Just over four years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a glimpse into what amounts to a technological revolution in the ongoing endeavor by Church members to search out their kindred dead and provide the ordinances of salvation for them.
"One of the most troublesome aspects of our temple activity," he explained at the October 2005 general conference, "is that as we get more and more temples scattered across the earth there is a duplication of effort in proxy work. People in various nations simultaneously work on the same family lines and come up with the same names. They do not know that those in other areas are doing the same thing.
"We, therefore, have been engaged for some time in a difficult undertaking. To avoid such duplication, the solution lies in complex computer technology. Preliminary indications are that if it will work, and if this is so, it will be a truly remarkable thing with worldwide implications."
That "difficult undertaking" has come to fruition nearly Churchwide today.
For the past 18 months, "New FamilySearch," an Internet-based technology, has been rolled out across the Church. With its recent introduction to temple districts in Utah and Idaho, the system is now available everywhere in the Church except for the five temple districts in Asia.
The Web site may be accessed at
"Over the years, as members of the Church have submitted names for temple ordinances they found the process complex and time consuming," said Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Seventy, who is the executive director of the Church's Family History Department. "This release of New FamilySearch helps members overcome these barriers. The program will help members, even if they are not proficient in technology or genealogy, extend the blessings of the gospel to their ancestors."
The program was demonstrated Dec. 17 for the Church News and other LDS media by representatives of the Family History Department, who explained that the new program will do the following:
Simplify the temple process by clearing names from home in a process that requires only five steps.
Reduce duplication by allowing everyone using the program to see what temple ordinances have been completed for which ancestors. The database is updated immediately when ordinances are requested or performed, so no one else will be able to do the same ordinances.
Enable collaboration by providing one common pedigree for all relatives to work on together.
The problem in the past, explained Craig Miller, director of member needs, "was that if a brother, cousin, aunt or uncle were working on the same ancestor, they'd never know, and usually end up with duplication. There was no way to collaborate."
Moreover, it was difficult to keep the temple ordinance data updated simultaneously in the some 5,000 family history centers across the Church.
But New FamilySearch amounts to a "paradigm shift," he said.
"In the past people have had their own family history software on their own machine," he explained. "Each one has researched pretty much in isolation."
By contrast, New FamilySearch allows users across the Worldwide Web to see ancestral and temple ordinance information in family relationships. "It makes it so relatives are all working together on one family tree, not separate family trees on everybody's own personal computer, but one family tree on the Internet so everybody can see what's been done."
The paradigm shift has also brought about a change in the way novices are instructed in how to do family history research, he said. In the past, the first step was to start with a blank family group sheet and pedigree chart with the directive to the newcomer to fill in as much as he or she knew from memory. Now, budding researchers will be able to go to New FamilySearch to see what has already been done. "You don't have to start with a blank page," Brother Miller said. "There's no reason to do that work over again."
Incorporating some 1.2 billion records from such existing Church databases as the International Genealogical Index (IGI), the Pedigree Resource File, Ancestral File, Church membership records and temple records, the program constitutes an enormous pool of genealogical information.
Brother Miller demonstrated the program by typing in the name of a Church News reporter's deceased grandfather. A list of possible matches was displayed, and the first one on the list was the correct one. Clicking on that link brought forth the writer's ancestral pedigree, along with icons for each individual indicating whether or not temple ordinance work was complete for that person. Immediately it became clear that the reporter's great-aunt was in the database twice. As it turned out, a sealing had been performed for her twice, in one instance erroneously, as she was identified as a male.
It is now up to the currently living relatives to undertake the necessary procedure to have the incorrect ordinance invalidated.
"That's the power of bringing this data together," Brother Miller observed. "We've been collecting this data for about 170 years, yet there is a lot of work that needs to be done that people didn't know existed."