FamilySearch 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 Ancestry.com, 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.