Making Family History Exciting for Everyone – Steve Rockwood’s Keynote at the BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference
Family History Is For Everyone
At the Brigham Young University Family History and Genealogy Conference today, FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood spoke about the FamilySearch mission to make family history exciting for everyone. He said we need to “bring more emotion” to the work and get all ages involved by adding more technologies, photos, and memories.
Rockwood wants the family history center to be the most fun, exciting place for people to visit. Family history work is so emotional and full of incredible doctrine. He said, “Yes, we want to honor the genealogical standards – but we want it to be fun and exciting, filled with emotion and with the Spirit. Elijah was an interesting, exciting prophet! Let’s bring that to the work.”
Rockwood talked about the positive feelings and emotions we experience as we engage in family history – joy, peace, love – all the fruits of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22-23.
Family history is a spiritual and religious work for many people, not just Latter-day Saints.
How do I know this? Once, in a community family history class I was teaching, a man asked me what my religion had to do with my interest in family history. I shared my belief that families can be connected for eternity, that the prophet Elijah returned in 1836 to restore the sealing power of the Priesthood to unite families in temples, and that the Spirit guides me as I search for records about my ancestors. He then told me about his experience with religion and family history. When he had a spiritual reawakening several years ago, he became suddenly interested in researching his ancestors. He felt a powerful connection between his love for God and his love for family who have passed on.
Harnessing the spirituality and powerful emotions found in family history work is the way FamilySearch plans to bring family history to the masses. Here are some of Rockwood’s talking points about how FamilySearch is working to make family history exciting for all:
– The Indexing Event was exciting and it got the whole family participating.
– Make Searchable records. More people are interested and participating in family history when the records are searchable. FamilySearch is working on making browsable records digitized so you can browse online. Only a few people are interested in browsing, so indexing is key in making family history a good experience for everyone.
– FamilySearch changed their logo to a tree with picture frames to represent the importance of photos, stories, and other kinds of memories in turning our hearts to family history.
– Memories are core. They attract more people. They have the power for genealogy to come alive as we look back and remember.
– Providing contextual help based on where you are – beginner, intermediate, etc.
– Many look at the family tree and think it feels to academic. FamilySearch is working on packaging the tree in ways that will get non-genealogists excited.
– In order to provide the exciting experiences of the FamilySearch Discovery Center in downtown Salt Lake City for more people, FamilySearch is working to move beyond brick and mortar locations and create discovery experiences for people’s smart phones and other screens. This will help generate traffic and include all ages and levels.
FamilySearch Business Plan
Rockwood talked about Lehi’s genealogy discovery as recorded in the Book of Mormon. (I wrote about this fascinating subject in an article last year.)
He said that the FamilySearch business plan going forward is to help people who have left their homeland, like Lehi, save their family’s precious records. After fleeing Jerusalem, Lehi sent his sons back to get their family records. Rockwood said, “We want everyone to get the records from their Jerusalem. We want more to get involved. Where are the records you need? If your Jerusalem is Ghana, China, or Mexico, how is your experience? We need to provide more records for these people.”
Rockwood said that when a new temple is announced, it always seems to follow that a new records deal happens in that area. After a temple was announced in Paris, France, a law was passed there making genealogical records more available.
Rockwood related the goals of FamilySearch to Lehi’s genealogy experiences: Lehi took the genealogy of his fathers and did search them – this relates to the importance of indexing to create searchable records. Lehi learned a story about his ancestor, Joseph of Egypt. This is exactly the experience FamilySearch wants everyone to have with the Memories feature – reading and sharing precious ancestor stories and feeling the emotion that goes along with it. Then Lehi was filled with the spirit of prophesy. Rockwood said, “We want all of God’s children to feel the Spirit and have a wonderful experience in family history.”
What can we do to help?
Rockwood asked us to consider these things:
- Once you have caught on and felt the spirit of the work, how can you help your family members engage in it too?
- We need to increase the Spirit of this work – it must be Spirit led and Spirit felt.
- Ask the question – who specifically can benefit from the things I learn as I do family history? Share your family history discoveries with them.
- Index, index, index!