Home Online Work FamilySearch’s census records work a gold mine for historians, genealogists

FamilySearch’s census records work a gold mine for historians, genealogists


Founded in 1894 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Genealogical Society of Utah is actually two years older than the state whose name it bears.

Initially a resource for the territory’s 210,779 residents and the church’s 222,369 members, it is now a global resource, available, free of charge, for any of the planet’s 7.9 billion inhabitants.

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Today, the organization is known as FamilySearch, a name that better reflects its worldwide reach.

On Friday, when the National Archives released 1950 census records, throngs of FamilySearch volunteers were among the first to tackle the data.

In the days and weeks ahead, they’ll be working to index the information so that it’s easier to search online.

The documents will be viewable at FamilySearch.org.

This is the 17th decennial census data collection that is now publicly available.

Paul Nauta, a FamilySearch marketing communications manager, said the paperwork from 16 previous censuses has already been posted.

The U.S. Constitution requires that the nation’s population be tallied once every decade. The results are used to apportion representation and help determine how federal funds are distributed.

Under U.S. law, census forms can only be released 72 years after the count has been completed.

The records are a goldmine for historians and for genealogists.


FamilySearch is committed to making the information readily available.

“We have actually digitized and indexed all of the U.S. censuses from 1790 through 1940. They’re all freely accessible online. So we’re excited to add the 1950 [census] and know that it will be one of the top research collections for the United States out there,” he said.

The information is accessible regardless of religious affiliation.

“We have hundreds of thousands of new accounts created each month. … We have right at 20 million monthly visits,” Nauta said.

Over the years, FamilySearch has compiled a staggering amount of data.

“We have over 55 million records from Arkansas, and those are taken from 75 archival locations in the state of Arkansas,” Nauta said.

The site includes a collaborative family tree containing the names of 1.4 billion people.

“Our desire is to accelerate the preservation, publication and access to records worldwide,” said Jim Ericson, a FamilySearch senior product manager.

“We’ve just passed our 10 billion records online milestone, so we’re growing rather quickly,” he added.


Genealogy has long been a priority for members of the church, Nauta noted.

“We believe that the more you know about the shoulders that you’re standing on — your ancestors — it makes you a better person and it changes who you are. And we also believe that those family relationships don’t end at death, that they … can continue after this life,” he said.

That emphasis on family has proved popular. Today, the church has 16.6 million members, including 6.7 million in the United States.

Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as Mormons, believe that marriages, sealed in its temples, endure “for time and eternity.”


The temples are also a place where proxy baptisms occur.

The ordinance allows a living Latter-day Saint to be baptized by immersion on behalf of a dead individual.

“We believe after this life if our ancestors didn’t have a chance to hear the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ that they will have the chance, after this death, to receive that,” Nauta said.

The doctrine is explained, in more detail, on the church’s website. See: tinyurl.com/2yfj3dja.

“Because He is a loving God, the Lord does not damn those people who, through no fault of their own, never had the opportunity for baptism. He has therefore authorized baptisms to be performed by proxy for them,” the website states.

Frequently, church members will perform the ordinance on behalf of their ancestors.

“Some people have misunderstood that when baptisms for the dead are performed, deceased persons are baptized into the Church against their will. This is not the case. Each individual has agency, or the right to choose. The validity of a baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it and choosing to accept and follow the Savior while residing in the spirit world,” the website states.

The ordinance has New Testament roots, church officials say, pointing to 1 Cor. 15:29: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”

The practice was resumed under the leadership of founder and first president Joseph Smith, church members believe.

In Doctrine and Covenants 127, Latter-day Saints are instructed to have a recorder present when the ordinance is performed so that there is an “eye-witness of your baptisms; let him hear with his ears, that he may testify of a truth, saith the Lord. … [L]et all the records be had in order, that they may be put in the archives of my holy temple, to be held in remembrance from generation to generation, saith the Lord of Hosts.”


In 1894, the church had operating temples in four Utah locations: St. George, Logan, Manti and Salt Lake City.

Today, there are 265 temples either open, under construction or in the planning stages.

Plans for a Bentonville temple, Arkansas’ first, were announced Oct. 5, 2019. The 25,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

In the early days, genealogical research was often a slow, tedious process requiring time, travel and patience.

Today, the information can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection, and the amount of available information is rapidly expanding.

“We add probably almost a billion new records a year now online for people to search and we have a very large representation of international records for people,” Nauta said.

The church gathers historical data in places that others might not prioritize, he noted.

“For commercial organizations, there may not be the demand for that type of content in some of these other countries, but because we’re interested in preserving the record of humanity worldwide, we’re interested in records from all over the world,” he said. “If you’re part of a diaspora or an immigrant path from countries all over the world, chances are we’re going to have some records of interest for you.”

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