A lot doing a little
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With dramatic changes in recent years in family history work, the challenge in the Church today is to have more people helping to do the work, said Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy in an evening fireside for family history consultants.
Elder Packer, assistant executive director of the Church Family History Department, spoke in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, an event that coincided with a week of genealogy conferences and events including the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference.
"In the past, it has been a few people doing a lot," Elder Packer noted. "It is now time to have a lot of people doing a little, which will add up to be a lot more than what has been done in the past." Elder Packer traced recent history from 1977, when significant changes were announced with a shift in emphasis from the presumption that the Genealogical Department would do the family history work for the Church to an attitude of service, whereby the department would assist Church members across the world to do their own research and temple work.
Since then, many scientific and engineering breakthroughs have come about, such as the Internet, increased computer capacity and digital photography, Elder Packer noted.
In early 2000, he said, President Gordon B. Hinckley requested a review to see how the work could be accelerated. That resulted in a massive project to use technology and remove barriers, all in order to help people do the work more easily. In October 2005 general conference, President Hinckley announced that the Church had been engaged in using complex computer technology to eliminate duplication of effort in proxy temple work.
"This work is being continued under the direction of President Thomas S. Monson," Elder Packer noted. "This has been the focus and the work for the last few years and will continue to be into the future. When we respond to the prophetic call, the Lord provides a way to accomplish the work."
He said that family history consultants and local priesthood leaders are in the center of helping all to become involved in the work.
Elder Packer listed some of the accomplishments so far, including the following:
A rollout of New FamilySearch to all members of the Church worldwide except the Asia area, enabling Church members to access many records through the Internet from their own computers or from the Family History Library and family history centers.
The Indexing System, whereby volunteers worldwide, working at their home computers, create indexes to millions of source records digitized from microfilm images in the Church's vast collection.
The Research Wiki on new FamilySearch, an electronic encyclopedia focused on family history subjects allowing anyone to contribute information. It already contains many of the research aids and instruction sheets found at the Family History Library and can be accessed anywhere in the world, Elder Packer said.
Greater involvement among Church members. From the beginning of the rollout of New FamilySearch to the present, there has been a dramatic increase to about 760,000 adult members of the Church involved in family history research, Elder Packer said.
Consolidation of records into one database. For the first time, Elder Packer said, almost all of the genealogical records in the Church's possession, including membership records, have been combined into one collection, making visible a substantial amount of duplication, which can now be fixed and avoided in the future.
Reduction in the complexity of clearing names for temple work, going from a 17-step to a five-step process that can be accomplished mainly from an individual's home.
Microfilm and paper records are being digitized so they can be made available on the Internet, reducing the need to mail films to family history centers. Elder Packer said that when the work started in 2002, it was estimated that it would take about 100 years to digitize the existing microfilm in the Church's Granite Mountain storage vault east of the Salt Lake Valley. Technology has now reduced that estimate to eight to 10 years.
Elder Packer said the hope now is that many more people will start doing family history work. "As I said, a lot of people doing a little are far better than a few doing a lot."