Information on 11.5 billion individuals freely available on FamilySearch as 83-year project is completed

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22 September 2021
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FamilySearch International has announced the completion of a massive project to digitise its collection of millions of rolls of microfilm containing billions of family history records from around the world.

The archive containing information on more than 11.5 billion individuals is now freely available to the public on FamilySearch.

Family history records at FamilySearch

To explore FamilySearch’s free collections of indexed records and images, go to FamilySearch and search both “Records” and “Images”. The Images feature enables you to explore digitised images from the microfilm collection and more. A free FamilySearch account is required to access the service.

Over 200 countries and principalities and more than 100 languages are represented in the digitised documents. 

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Digitisation timeline

Digitisation of the rolls of film began more than 20 years ago when FamilySearch purchased its first microfilm scanners in 1998. The project was expected to take over 50 years to complete, but advances in technology helped shorten the timeline by nearly 30 years.

The last of the microfilm scanning was completed this year. The project took a leap forward in 2006 when software and processes were developed by FamilySearch in conjunction with the Church History and the Information and Communication Services Departments of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The scanning began with about 5 employees. As the process was developed, up to 30 employees using 26 scanners were working on the process, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The move away from microfilm...

FamilySearch began microfilming in 1938 as the Genealogical Society of Utah. It was one of the first major organizations to embrace the use of microfilm imaging. That microfilm collection eventually grew to more than 2.4 million rolls.

For many decades, duplicates of the original rolls could be ordered and viewed at one of FamilySearch’s more than 5,000 family history centers worldwide. The process of duplicating and distributing microfilm copies, and the laborious research that followed, seems excruciating by today’s instant online research standards, but at the time, it was innovative and the easiest, most economical way available to help patrons worldwide find family information without having to travel to an archive holding the original records. 

FamilySearch ended its microfilm distribution to family history centres in September 2017 when it began its transition to an all-digital, free, online access approach. The microfilm collection will continue to be preserved, but the information the rolls contain can now be easily viewed and searched online.

FamilySearch continues to capture images of original records at an ever-increasing rate, howbeit in digital form, bypassing the need to transfer the information from film.  


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