I came across a great story today, and just had to share it with you. It’s about some volunteers who donate their time to help the LDS index records for the FamilySearch.org website. So what’s the big deal you might ask? There are many volunteers who do the same thing for a number of organizations around the world. What makes these particular ones so special? Well, let me tell you a bit about them!
Joey Robinson and Theresa Coggins love to spend their time adding to genealogy indexes. They spend hour upon hour indexing at least three days per week, and often imagine the stories behind the names they encounter. They are much like the many volunteers who donate their time and energy to organizations like the LDS FamilySearch.org, but they differ in that they perform their work from behind bars at the Weber County Correctional facility in Ogden, Utah.
In conjunction with the LDS church, the corrections facility implemented the program about 6 months ago, and it has been so successful that there are plans to extend it to every county jail in the state of Utah.
The initiative was begun by Ogden East Stake President Reed Richards a few emeritus Seventies in the area after holding meetings with those members from the LDS branch at the Utah State Prison. “The state prison is the largest extractor in the world. The inmates don’t have a lot going on, and this gives them purpose,” Richards said.
The Ogden East Stake (administrative unit composed of multiple congregations in the area) included the LDS branch in the Weber County Correctional Facility, so Richards was convinced the success at state level could transfer to the local level — and he was dead on.
The indexing program is run by twelve service missionaries from the stake, which holds two or three sessions composed of women and men every week. There is so much interest from inmates who want to get involved that sessions will soon be increased to twice daily, five days a week.
Seventeen laptops were donated by the LDS Church, and the jail subscribed to an internet provider in order to give inmates access to the databases. It took some time as the internet had to be set up, so that the inmates couldn’t visit any other websites, but it was managed, and the program is in full flow.
The inmates thoroughly enjoy the work. “I enjoy computer work, and I know we are helping someone,” Theresa Coggins said as she adroitly inspected data on her computer screen. “My mom is really into genealogy. I’m a federal inmate, so I have a lot of time here to do this.”
Coggins listed reason after reason that performing the indexing is a positive endeavor. Not only does it provide inmates with an opportunity to use their brains, but they acquire computer skills they can utilize upon their release. The situation is really a win-win-win one; for the inmates, the LDS, and genealogists like ourselves. It has given many of the inmates a sense of purpose, and accelerated the creation of the genealogy databases available at Family Search.
An added bonus of the program is that many of the inmates develop a genuine interest in and passion for the work, and continue after they get out. The prison staff also benefit as well, as the inmates stay busy and out of trouble. According to Weber County Sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Porter, “We like to keep the inmates busy. The busier we keep them, the easier they are to manage,” he said.
The indexing has helped many of the inmates to develop a greater appreciation of family and its importance in our lives. Some have reconnected and even mended broken relationships since they begun the work. That of course is understandable; as every genealogist experiences the same appreciation of family once they begin to discover their past. The great thing of course is that even more records will become available online for future genealogists, and that can’t be a bad thing at all!