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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Mormon church has more than 2 million rolls of microfilmed birth, death and census records stored in granite vaults in the Wasatch Mountains, 25 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced plans to digitize and index that information and make it available on the Internet.
"The goal is to create (Internet-accessible) indexes to all the films we have in the vault. That's a long-term process and that's a lot of films," said Paul Nauta, manager of public affairs for church's FamilySearch Web site. The date when the indexes will be available has not been announced.
Mormons are encouraged to find the names of ancestors to baptize by proxy, which they believe gives the dead the opportunity to embrace the faith in the afterlife.
For more than a century, the church has collected parish and civil records throughout the world. The records have been microfilmed and stored in the vaults, with copies elsewhere.
The church already has hundreds of millions of names in computer files and has said in the past that it hoped to eventually have 2 billion names similarly accessible.
Those attending the annual Federation of Genealogical Societies' conference this week at the Salt Palace will get a preview of the church's plans.
As the project progresses over time, indexes to records from 110 nations previously stored on microfilm will become accessible through the Internet.
"We're showing people how we'll be creating indexes from those films. Sometime in the future we'll ask people to help us create the indexes and make them publicly available, and little by little we'll start to index the films from the vault like we did with the 1880 (U.S.) Census," Nauta said.
It takes a lot of people and a lot of time to do the work, he said.
"Currently, you have to look at images on paper or burn them on a CD and distribute those to index the data. We're moving the whole process to the Internet ...," he said.
Conference attendees are using a lab at the Salt Palace equipped with a number of computers to demonstrate the new automated database.
New advances in indexing software will enable to church to produce indexes faster, than it did with previous databases, he said. Making the database from the 1880 U.S. Census was a 12-year project, using tens of thousands of volunteers.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)