FamilySearch is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Originally founded in 1894 as the Genealogical Society of Utah it has grown to be the largest genealogical organization in the world. Quoting from the FamilySearch/Genealogical Society of Utah website, "In cooperation with record-keeping institutions, the Genealogical Society of Utah began microfilming records in 1938; its digital imaging projects began in 1998. The Society has microfilmed important family history sources in over 100 countries worldwide. At any given time, there are over 200 microfilming projects in over 40 countries. FamilySearch creates over 40 million digital images and 20 thousand rolls of microfilm each year."
For the United States alone, FamilySearch has 109,791 microfilms and 200,806 items of published material. World wide the number of items is between 2.4 and 2.5 million rolls of microfilm, 742,000 microfiche, 310,000 books, serials and other formats, and 4,500 periodicals. There are over 4,000 Family History Centers world wide.
Online, FamilySearch.org was introduced in May of 1999 and by October of that year, the site had surpassed 1.5 billion hits. Some monitoring organizations rank FamilySearch.org as high as 8,835 in the world. See Alex, the Web Information Company. For comparison, Ancestry.com is ranked 1,106 as of 9 October 2010. However, in the genealogical community, FamilySearch is second only to Ancestry.com and its websites, in web visits. (I realize that other ranking organizations might give different numbers).
From that first website, FamilySearch.org, there are now many different websites with different functions. However, with the fairly recent introduction of the Beta.FamilySearch.org website, there is a major consolidation of the websites going on. It is probably a good idea, from time to time, to review exactly where we are and what each website does (and does not) do for the genealogical community. In no real sort of order, here we go:
FamilySearch.org is now growing old and will shortly undergo a metamorphosis into a new website now online as Beta.FamilySearch.org. The existing FamilySearch.org site has been used for its collections of free online records. Those include the AncestralFile, the International Genealogical Index (IGI), the Pedigree Resource File, the Social Security Death Index, and the Vital Records Index. It also included the highly valuable Family History Library Catalog and a multitude of online resources, instructional videos, and other helpful items.
In order to streamline its method of processing names for submission to the LDS Temples, FamilySearch introduced a newer version of FamilySearch.org presently called, New.FamilySearch.org. This program is still technically in the beta testing stage and has been for the last couple of years. Almost all of the records in the existing FamilySearch.org website, plus LDS Temple records and LDS membership records were included in this massive database. Record access was and is limited to LDS Church members and also the program shows only limited or no information on living individuals. New.FamilySearch.org is being rapidly developed and undergoes periodic beta testing (a test is going on presently) with regular upgrades. FamilySearch has indicated that at some time in the future, the New.FamilySearch.org website will be open to all Internet users.
FamilySearch has been using a website called Labs.FamilySearch.org to beta test some of its developing ideas. One of the sites featured is called the FamilySearch Research Wiki. All of research aids and training materials from the FamilySearch.org website were seeded into the Wiki which now contains 41,859 articles on genealogical resources available with links all around the Internet. This is a rapidly growing site and will ultimately become (in my opinion) the major online resource for organizing and locating genealogical information on the Internet. Allied with the Research Wiki is the Forums site. This FamilySearch Forums site is also still in beta. It is relatively little known and underused although it is open to all Internet users, not just LDS Church members. It appears to be very useful and may become more used as it becomes more well known.
FamilySearch began a massive program to both digitize and index the huge collection of microfilms stored in a vault carved into the side of a granite canyon near Salt Lake City, Utah. The FamilySearch Indexing program is in full swing with hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world indexing millions of records a month. Here is a second start-up page for the site. All of those millions of indexed and scanned documents are literally pouring into a fast growing database called Record Search (also called Record Search Pilot).
Now, the Beta.FamilySearch.org website consolidates and/or links almost all of the functions of these, now mostly separate, websites. It seamlessly (almost) links the sites together into one mega-site which includes the information from the existing FamilySearch.org website, the Record Search site, the Forums, the Research Wiki and a lot more. So, if you want to see what is going on right now, all you really have to do is explore the Beta.FamilySearch.org site.
There are however bits and pieces floating around on the Internet. Not even Wikipedia lists all these other websites. These include the Community Trees site, with some really remarkable collections of family history. There is also the FamilySearch Developer Network and England Jurisdictions 1851.
There are lot more LDS resources for genealogy on the Internet. Some of them are not under the FamilySearch umbrella, but may be in the future. One of these is the Family History Archives, which is hosted on the Brigham Young University website BYU.edu. The Family History Archives is a digitized collection of tens of thousands of family history and genealogy books and like all of the websites is free to the public. BYU has a number of highly useful online resources for genealogy, some of which are pretty hard to find down inside of the website. For example, the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy has a U.S. Census Tutorial.
I have probably forgotten to include some huge vital resource, but this gives an overview of where we are as of October of 2010.