Youve probably used the record search on FamilySearch Beta, the site where Familysearch is putting digitized records and volunteer-created indexes to those records. At the FamilySearch bloggers day yesterday, I got a look inside this process.
In 1998, FamilySearch started digitizing the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm and 1 million microfiche in its Granite Mountain vault (where film and fiche masters are preserved). More than a third of those records have been digitized.
Of the records in the vault, 1.1 percent have been published as online images at the FamilySearch beta site. Beta site indexes cover 2.6 percent of the records in the vault.
Why the gap between the number of records FamilySearch has and the number published online? Copyright.
FamilySearch doesnt own the vast majority of all those records, but has negotiated agreements with each record-holding repository to microfilm and provide access to the records through the Family History Library. Once technology opened up the possibility of online access, FamilySearch began renegotiating with all those repositories for digital rights.
The initiative to index the digitized records began in 2006. So far, more than 375,000 volunteers have indexed 300 million names.
Depending on the agreement FamilySearch can negotiate, you may get free online access to both the record images and indexes, to just the indexes with links to the original repository to see the record (sometimes for a fee), or to just the images. If you need the records that fall into one of the latter groups, see if you can get broader access by using the computers at a Family History Center.
Besides the vault, other sources of records include genealogical societies and archives who can provide both access to the records and volunteers to index them, as well as agreements with commercial entities such as Footnote.com and FindMyPast.co.uk.
The indexing goal for 2010 is 200 million names, with 148 million indexed so far. (Last year, 139 million names were indexed.) One of the biggest challenges is a need for more indexers who read non-English languages.
To provide records access as quickly as possibly, FamilySearch often will add record images to the beta site, even if the index isnt completed. You can browse those record images by date and place.
You can learn more about being a volunteer indexer and see what projects are underway at the FamilySearch Indexing site.