The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns and operates one of the biggest and most popular genealogy web sites in the world: www.FamilySearch.org. Hundreds of thousands of Mormons and non-Mormons alike use this web site every month. Hundreds of millions of genealogical records may be found there. Of course, a web site like this one is never static: a group of product managers, software developers, database administrators, and many more keep adding new features and improving existing services.
Now the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons) has several new tools available for beta testing. That is, the Church is experimenting with new and probably better services. To make sure the services are better, the genealogy public is invited to test the features on a web site known as "FamilySearch Labs." If the testing is successful, these new and/or updated services will be moved to the main www.FamilySearch.org about six months from now.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is inviting any and all genealogists to participate in the test. They are especially seeking genealogy newcomers. After all, one of the major objectives is to make a web site that is user-friendly and easily understood by newcomers. Who can test that best of all? The newcomers!
This is not to say that long-time genealogists are discouraged from participating, however. On the contrary, the Mormon Church needs a wide variety of users -- newcomers and gurus and everyone in between - to help test the prototype services. The FamilySearch Labs' web site exists today in a true beta test condition: it might be a bit buggy or may be missing some features or explanatory text. The Family History Department would appreciate your help in finding those bugs and offering suggestions for improvement. You can expect the site to be changing frequently as beta testers' feedback is converted to new computer code.
FamilySearch Labs will obviously work faster on a broadband connection, but dial-up users are also strongly encouraged to participate. One of the purposes of the test is to see what the speed limitations are.
The new features being tested in FamilySearch Labs include the items described below.
The Pedigree Viewer is used to view and navigate your entire pedigree. This is one of the major new initiatives of the Family History Department: to allow everyone to navigate quickly and easily through a display of all their known ancestors. For the purpose of this beta test on FamilySearch Labs, you should upload a GEDCOM file of your own genealogy data, if such a file is available. If not, you can manually enter information.
NOTE: Be aware that all data will be deleted from FamilySearch Labs at the end of the test period. Because of the likelihood of duplicates with other data already on the main www.FamilySearch.org site, it will be impractical to merge your beta test GEDCOM files with any other data. Any GEDCOM files you upload during the beta test will be destroyed at the end of the test, and the data will not be kept or used elsewhere.
I have used the new Pedigree Viewer briefly and am impressed with it. The Flash-based display is as easy to use as any other genealogy browser that I have used. I haven't had enough "hands on time" yet to find any bugs although I am sure they exist. And yes, it works on Macintosh as well as on Windows systems.
While it is called a Pedigree Viewer, this tool also includes the capability to view descendants in an interactive viewer.
You can click and drag the mouse to view families that you could not see originally. You can also zoom in and out easily, using either the scroll wheel on your mouse (if available) or menu keys. You can also print data from the information displayed. (HINT: Use the PRINT button near the upper right corner of the displayed data, not the print command in your web browser's menus.
This feature is unlike any other service ever before offered by the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can see what it will be like to learn about your family through the pictures, records, and stories of their lives.
The Life Browser presently is in early Beta test, perhaps even a late Alpha. It is a conceptual prototype, so it only shows one person, and many features do not work. Your feedback will be used to define features to be added.
Family Search Indexing is not brand-new. It has been around for a while, although in a limited and controlled offering. The Family History Department has now added more servers and more network throughput to the project. As a result, the project can now be made available to anyone and everyone who wishes to contribute. Unlike the earlier version, you can sign up for FamilySearch Indexing right now and be extracting records within a few minutes.
FamilySearch Indexing allows volunteers to extract family history information from digital images of original historical documents to create indexes that assist everyone in finding their ancestors.
In short, you first sign up for the project and download a bit of software to your computer. Next, an image of an historical document appears in the upper part of your computer's screen. The image might be birth records, death records, tax lists, census records, or any of the millions of documents that are so valuable to genealogists. The records might be handwritten or typeset.
The lower part of the screen displays a "fill in the blanks" area. You read the data in the top part of the screen, fill in the appropriate information in the lower part, and therefore add a valuable new record for use by other genealogists.
The beauty of the FamilySearch Indexing is that you can index as many or as few records as you want. You only receive them in small chunks and do not receive additional records to index until you complete the present batch. If you do not complete those few within a certain length of time, the same small batch of records are given to someone else to index. You are never "on the hook" for more work to be completed.
All data is entered twice: once by you and once again by someone else. If the data you add agrees exactly with the data that the other person enters, the data is accepted and eventually is added to an online database. If the two of you disagree, the record is sent to a third person, an experienced records extractor, for binding arbitration.
The FamilySearch Indexing system is a great way to "pay back" to other genealogists all the records and assistance that you have received. You can index a few records at any convenient time: on your coffee break, when the baby takes a nap, or perhaps just before bedtime as you wind down from the day's activities. The labor you supply free of charge results in records being made available to other online genealogists, also free of charge.
Unlike the other projects I have mentioned, data from the FamilySearch Indexing project will be saved at the end of the beta test and will be added to www.FamilySearch.org.
The FamilySearch Indexing project has already indexed millions of records. This project is one of the greatest collaborative efforts that I have seen. I believe this one single project will benefit millions of future genealogists.
The FamilySearch Labs projects provide a great way for you to become involved. Your testing will help shape future online genealogy services. If you have any interest in any or all of the projects listed above, I would strongly suggest that you join in.
For more information, look at the FamilySearch Labs at http://labs.familysearch.org.
I would also suggest that you follow the FamilySearch Labs blog at http://familysearchlabs.blogspot.com/.
I expect that future FamilySearch Labs projects will be added from time to time. Keep an eye on the FamilySearch Labs blog for the latest information.