Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Turning the Model Upside Down #BYUgen #BYUFHGC

Steve Rockwood addresses the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyFamilySearch wants to turn upside down the usual order in which people engage in family history, said Steve Rockwood in his keynote address at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

Steve is president and chief executive officer (CEO) of FamilySearch International. He is the managing director of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors FamilySearch.

Steve said in the past we presented people with a chart or a computer to start them in family history. Those that were willing to stay with it long enough eventually experienced the positive emotions associated with family history. In the Church today, that amounts to 2% of the members.

“We want everyone to feel those emotions [they experience] through the act of doing family history,” Steve said. “We believe that this is primarily an emotional movement.” He said doing family history brings feelings of love, joy, peace and other strong positive emotions. (The Church ascribes these to the Holy Ghost, he said. He pointed us to Galatians 5:22-23 and Ephesian 5:9 in the New Testament.)

“We are concentrating on how everyone can experience and feel those emotions.” By giving them immediate, emotional experiences, FamilySearch hopes they then engage in family history. FamilySearch decided to concentrate on stories. “We are serious” [about this change]. Steve said. “We changed our logo, our entire branding.” The FamilySearch logo now looks like a set of picture frames. FamilySearch starts people with photos, audio recordings, anything that anyone can participate in. That makes it an exciting world of change. “Now, more and more people are getting involved in this thing called family history.” For example, FamilySearch has seen a 47% increase in young people involved in family history.

This change can be discomforting to existing genealogists. Steve likened it to the situation when society started shifting from agricultural to urbanized life. Our great-grandparents said things like “How can you learn how to live life if you don’t grow up on a farm?” And “How can you learn the law of the harvest?” Somehow we all turned out okay, even though we didn’t grow up on farms. The same will occur with this change in approaching family history.

Steve assured us that we were still valued and accuracy is still important. “We’re all standing on your shoulders. We honor you and thank you.” We will not compromise on the integrity of the genealogy, he said. It needs to be accurate. “Accuracy is paramount,” he emphasized.

Steve talked about five experience areas, as he did at the last RootsTech. (See “RootsTech is a Gathering of Heart Specialists” on my blog.) One of these is searchable records. “They have to be searchable,” he said. Most people are not willing to wade through microfilm or unindexed images. Steve said FamilySearch is doing all they can do to digitize the films in the vault and hope to be done in three years. But they still need to be made searchable. FamilySearch is doing so by pursuing three strategies: FamilySearch Indexing, commercial partnerships, and automation. If computers can be programmed to index the documents, let them do it.

The Memories experience area will continue to stay core to FamilySearch’s strategy. Steve pointed out that photos and stories that are valuable now will have “unbelievable power” for generations to come.

While we think of Family Discovery today in terms of brick and mortar Discovery Centers, FamilySearch is looking at opening it up to experiences that are less expensive to deploy to almost any family history center, or on your computer screen, or even on your phone. FamilySearch is looking at packaging Family Discovery in new, appealing ways. The idea is to package your tree in a way that gives others an engaging taste of it.

Steve gave some indication of the countries where FamilySearch may be expanding efforts. He said that Lehi in the Book of Mormon sent his sons back to Jerusalem to get a record of their genealogy. “We have to concentrate on the question, ‘Where’s your Jerusalem?’” If it is America or Scandinavia or England, then FamilySearch can give you a pretty good experience. But if your Jerusalem is China or Ghana or most other places, the experience is not as good. He said that because of a partnership with, in five years the experience will be good for those whose Jerusalem is Mexico. Steve said if you ever want to know some places where we are diversifying, listen to the Church’s General Conference and see where the Prophet [Thomas S. Monson] is announcing temples. When that happens, opportunities open up for us, he said. Look where there are 27 temples still under construction. Steve said that 60% of visitors to Temple Square (across the street from the Salt Lake City Family History Library) speak Chinese. What kind of discovery experience can we provide for them?

Steve said that what FamilySearch is doing is trying to bring all of God’s children into family history and providing them records according to their Jerusalem.


  1. Great summary! Thank you for doing that. It's pretty fascinating to hear what the vision of FamilySearch is going forward.

  2. Thanks, AI, for the great reports on what is going on at the BYU conference this summer, and for letting us know what FamilySearch is up to. I had wondered about the switch from what I thought was a lovely tree of life logo to the one it uses now (I will refrain from applying any adjectives, but you can guess what I think about it).

    This talk also contributes to the distinction that I have in my mind between "family history" and genealogy. They are definitely NOT one and the same. Genealogy is about finding ancestors, who may or may not have left a very good crumb trail. Family History is things that people can do now to leave the whole loaf for their descendants, forget crumbs.

    If there are people out there who enjoy doing family history, more power to them. But as for me and my house, we will pursue genealogy.

  3. Digitizing all the films in the vault??? You have my attention! I started doing genealogy 40+ years ago when you HAD to sit at a microfilm reader and you HAD to look at every frame in hopes of finding the person you were looking for. I will still do it if I have to, even when the records are indexed because errors occur. So I am more than willing to sit at home in my bunny slippers and look at digitized rolls of microfilm without an index...bring it on!!

  4. Ask him why so many of the death certificate, marriage certificate images are now disappearing... it is there one week and gone the next.. I know I should have downloaded it the first search, but who knew they would be gone later... the information is there the images show up and no image available.... very upsetting to say the least.

  5. Wow, this is exactly what we are trying to accomplish at Good to know we are at the forefront of this movement!

  6. I am not involved in this enterprise, as I am not LDS. But I thought his tone was a bit infuriating--comparing doing genealogy to living on a farm in the old days to the more, seemingly, up-to-date idea of doing "family history" like cool people. Since it is already abundantly clear to me that accuracy can be in short supply on many trees, I cannot imagine what this will look like as the inadequately-vetted family stories accumulate. I hope this is not the future! But as long as it is still possible, I'll stick to farming, thanks very much.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Only because, mysteriously, it was a duplicate.

  8. Excellent article, thanks for letting this community know what was said by FamilySearch. I hope all these angles of information—albeit through genealogy, family histories, letters, journals, stories, etc. will better shine a larger light on the actual truth/truths.


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