Unlocking the Vault

by Dave Weller

FamilySearch, the family history arm of the LDS Church is undertaking an ambitious project of digitizing their entire microfilmed collection of family history records. They have more than 2.3 million rolls of microfilm, which is equivalent to about 6 million 300-page books.

These records are held in their Granite Mountain Record Vault, located twenty miles southeast of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. It was constructed between 1958 and 1963 and reaches 600 feet into the north side of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Specially constructed fourteen ton doors at the main entrance are designed to withstand a nuclear blast. In the storage chambers, nature maintains constant humidity and temperatures optimum for microfilm storage.

The first part of this project is called Scanstone. It’s a system to rapidly create digital images of the microfilm records. They will be able to convert 370,000 rolls of film per year and could have the digitizing project completed by 2012. You can read more about the technicalities of the scanning process here.

The second part of this project is to index these scans so that anyone can search them online at FamilySearch.org. The LDS Church is recruiting thousands of volunteers to complete the indexing project. If you would like to volunteer, go to www.familysearchindexing.org. Once you register, you download their special software and then choose from a group of projects to work on. The project images are then downloaded to your computer. You transcribe the information and then upload it back to their site. The types of images include censuses and birth and death records from various states.

I’ve been helping to index for the past year. It takes about twenty minutes to complete a project. If you have some free time and want to contribute to making these important documents public, give it a try!