Digital Roots

Laura June has a long and fascinating look at how technology is changing the geneology game, from DNA testing to the advanced algorithms of sites like

A generic search engine such as Google can’t distinguish between, say, a first and last name, which can mean all the difference in this kind of work, especially if your ancestor’s first name was something common like “Smith” or “Taylor.” But (and other companies like it) has built a search engine with a specific, single-minded purpose. It can handle, in one request: a first name associated with a last name (including a vast array of alternate spellings); a range of dates; a specific or broad range of documents to search; a geographic location as broad as a country or as specific as a town; a number of birth dates; a birth location; and additional names such as those of a relative’s children. The engine — which processes around 45 million searches a day (Google sees around three billion) — isn’t perfect, but it is very powerful, and it’s constantly being tweaked and upgraded.

Another key resource? The Family History Library, “the largest library in the world dedicated to genealogy,” founded by the Mormons in 1894:

Donald Anderson, the senior vice president of patron and partner services at the Family History Library, says that the Mormon church believes in “eternal families,” and in the ability of those families to “continue beyond this life.” So identifying ancestors, is, he says, a “significant part of the doctrine of the church.” Standing in-between giant banks of filed microfilms, he says, “We’re all God’s children.”

One of the Church’s fundamental tenets is doing genealogical research because its members believe that Mormons can baptize ancestors in their absence. The act of baptizing family by proxy — i.e., without the knowledge or permission of the ancestor, usually because they’re deceased — has been fairly controversial, but it’s not a focus for most genealogists. FamilySearch and The Family History Library’s staff welcome Mormons and non-Mormons alike. That’s because the library’s usefulness reaches far beyond its own religious goals, and the Latter-day Saints believe in spreading their information far and wide, all free of charge.