Volunteer members from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are painstakingly digitising every will and probate record from 1925 to 1937 to be uploaded to the web, according to a major article in the Age newspaper.
The couples take approximately 1,000 images a day using very specialized equipment belonging to the Church. They work in the basement of the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) in North Melbourne.
There are in fact five retired couples called as missionaries for the church, donating their time to digitising records in PROV at the present time.
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The office holds a vast array of records created by the Victorian Government dating back to the 1830s. Currently, only about 1.5% of the PROV’s records are digitised.
Delbert and LaRae Dillingham are missionaries for the Church and do this work as a service for the citizens of Victoria. The Dillinghams are from Salt Lake City, Utah, and are calling North Melbourne home for 18 months.
Delbert served for 30 years in the Air Force and the couple has since swapped retirement and time with grandchildren, for missionary work.
They take hundreds of photos each day and Mrs Dillingham thinks that, “Each click is one more soul whose descendants will now know much more about them. As a consequence, they will know more about themselves.”
Mr Dillingham agrees, saying, “We have been taught in our FamilySearch training that each simple picture we capture of historical documents really is a part of a much larger personal story that may touch the lives of many descendants for generations – pictures really do say a thousand words.”
He continued, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that the family unit is eternal, so every click and photo is extremely important, in that sense.”
Delbert served as a missionary in Melbourne 50 years ago as a young man and said, “I am so happy the Lord saw fit to send me back here. It is a tender mercy to be here again, in this beautiful country.”
Missionaries receive their assignment from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. They fund their own missions (including housing and meals) except for transportation to and from their field of labour and are not paid for their services.
According to the article in The Age Newspaper a coordinator at the Public Record Office Victoria stated that the missionary effort has saved Victorians millions of dollars during the past decade.
Journalist Carolyn Webb stated, “The Church is very progressive when it comes to online family history work—to the benefit of all. Knowing one’s family tree is a central tenet of their Church.”
The digitised results are not just for Church members, but are available to the general public.
The Church’s FamilySearch program is the largest genealogical organisation in the world. Since 1984, it has worked with archives, libraries, and churches in over 100 countries to facilitate economical access to records that help all people to find their ancestors.
Watch a video about the Family History program of the Church.