching every image come across the
screen and cutting
it out. “We thought, ‘How can we apply computer
technology to save these
poor people's eyes?’ ” explains Derek Dobson, product
manager. “And how
can we more quickly convert these microfilms to
digital images so people
can access them more readily on the Internet?”
Enter Heath Nielson and a team of engineers. Not only
does the computer
system they developed speed the process up, but by
taking the frames on a
continuous file, it retains the contextual information
of each slide as a
piece of a whole.
“In the computer, it’s not piecemeal. You can look at
a single frame next
to its neighbors, and it tells you something about
it,” Brother Nielson
says. Also, with the manual process there was no way
of knowing if they
had missed an image, something that is not a factor
with the continuous
Though the technology is not entirely novel, their
ability to act and the
Church's ability to execute and implement the
technology for its intended
purposes makes them pioneers in the field. Yet setting
the program into
motion has not been without its glitches.
“It's something I still feel fervently about,” Brother
Nielson says. “I
knew that if this was something we needed to do, there
would be a way
provided.” And there was. In the hard and frustrating
times, he said they
would find just what mechanism they needed and receive
help from specific
individuals just when they needed it—one step at a
On just four scanners, they have tripled output—yet
they’ve still only
completed four percent of the targeted films at the
vault, and more films
are coming in. This year alone, they expect to acquire
an additional
28,000, says Wayne Crosby, general manager of GMVR.
They have a lot of
work to do.
The good news is they are two to three years away from
completing the
transition from microfilm cameras to digital cameras.
When this
transition is complete, only the existing microfilm
collection will need
to be converted to digital.
Film and microfiche will continue to be stored in the
vault, even after
their digital conversion. “The polyester film lasts
300 to 500 years and
will continue to be used for long-term preservation,“
Brother Crosby
explains, noting that the digitizing of the records is
to make them more
accessible to family history researchers, not to make
And so it's back into the long, chilly corridors deep
within Granite
Mountain for not only the polyester films, but the new
digital records as
well. There they will reside in one of six 190-foot
long rooms. About 1
million rolls of film are held in each vault,
maintained at a constant 55
degrees and 30 percent humidity, ideal for
>From the doorway, the row after row of monstrous file
cabinets creates
the impression of having fallen into Alice and
Wonderland and stepped
into a strange office where filing cabinets stretch
from floor to
But the vault where the digital images are stored is
for the most part
empty (One DVD can hold up to 4 digitized microfilms).
A few short
cabinets hold what's been converted so far, and the
expansiveness of the
room whispers of a future when it will be filled. When
that day comes,
most members will be able to access the digital images
of the films
anywhere they have Internet access—from their homes or
local Family
History Center—through the Church’s genealogical Web
http://www.familysearch.org; and the staff at GMVR
won't be bundling in
their coats as often to retrieve fiche and film.
“Think how easy that will be,” says Paul Nauta, public
relations manager
for the Family and Church History Department. “In the
future individuals
anywhere in the world through the Internet will be
able to search the
majority of the GMRV’s film collection and the
billions of names
currently hidden in them—all from the convenience of
their homes or
family history center.”
“Won't it be nice if in between naps and playing with
my children, I can
jump on the Internet and do family history research,”
says Brother
“This technology is the answer to our hopes, our
dreams, and our
prayers,” Brother Thompson adds. He smiles, looking
out one of the main
office windows—or rather, a giant half-dome portal
that opens the granite
slab to the north-facing alpine slope across the
canyon. About to step
out of the paper-and-film world that has shaped his
profession, he
reflects on the mountainside.
“What a view,” he says, “and what a great resource
this is for the
Church. What an inspiration it was to build this
facility in a solid wall
of granite.”

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