History, records, and remembrance

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

FamilySearch, a non-profit organization under the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that provides free access to historical records like birth, marriage, and death certificates to people all around the world, recently conducted a VIP event in Manila last January 11. With the theme “So All May Be Remembered: Celebrating 50 Years of Records Preservation in the Philippines”, it was a celebration of 50 years of records preservation in the Philippines. I was privileged enough to have been invited to this momentous event. Aside from elders and members of the Church, other participants included representatives of various faiths, genealogy/family history leaders and influencers, archivists, librarians, museum curators, civil registrars, historians and academics, government representatives, the media, and others.

A panel discussion was the main part of the event, where luminaries in the fields of genealogy, archiving, history, and the interfaith community, discussed the current state and the future of records preservation and access to historical records in the Philippines. Fr. Melquiades Serraon, represented the Catholic Church and shed some light on the current efforts of the church to preserve its records; Dr. Emmanuel Calairo, for the Philippine government, talked about the archiving, records, and memories preservation activities of the NHCP; yours truly, representing and speaking for the very small but active genealogy community of the Philippines; and Mr. Jonathan Wing and Mr. Wayne Metcalfe of Filipino Diaspora Senior Product Manager and Asia-Pacific Multi-Area Manager, both of FamilySearch, respectively. Mona Magno Veluz, a Social Media Influencer (Mighty Magulang) and educator, spokesperson, National Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP) and concurrent country manager, ASP Autism Works Economic Empowerment Program, served as the panel’s moderator.

Many people don’t realize it, but if not for FamilySearch’s and the LDS Church’s microfilming and digitization efforts, many of our Spanish-period (and later) records would not have been preserved in digital form. Because of our constant typhoons, earthquakes, and floods, many old records were destroyed by the end of Spanish rule. But the greatest destruction to our archival heritage happened in World War II when liberating American forces bombed many of our old churches and convents which were the hideout of many retreating Japanese soldiers who thought they would be safe as Filipinos wouldn’t desecrate their houses of worship. And, while the Japanese were mostly correct about this, the Americans didn’t care and still bombed these churches, and so many priceless records and artifacts were destroyed.

FamilySearch, formerly the Genealogical Society of Utah, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, began their microfilming efforts in the Philippines half a century ago when they entered into an agreement with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to allow them to microfilm Catholic parish records from all over the country. FamilySearch also digitized records from municipal and city registrar’s offices, the National Archives, and other government records repositories in the country. Since 1973, FamilySearch Philippines has preserved over 126 million images through its microfilm and digital image capture activities. Of these images, more than 20 million records have been made searchable on FamilySearch’s website.

When Bohol was rocked by a major earthquake and typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the Visayas and devastated many areas in 2013, not only lives and properties were lost, but also churches and old records. Had it not been for FamilySearch’s tireless efforts, the towns whose records --both parochial and municipal-- were destroyed forever, would never have been able to get these back, at least in digital format. Without being asked, FamilySearch visited these places and gave them all their digital files stored in a storage device to make up for their lost physical records at least partially. In 2019, FamilySearch turned over digital records containing 14 million images to the CBCP. The CBCP later decided to have these records safeguarded at the Archives of the University of Santo Tomas, where these will be made available to researchers under certain data privacy policies.

These and more topics were discussed at the FamilySearch event last week. These records are more than mere physical records of the past. Preserving these records and making them free to use to the world allows FamilySearch to give everyone an opportunity to connect with their deceased loved ones’ histories. Connections are very important as they allow us to remember and understand people, whether still living or already gone from this world. When we connect with others, we learn to understand and by doing so we become better people more tolerant of others. And when we connect, we guarantee that everyone will always be remembered.

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