More Genealogical Records Will Be Searchable Faster
Usually a key to successfully discovering an ancestor is the easy searchability of online historical records. FamilySearch has introduced an exciting new online volunteer experience—Get Involved—to help with the process. Coupled with state-of-the-art handwriting recognition artificial intelligence, Get Involved promises to make billions more historical records more freely discoverable online—in a fraction of the current time.
In 2021, FamilySearch announced that it had successfully completed the digitization of millions of rolls of microfilm (see “FamilySearch Completes Digitization of Massive Microfilm Collection”). Those digital images contain the names of billions of individuals—our ancestors—from archives all over the globe. Digital images are great, but it still takes time to scroll through them in search of ancestors. And if the original records are handwritten, or in different languages, your challenge intensifies.
This is where Get Involved, FamilySearch’s new online volunteer experience, and FamilySearch’s new handwriting recognition artificial intelligence together will change the future of family discovery.
What Is FamilySearch Get Involved?
“What if online volunteers could conveniently participate in just a few minutes using their mobile phones or laptop? What if the records they help make more discoverable online were relevant to their personal family history? What if they could see how their contributions facilitated personal discoveries for others? Those are some of the unique benefits from the new Get Involved online volunteer tool. Volunteers can now help contribute to the success of others and make personal family history discoveries,” said Ian James, a FamilySearch product manager.
FamilySearch’s online volunteers have indexed more than 2 billion names from records since 2007—an amazing feat! Historical records that are mostly handwritten with no template or form (like a US Census page), are tedious for volunteers to index and are good candidates for the new Get Involved feature.
How does FamilySearch’s Get Involved and handwriting recognition artificial intelligence work?
FamilySearch’s new artificial intelligence can now scan handwritten genealogical documents—millions of them—quickly and generate an index of the names and other information from those digitized documents. The index is far from perfect, but it’s impressive. Perfecting that machine index is where the Get Involved online volunteers come in.
FamilySearch’s new Get Involved experience is a hybrid web tool and mobile app. The handwriting recognition artificial intelligence is smart enough to know when it is not sure about something in its transcription and marks these instances—for example, in a name spelling on a birth certificate. Then online volunteers, using Get Involved, simply look at images of handwritten names the computer isn’t sure about and help correct them. With an interface that is super easy to use, volunteers can conveniently spend just a few minutes to review an image and offer edits or a few seconds to review one name. All work gets saved immediately, and it makes a difference quickly.
Volunteers can also select records of personal interest to them—such as those that may include their ancestors—increasing the likelihood of finding an ancestor in the records they are helping refine. Future versions of Get Involved will send invitations to a FamilySearch patron or volunteer when it feels it has found a document with information about an ancestor and needs help to double-check its findings.
The result is that FamilySearch, with Get Involved online volunteers, can now index a lot more records more quickly and expand the number of records in other languages. In 2021, the handwriting artificial intelligence was able to index over 100 million records in a pilot test that helped FamilySearch reach a milestone of over 10 billion free, searchable names from online historical records. Get Involved volunteers are now refining those indexes. With the help of these new tools and volunteers worldwide, FamilySearch expects to reach the 11 billion milestone in 2022. Achieving that goal means that more personal family discoveries will be available than ever before.
“We’ve been implementing our new records-access technologies in Spanish-speaking countries for the past year. We were able to index in one year what would have otherwise taken us a hundred years to do with previous technology. We are excited to unveil it at RootsTech 2022 along with our expansion plans,” said John Alexander, a FamilySearch product manager for the emerging technology.
Alexander said that the current indexing tool will continue to focus on types of records not suitable for the handwriting recognition artificial intelligence technology. Volunteers will have the option to participate using whichever experience best suits their needs and interests.
How Do I Participate with FamilySearch Get Involved?
The first projects that volunteers will be able to help refine will be the United States Wills and Deeds collection, a collection rich in genealogical information from almost all 50 states. On April 1, the much-anticipated 1950 United States census will be available for volunteers to take on through Get Involved. Projects are now available in Spanish (174 million church baptismal records) from 22 Latin American countries. Italian and Portuguese opportunities will follow later this year.
Online volunteers can participate and make a difference now at FamilySearch.org/GetInvolved.