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SALT LAKE CITY — Inside county jails across Utah, Arizona and Idaho, nearly 2,300 inmates voluntarily meet as family history indexing teams to help organize genealogical records around the world.
Using FamilySearch.org, the inmates view digital images of the genealogical records and enter the data into a document, which is then compiled into a searchable index and made available for public use, according to a news release.
Computers and software are provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and although firewalls prohibit direct access to the Internet, prisoners are able to access microfilms and flash drives to obtain the documents.
“Because of indexing, more people are discovering their ancestors more quickly than at any time in history,” Mike Judson, who manages the indexing volunteer efforts for FamilySearch, said in a statement. “This ease of discovery is helping thousands of people every day to better understand who they are and where they came from.”
In most of the locations, service missionaries assist the inmates in their indexing efforts.
In the Kane County Jail, the prisoners manage their own program, looking to a single church leader for occasional guidance.
"Indexing brought the inmates together in teamwork — like a sporting event — and it was really good to see in a setting like this." David, Kane County Jail
The inmates in each of the county jails and two statewide facilities logged more than 7 million names in 2014, and nearly 1 million of them were completed by the Kanab inmates in the month of August alone.
An inmate named David who resides at the Kanab County Jail joined the team because he thought it was comforting.
“Indexing brought the inmates together in teamwork — like a sporting event — and it was really good to see in a setting like this,” David said in a statement. “Indexing allows us to have a positive interaction with one another.”
At the Park City facility, an inmate named George described indexing as a way for him to be able to “give back.”
“Being in a place like this where we do time, it’s something outside ourselves that we can do and feel like we are helping others,” George said.
Some of the records are difficult to read, specifically if there is water damage or if the handwriting is difficult to decipher.
“If you quietly listen, you can figure it out,” an inmate named Trent said in a statement. “You think about it and even say a little prayer and the information comes. It’s interesting to see how that works. I really feel like I’m being blessed in many ways for working in indexing.”
Inmates at the facilities also have the opportunity to do their own family history work if they desire.
“The family research gives them a new perspective,” Walt Coulam, director of the Wasatch unit, explained. “They find family members they didn’t even know about, some as close as grandparents. They compile all their information in a folder; some have made books they give as holiday gifts or are able to connect with their families in another way.”