Extraction effort will speed work of redeeming dead
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The toil of thousands of Church members in extracting and computerizing temple ordinance records is about to culminate in greatly accelerated work for the dead, according to Elder Hartman Rector Jr. of the Seventy.
For the past six years, members in hundreds of stakes throughout North America have been examining records of temple ordinances performed prior to 1970. That was the year the Church began using computers to keep track of the ordinances as they were performed.Called Family Record Extraction, the effort was inaugurated in 1987 as a means of bringing those pre-1970 temple records into the Church's database of computerized temple records, the International Genealogical Index (IGI).
Having those approximately 90 million records accessible by computer is necessary for a new computer program being developed to function effectively.
Described by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Council of the Twelve in an address at the October 1990 general conference, this program is being field tested in a number of stakes, according to Elder Rector, assistant executive director in the Family History Department.
"The new program will make it possible for anyone to sit down at a computer with a name and immediately find out if that name can be cleared for temple ordinances," he said. Once that determination is made, a Church member will be able to copy the information onto a computer diskette, take it to a temple and have the ordinance work performed within a day or two.
"At the moment, you have to wait a week or so for a name to be cleared for Family File and six to seven months for a temple file name to be cleared," Elder Rector said. "You have to send it in here [to Church headquartersT and we have to do all the things we do with it before it is cleared."
In the past, that has included not only checking the IGI computer database but manually checking index cards in the Temple Index Bureau, which contained the information from the pre-1970 temple records.
But with those records included in the IGI, the entire database can be distributed on compact discs and made available for Church members to use at the Church Family History Library or at ward and stake meetinghouses.
"So that's the importance of the Family Record Extraction Program, to make it possible to clear names in five minutes as opposed to weeks or months, which means a lot more work can be done."
Though leaders in the Family History Department caught the vision early on of what could be accomplished through FREP, it took a while for the program to build up steam.
"We started with selected stakes, and we found out they could do it," Elder Rector said.
For extracting the information, stake members use photocopies of the actual temple records instead of cards from the Temple Index Bureau, thus reducing the chance for error. In each participating stake, the work of each individual is audited by another stake member for accuracy. Then, still another worker in the stake computerizes the extracted information for inclusion in the IGI database. In some stakes members type this information directly into the computer.
"Initially, we wanted 1,000 stakes in the United States and Canada to participate, and we have about 1,011 stakes involved now," Elder Rector explained. "About 50-60 people in each stake work in extraction. If the records are difficult to read, some extraction workers will take the names off the temple records and put them on cards, and others input the information from the cards into computers. If the records are easier to read, virtually all the extraction workers are busy entering the information directly into a computer.
"We did some experimenting and found a stake could probably do 4,000 ordinance records a month. That would be 48,000 records a year for a stake. If we had a thousand stakes involved, that would be 48 million records a year. So in about two years, we figured, we should be able to computerize all the 90 million ordinance records that were in the Temple Index Bureau."
By 1992, after five years, only 30 million records had been completed, however.
At that point, President Howard W. Hunter of the Council of the Twelve sent a letter to presidents of stakes participating in extraction. In the letter, he noted: "We are concerned that many priesthood leaders may not understand the urgency of this work. . . . With minimal effort, however, most stakes could greatly increase the number of names being extracted each month."
The letter noted that with each stake making some improvement in its work, "the extraction of temple information could be completed in about 18 months. We encourage stake presidents to examine the efforts of their stakes and make the needed adjustments to hasten the day when the work will be completed."
Elder Rector then met with area presidencies and with stake leaders. He found that few really understood the purpose behind Family Record Extraction.
"To use one of President [Harold B.T Lee's favorite expressions, you have to be organized correctly before you can function properly," he said.
Accordingly, he met with leaders of stakes that had been successful with the program, such as the Salt Lake Rose Park Stake. He found that the stake coordinator was the key to the success of the program, someone who understands computers and is a good motivator.
His next strategy was to meet again with the area presidencies, explain to them the program's purpose and develop for them a presentation they could give to regional representatives and stake presidents regarding the program.
"Some amazing things began to happen," he said. As reflected in the graph accompanying this story, batches of names submitted per month increased markedly from the latter part of 1992.
As a result, Elder Rector said, the program is on target to complete the temple project within the 18-month period mentioned in President Hunter's letter, and he anticipates the last of these records will be submitted by the middle of next month.
Having the IGI completed will make it possible to research an ancestor one day and do the temple work for that ancestor within the next few days, "which we need to be able to do in order to perform the mountainous work of redemption of those 69 billion people that we think have lived upon this earth so far."
He noted that Family Record Extraction will not end with the computerization of the pre-1970 temple records. There are other genealogical records from which information needs to be extracted.
"We've got the Ellis Island immigration records. We've got the 1880 census records, U.S. births records, U.S. marriage records, international parish and civil records, World War I draft cards, Canadian census records and other records that are available to us. We also would like to take many of our books of pedigrees that are in the Family History Library and computerize them in a lineage-linked form."
But the initial project of computerizing the temple records will stand as a monument to the Family Record Extraction Program and to the willingness of Church members to follow their leaders and do what is asked of them, Elder Rector said.