Prison inmates contribute to family history indexing

Written by: 
Jessica Tautfest

BYU-Hawaii students said the family history indexing program for prison inmates is a great way to help the church, genealogy efforts, and the inmates themselves. Inmates in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona are volunteering to participate in family history indexing and finding success, according to Mormon Newsroom.

Michael Mallory, a sophomore in English from Utah, said, “I think it is a great program for [the inmates]. I don’t see anything much better for them to do while sitting in prison. If you are going to do something, hey, do something that will last eternally.”

According to FamilySearch, indexing is when volunteers read digital images and put the information from those images into a database. The digital images are records and photos of people of the past that have been scanned and saved online. By inputting the information on the digital images, other people can then type in a name to find the records of their ancestors.

Inmate David from Kane County Utah Jail said, “Indexing brought the inmates together in teamwork—like a sporting event.” David explained how he has found indexing surprisingly comforting. He said, “Indexing allows us to have a positive interaction with one another.”

The Church provides computers and software, and because there is no direct access to the Internet for the inmates, they use microfilms and flash drives for research, according to Mormon Newsroom.

In the state and county jails, the program’s advisors are volunteers. Even service missionaries are a part of the indexing program as consultants with the inmates in most locations, according Mormon Newsroom.

Erika Hill, a junior ICS major from Utah, gave her initial opinion on the program: “I’m not going to lie, what if what they put into the system was bad or faulty?” However, upon reconsidering, Hill said, “It gives the inmates a purpose and it really is giving them a chance to serve. I’m sure it helps the Church a lot.”

FamilySearch.org reports that the prisons’ indexing program processed seven million names in 2014. In August of 2014, about one million of those processed names came from Kane County Utah Jail. In November, the San Juan County Jail in Monticello, Utah completed an additional 1.5 million names.

Knowing the benefit of indexing to the church and genealogy, Justin Kolilis, a junior in exercise and sports science from Washington, said, “It shouldn’t matter who is doing the work as long as it’s getting done. They want to do it, and the right way.”

Ken Jones, administrative sergeant at the Summit County Jail in Park City, Utah, said, “The indexing program is very useful to inmates.” He went on to tell Mormon Newsroom, “Anything that gives them a purpose bigger than themselves improves the whole environment at the jail. We like to keep the inmates engaged and busy as a management tool; it’s a win-win all around for all of us.”

Inmate Allen at the Utah State Prison said he initially decided to attend the family history project because of the “soft chairs—it’s the only place in the whole building that has a cushion on a chair.” Allen also said he continues to attend because it is now an intriguing and inspiring pastime for him. He shared to Mormon Newsroom that he regularly meets his goal to index 700 names a week.

Uploaded January 28, 2015