Unfolding the future of online family history research
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Regarding FamilySearch, "something big is coming soon," proclaimed Daniel C. Lawyer on July 29, the third day of the Conference on Family History and Genealogy at BYU. In fact, that declaration was the parenthetical subtitle of his plenary session address, "The Future of FamilySearch."
Brother Lawyer is a senior product manager for FamilySearch, the Church's family history website and its associated online genealogy services. But his self-applied title is "uber-techno-genealogist-ologist" (UTGO) which he facetiously defined as "a technologist specializing in the study of genealogists."
He and other "UTGOs," colleagues from the FamilySearch staff, were sent around the world to observe people's behavior regarding family history. They talked with experts, novices, non-participants and even people who are "anti-genealogy," he said. What they found was that doing genealogy is difficult because people encounter obstacles in access to records, various tools, technology and life circumstances. They also found that genealogy, in the way it is often presented, is not engaging to people new to the pursuit.
With a goal to get more people working on their family history, FamilySearch has embarked on a major renovation to the website, Brother Lawyer said. It is intended to accomplish these five purposes:
Make it easier for family and friends to work together on their family history.
Make it easier to access, share and preserve ancestral artifacts.
Make it so you don't have to be a genealogist to do genealogy.
Make the site more genealogically sound so it will appeal to the more advanced genealogists.
Make it easier to give and receive assistance.
To unfold the vision of these goals, Brother Lawyer presented a fanciful future scenario in which a newcomer to family history research desires to connect with his family. He remembers the stories his mother told about his grandfather. He does an Internet search for his grandfather. One of the search results is FamilySearch. On that site, he sees a death record for his grandfather. To ensure that it is the right record, he clicks on a "share" button to e-mail his mother with a link to the record.
His mother receives the e-mail and sees the record. In a return e-mail to her son, she confirms that it is the right record for his grandfather, her father. She sends her son some of her memories about his grandfather and mails some photos to him. She also notices that there is an option to add the grandfather's name to a family tree. Thus, she registers on FamilySearch and begins to build a family tree. The mother even adds a digitized picture of her father's house.
The son, meanwhile, receives an invitation to go into FamilySearch and see the tree that his mother has started building. A few days later, he receives in the mail the photos of his grandfather.
The mother adds to the tree the name of her husband's deceased father. She is surprised to be notified that he is already in the system. It allows her to preview what her tree will look like when she adds that name to it. She is thrilled to see that an entire branch of the tree comes in with the name.
The mother realizes that one of her relatives has been hard at work compiling all this information. That cousin, who checks FamilySearch regularly, sees that someone has added a picture of one of her uncles. Because the two relatives, previously unknown to each other, have put their personal contact information on FamilySearch, they are able to connect and become friends who work together on their common ancestry.
The son then decides to call his mother to thank her for what she did and ask how she was able to compile such a rich tree so rapidly. The mother says her cousin has been a great help. Moreover, she has been watching online videos at FamilySearch to help her learn the more advanced techniques of family history research. She says she can ask questions of experts and even request help.
The son begins to plan a family reunion, the first occasion the family will have to be together in many years.
"How many of you would like to live in that world?" Brother Lawyer asked. "This gives you a feel of what the world will be like if we are able to deliver on those five things we talked about."
Interested persons can view progress on those goals at these websites: