- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - As the largest family history conference in the U.S. prepares to kick off this week in Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ family history research center says it’s preserving and digitizing historical records faster than ever before.

Family Search, the church’s nonprofit organization, is partnering with five private genealogy companies to finish putting 5.3 billion historical records online, said spokesman Paul Nauta.

Working in conjunction with the companies - Ancestry.com, Archives.com, findmypast, Fold3, and MyHeritage - they expect to finish getting all the records online in about 20-30 years, he said. Nauta says that same task would have taken 300 years for Family Search on its own.

Once they are uploaded, the records will be available to review for free on familysearch.org.

The focus on genealogy by Mormons is rooted in their belief that families should be the focal point of their lives, and that family relationships continue into eternity.

As more records become accessible online, it becomes easier for people around the world to trace their family roots. If a person discovers they have family roots in a European country, for example, being able to look at them online often makes it possible to add a branch to the family tree that would be impossible otherwise, Nauta said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the world would not be able to afford the luxury of traveling to a country to return to their roots,” Nauta said. “This takes the records of the archives of the world and digitally puts those online and available to the masses.”

The 5.3 billion records that have been preserved over the last 80 years by Family Search may seem like a big number, but it only accounts for 7 percent of the world’s records that need to be preserved, Nauta said. That’s why the organization is leading the effort to speed up retrieval, preservation and digitization of the records.

More than 10,000 genealogy enthusiasts are expected in Salt Lake City this week at “RootsTech,” the largest family history conference in the U.S., now in its fourth year. The conference runs Thursday through Saturday.

The conference brings together genealogy enthusiasts of all levels, from people with decades of experience to others just getting started. The focus is on how websites, software and other technology can help people find, organize, preserve and share family history.

Organizers say the rise of social media and development of new technology has driven more people to dig into their family history.

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