Over the past several years FamilySearch has been working with a number of commercial companies, other non-profits, and many archives to help publish more records. FamilySearch now has more than 200 cameras operating worldwide in archives capturing images of birth, marriage, death, probate, military, and a variety of other records. This work adds to the more than 3.3 billion images already in the Granite Mountain Records Vault.
The records from these efforts are made available on microfilm through family history centers and online through FamilySearch.org when they are digitized. At its current pace of digitization FamilySearch will complete the digitization of the existing microfilm collections in 5-7 years.
The real challenge in publishing and making the records more usable is indexing. FamilySearch has a large volunteer indexing program that has more than 150,000 volunteers. This is far from enough, however. As large as the volunteer force is, at its present pace it will take more than 100 years to index the existing records. FamilySearch works with commercial organization to speed up this process. The commercial organization often pays to have an index created for the records and then generates revenue from subscribers to pay for this indexing. After an agreed embargo period, FamilySeach can publish the records for free, in most cases.
These commercial partnerships with organizations like Ancestry, brightsolid (FindMyPast.com), and MyHeritage have tremendous benefit. They speed up record publishing, and also as the commercial companies generate revenue from the records, the revenue is reinvested in more records, software, and marketing to entice more individuals to take time to find out about their ancestors.
Working with commercial organizations has other benefits as well. As FamilySearch makes records and tree conclusions available on the commercial sites, they dramatically increase the number of individuals who view the records and use them to generate new family information. Ancestry, brightsolid, and MyHeritage collectively have more than five times the number of individuals who use their websites than FamilySearch has.
The more records a researcher can find and use, the more likely it is that they will be able to come to a conclusion about ancestral relationships. It also helps to increase the quality of the new information that is added to the researchers ancestral findings and shared with others. As FamilySearch records are available on others sites, it also allows researchers to use whichever site they prefer to find their ancestors rather than being forced to use only FamilySearch for certain records. Millions of users like using FamilySearch, but millions more prefer Ancestry, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage.
Last year at Roots FamilySearch and Ancestry announced the largest collaboration to publish records in the history of genealogy. My sense is that this collaboration is only the tip of the iceberg of what can be done and foreshadows the desire from all the organizations to work better together to benefit researchers.
Sometimes I hear researchers lamenting that they have to pay for access to genealogical experiences on the commercial sites and express the view that they wish all the information was free. In a word, they are wrong! The combination of the non-profit free FamilySearch site and the commercial companies creates a much more powerful marketplace, better experiences, more records, and the ability to grow the number of individuals involved in family history dramatically. I hope that FamilySearch can find more and better ways to partner with others to dramatically increase the number of individuals engaged in genealogy and the experience available to those who are searching for their ancestors.