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Church Helps Out Family Tree Buffs

October 24, 2002|From Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon Church has put millions of 19th century ancestors on its genealogy Web site, giving family tree buffs a more convenient -- and free -- way to trace their heritage.

The church said Wednesday it is offering free Internet access to 55 million names from the 1880 United States census and the 1881 Canadian census.

Before, census records from those years were available on a microfilm set spanning 56 compact discs -- a search process many found cumbersome and time-consuming. People either had to buy the set or visit a Mormon genealogy center.

On the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Web site,, the searchers are allowed to find ancestors not only by name, but by race, birthplace, location or neighbor's name.

"For some, this may be overkill, because they already know the name they're looking for, but when you don't know very much, the other ways can be helpful," said Todd Christofferson, executive director of the church's family history department.

Building the database took 17 years and 11 million work hours, Christofferson said. Every name was viewed at least three times -- first by an extractor and then by at least two reviewers -- to ensure accuracy, he said.

Other genealogical data, such as records from Ellis Island, N.Y., are provided for free on the Internet by the church.

The 1880 census is particularly crucial because records of the 1890 census were destroyed by fire, leaving a 20-year gap. Census records from 1870 are incomplete.

The census information was gathered by thousands of census takers who traveled American cities, towns, backwoods and frontier settlements on foot or horseback after the Civil War. They recorded each person's name, age, gender, race, marital status, occupation, relationship to head of household, birthplace and, for the first time, the birthplace of the individual's parents.

"We hope that by searching for ancestors, we may understand who we are and what we may become," said church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

The church is a major producer of genealogical materials.

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