2020.09.30 – Genealogical Society Microfilming with a Son of Pirates

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In 1969, the Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosted The World Conference on Records. This event brought together people from all over the world who were interested in and responsible for the safety and preservation of archived vital records. The records of primary interest included recordings of births, baptisms and confirmations, marriages, deaths, and burials, as well as probate records and other records helpful to genealogical researchers. The theme of the Conference was “Records Protection in an Uncertain World.” It was held to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee year (75th Anniversary) of the Genealogical Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormon] which was founded in November of 1894. 

Although the Genealogical Society had been for years engaged in securing films of vital records, The World Conference on Records fostered greatly increased interest in preserving vital records on film and led to increased opportunity for the acquisition of films of vital records essential for genealogical research. 

Vital records were preserved on film and the negative and a positive copy of each roll of microfilm was and still is stored in a vault near Salt Lake City, and a positive copy was delivered to each of the archives where the original records are kept. 

In 1972 I was hired by the Genealogical Society to supervise the filming of vital records in Western Europe and Britain and Ireland. While preparing to relocate myself from Utah to Frankfurt/Main in West Germany, where I would establish the headquarters of the European Microfilming Operations, I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with facilities I had never known existed. They included a huge vault which housed thousands of rolls of microfilm containing images of vital records archived not only in the United States, but in numerous countries around the world. The vault also housed equipment for developing, inspecting, and cataloging the films as they were sent in from the numerous filming locations, as well as an equipment repair shop. Located at that time in another building were specialists tasked with identifying records of genealogical value and securing the permission of both church and civil authorities for the filming of vital records under their care.   

As I was getting accustomed to my new responsibilities as Supervisor of the European Microfilming Operations for the Genealogical Society, I was occasionally asked why I, experienced only in researching my own genealogy, at that point almost exclusively in Eastern Canada, would be hired to manage the microfilming operations in Europe.   Frankly, I wondered myself for a while. But before leaving for Europe, it was explained to me that the position required an Engineer who could speak English, German, and French, which I did qualify for. 

Within a day or two of being on station in my office in Frankfurt/Main, I understood even better. For some years prior, the filming in Europe had been contracted to a private company, and now the Genealogical Society was taking over the entire operation in Europe. It had been agreed that I would have an area supervisor for the English, German, Dutch, and Italian areas of Europe. What filming remained to be accomplished in Scandinavia was left to me to organize and oversee. Some of the microfilming equipment was in need of repair and replacement, and required engineering talent; that was the easiest part for me. 

During my nearly three years in that position, we had as many as twenty-eight people engaged in the filming operations.   

Ralph Hughes

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