Family-tree sleuths throng new Mormon site

Long-awaited database goes online -- and has trouble staying up, thanks to an overload of traffic.


Kaitlin Quistgaard
May 25, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

When the Web's greatest genealogical resource officially opened its doors on Monday, millions of visitors raced in, almost toppling the site in their mad dash to check up on ancestors. With a database of 400 million names, tracing family histories as far back as the year 1500, FamilySearch -- the new Mormon Web site -- was an instant hit the world over, even as its servers slowed to a crawl.

The church claimed 50 million visits within the first 24 hours of the site's launch. That's the kind of traffic that would normally cause Net-centric investors to salivate -- but this popular new Web entry isn't making a dime off its success. In fact, though the venture has cost beaucoup bucks, there are no plans for FamilySearch to accept advertising or charge visitors for access to its prized possession: the world's largest collection of genealogical data.

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"We did not get involved in this undertaking for monetary gain of any kind," Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told the Associated Press. "Our motives are to help members of the church and others find their roots."

And the church plans to add millions more names; it has records on 2 billion people. Thousands of church members volunteer their time to locate, transcribe and microfilm civil and church records. The church allocates substantial resources to such genealogical research, with the goal of helping its members identify their forebears so they can be baptized posthumously -- the church says its "members are taught they have a religious obligation to trace their own genealogies and perform temple ordinances for their ancestors."

The FamilySearch site has been attracting a big following since beta testing began on April 1 -- receiving 2 million visits on its first day of testing and more than 7 million per day since. Still, it wasn't quite prepared for the tens of millions of visits on Monday. IBM, which was contracted to host the site, said Monday afternoon that a backup system was being put in place to handle the massive traffic. (It was all but impossible to get onto the site Monday morning.)

"It clearly shows that people are interested in their roots," said church spokesman Dan Rascon. Rascon noted that the site has had visitors from Africa, Europe, Asia, the United States "and even one from Antarctica ... Interest has just been overwhelming."


Kaitlin Quistgaard

Kaitlin Quistgaard, Salon's former technology editor, writes frequently about the arts and South America, where she once lived.

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