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The New Face of Family History

"Scanstone" a technological development that will change the process of genealogical research and make microfilm and microfiche and the machines required to read them as obsolete as the LP record and typewriter.


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Genealogical and family history research is undergoing a major face-lift. At the Family History Seminar held in Salt Lake City in 2005, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Family History Library announced the birth of "Scanstone," a technological development that will make a radical change in the process of information gathering throughout the genealogical community. This new technology will change how family history work is done. Microfilm and microfiche and the bulky machines needed to read them may become as obsolete as the long playing record and the typewriter.

"Scanstone" technology will allow the digitizing of the massive record collection held in the Granite Mountain Records Vault. Prior to this project it was estimated that it would take 120 years to convert the millions of records preserved in the vaults to digital images. " Scanstone" has shrunk that estimate to 30 years and with the planned expansion, the projections are that the 2.5 million films and 800,000 sets of microfiche will be completed in 10 years. The new scanners, which are the bedrock of the project, employ a "bleeding edge" development. The scanner takes a video picture of the film and transfers a continuous file called a "ribbon" to a computer. An application analyses the contrast of the "ribbon" for quality and splits each frame into an individual digital file of an image called JPEG. Once the file is completed it is reviewed and processed.

The goal of transferring the Granite Mountain records to digital format and linking it to a free online searchable index has been a long-time ambition. Previous to "Scanstone," six people were required to be present throughout the entire process. Each frame was manually scrutinized and a technician would adjust the light and contrast with the film density changes. Every image that came across the screen had to be "cut" and many images were missed. What used to take hours to complete has now been reduced to minutes. One vault worker loads the film into the pod of scanners and presses "go." The first and second scans take about eight minutes each. Preparing the "ribbon" is done in seconds, followed by an auditing step, which takes from three to five minutes to complete. Finally, the conversion to the image file and compression is done in approximately seven to eight minutes. So it takes about 30 minutes to process one roll of film. By taking the frames in a continuous file the contextual information of each slide as a piece of the whole is retained and images are not missed. Once the image is processed it is sent to the FamilySearch indexing program where hundreds of volunteers are extracting information and creating an index. The index will be linked to the original image and accessible to the researcher on the Family History web site of the Church at

According to some reports there are presently between four to six scanners going full-time in two shifts per day. About 3 million images are done per month, or about 25,000 per year. This equals about 100 films per day. With the acquisition of 10 more scanners, the increase in output will rise to 12 million images per month; and when the goal of 25 scanners is reached it will increase to 32 million images per month, or about 370,000 rolls of film per year. Since the Church is 2 to 3 years from completing the transition from microfilm cameras to digital cameras the acquisition of additional films (280,000 last year) will slow the conversion process of the existing collection.

The GMRV will continue to maintain its microfilm collection. The polyester film is still the best medium for long-term preservation. It will last under the proper conditions for 300 to 500 years. The new digital records will reside alongside the film collection in one of the six 190 foot long rooms of the Vault. A few cabinets hold the 3 to 4 percent of the collection that has been digitized thus far.

Digitizing the collection is not for preservation but to make the records more accessible to the researcher. In the near future, individuals anywhere in the world will be able to search the GMRV collection and billions of names currently hidden away will be revealed. Anywhere an Internet connection can be accessed, from home, a library, or a family history center, billions of indexed genealogical records will be at your fingertips.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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