The Papua New Guinea government has partnered with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to digitise the nation’s birth, death and marriage archives in an effort to protect the records from decay and natural disaster.
In a hand-over ceremony on 8th August, 2013, Minister for Religion, Youth and Community Development, Loujaya Toni, received the portion of the archived data digitised so far from Elder James J. Hamula, the Church’s Pacific area president. The records, dating back to the late 1800’s, are the result of years of research and work by Church missionaries.
Government officials In attendance at the ceremonial handover at the Registrar General’s office in Boroko included Minister Toni, Anna Solomon (Acting Secretary for the Department of Religion, Youth and Community Development), Augustus Wagambie (Registrar General), and George Sigina and Sivore Lakau (Archives Officials).
In addition to Elder Hamula and his wife, Joyce, representatives from the Church included mission president, Suliasi Kaufusi and his wife, Peggy, records preservation missionaries Elder Henry and Sister Anne Nom, leadership missionaries Elder John and Sister Kathryn Gibson and Church member, Raga Damani.
With the approval of the PNG Government, the special digitising program was initiated by the Church’s FamilySearch not-for-profit organisation, in which skilled family history specialists create electronic copies of the archives, often referred to as ‘vital records’.
The machinery of government often relies on such records to prove the status of an individual and, hence, authorities were most willing to accept the Church’s offer. Kept for many decades on paper, the records are subject to significant deterioration over time and total loss during natural calamities.
According to Elder Hamula, the Mormons conduct large-scale volunteer efforts internationally. “These include humanitarian programs, of course,” he said. “However, it is not widely known that the Church also believes in supporting the work of governments in the area of records preservation.”
There was a natural benefit to the Church and the community to be able to access the records for family history research purposes. “The more we know about our ancestors and where we came from, the more we know about ourselves,” said Elder Hamula. “It has the effect of bringing families together, across the generations.”
Ancestral research data that the Church obtains from governments and other sources is made available to the public at no charge both on-line at www.FamilySearch.org and in thousands of family history centres around the globe.
And, sometimes the need for records preservation is brought home in dramatic circumstances. “The country of Niue experienced such a situation in 2004 when many paper records were destroyed due to a ferocious cyclone. Because the government had previously given the Church permission to digitally preserve its records, this critical information was able to be restored to the national archives,” said Elder Hamula.
Elder Hamula said 30,000 of the Papua New Guinea’s total records have been digitised to date. “We envisage that this extensive project will take a number of years to complete. Volunteer camera operators, such as Elder and Sister Nom, who are from Hamilton, New Zealand, spend 40 hours per week capturing digital images of these records using the latest in overhead camera technology and software.”
Elder and Sister Nom said that their first priority on arrival in PNG was to establish a solid relationship with the government’s archiving officials so they would feel that their records were safe in the Church’s care. “With a long history of completing such efforts for countries around the world, the government was satisfied that the Church had high-level skills and expertise in this area,” said Elder Nom.
“When the hard drive with the first compilation of digitised records arrived from Salt Lake City, Utah, the Registrar General, Augustus Wagambio, recognised the need to tell the people of PNG what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was doing to preserve their precious records at no cost to them. This led to the government’s decision to hold the August handover ceremony.”
Media reports of the ceremony included a story on Papua New Guinea's EM TV. In addition to describing the background to the handover, the report said, "It’s been five years since a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the PNG Government and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to digitally archive records from the civil registry office dating back to the late 1800’s.
“The necessity to protect records from natural decay and disaster was the motivation behind the MOU, which has made possible up to 30,000 of civil registry records, some of which the first ever in the country to be digitised."
Read the full article and watch a news report on emtv.com.tv.
Paul Whippy, the Church’s PNG Service Centre Manager, said he was delighted with the progress of the project and the commitment of the government to preserving this invaluable information. “Thanks to the partnership between the Church and the government, these important national records will be preserved for future generations,” said Mr Whippy.
In addition to their significant use to government, the Church uses the records for family history research purposes. One of the most popular individual pursuits in recent years — exemplified by television programs such as "Who Do You Think You Are" which appear in many countries — is people searching out their ancestry.
Members of the Church believe that the family can be together both in this life and the next, subject to special ceremonies which take place in the temples of the Church. The nearest temple to Papua New Guinea is located in Brisbane, Australia.
Read about FamilySearch a not-for-profit organisation sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.