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Genealogy Web Site Swamped

May 24, 1999

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ People checking out a new genealogical Web site on Monday for details about their family’s history ran into a very modern problem _ computer overload.

The Mormon church’s new genealogical Web site, www.familysearch.org, was formally unveiled Monday.

The site’s search engine looks through Mormon records of 400 million names of people who lived as long ago as 1500, many of them with pedigree charts, as well as through 4,000 other Web sites devoted to genealogy. It’s one of the hottest hobbyist categories on the Internet.

The site was overwhelmed by demand on Monday, forcing partner IBM to add a backup computer to handle Internet traffic.

It was down for six hours because the pipeline into the IBM computer servers became clogged, said Elder D. Todd Christofferson, executive director of the church’s Family History Department. When it came back up in the afternoon, the site averaged 500 hits a second.

``It’s triple, quadruple what they anticipated,″ said Jan Walbridge, an IBM spokeswoman. ``They did plan for a backup system, but they didn’t think they’d have to use it so soon.″

Before the six-hour hiatus, the site that puts part of the world’s biggest genealogical database online was being hit at a rate of 30 million a day.

The site averaged seven million hits a day during its test phase that began April 1, and Monday was the first day it was a full-fledged site.

``Seeking to understand our family history can change our lives,″ said church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who pushed a button to cut a virtual ribbon for the site during a news conference Monday.

``We’re grateful to be able to make a significant contribution to this great process,″ said Hinckley, considered a prophet by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To Mormons, genealogy is a religious obligation. It was for them _ and for everyone longing to trace their roots _ that the church began placing its vast family history records online, Hinckley said.

Mormons are obligated to find the names of ancestors to baptize by proxy, an ordinance they believe gives the dead the opportunity to embrace the faith in the afterlife.

To make it easier, the church for more than a century has collected parish and civil records throughout the world. The records, now all on microfilm, are stored in a granite vault in the Wasatch Mountains 25 miles southeast of Salt Lake, and copies are at the Mormon Family History Library downtown.

The library, its 3,200 branches worldwide and now the Web site, are open to members and nonmembers free of charge.

The church plans to add 200 million more names to the site by the end of the year, and hopes to eventually transfer its records on 2 billion people into electronic form.

Hinckley said the venture has cost the church ``a very great deal.″

``We did not get involved in this undertaking for monetary gain of any kind,″ he said. ``Our motives are to help members of the church and others find their roots.″

The church is not using the site to recruit potential converts, although anyone interested in learning about the faith can request information online, Christofferson said.

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