For many people, the first visit to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building will be a family affair - ancestral family, that is.
The FamilySearch Center, located on the main level and fourth floor, is designed to acquaint visitors with the basics of family history research, manager Paul Brooks said, using the computer tools that the Church has developed in recent years.Temple Square visitors, in particular, will be invited to extend their visit to include the newly renovated building, which they will approach by exiting the Square through a new gate on the east and then crossing Main Street.
Entering the building from the west side, visitors will have a choice. They may ascend stairs to the 500-seat theater to see the new "Legacy" motion picture (see story on page 10), or they may walk straight ahead on the main floor on a mezzanine leading down to three large rooms with 133 computers, the heart of the FamilySearch Center.
In what Brother Brooks predicts will be a beehive of activity, 60 full-time sister missionaries at any given time, plus eight missionary couples, will guide tourists and other visitors in the use of the FamilySearch computers. Their efforts will be supplemented by those of Family History missionaries.
But typical visitors may be able to discover much on their own. At each computer terminal, an interactive orientation program explains how to use FamilySearch, the Church's assortment of software tools that includes Ancestral File, an extensive database of lineage-linked genealogy.
Through the technology of computer animation, a pleasant-looking woman appears on the screen, explaining what keys to press and introducing the novice user to pedigree charts, family group sheets and indexes.
"Most people will be able to find something on their ancestral lines," Brother Brooks said. They may find an extensive pedigree or simply a marriage or death date for an ancestor.
Each computer is equipped with a laser printer, capable of printing out the information. Visitors may also download information onto computer diskettes for use in their home computers.
The FamilySearch Center supplements but does not replace any of the facilities at the Family History Library, located west of Temple Square.
"In fact, those who are knowledgable about family history research will want to go directly over there," Brother Brooks said. "This is for beginners, to quickly introduce them to what family history is all about, and we don't have anything here that they don't have at the Family History Library."
Visitors at the FamilySearch Center who wish to do more extensive research will be referred to the Family History Library, where they will receive help in the use of original sources. And everyone will be encouraged and helped to contribute the results of their research to Ancestral File.
Located on the Fourth Floor, west wing, are 68 additional computers dispersed through 26 guest rooms. Available by reservation, the rooms will be for small- or medium-size groups interested in family history, such as tourist groups, family organizations, priesthood quorums or youth groups.
Brother Brooks expects a high demand for use of the FamilySearch Center.
"We get regular inquiries from the Chamber of Commerce and the tourism council. They want to know when we're going to open so they can book their tour groups. When the convention groups start coming in here, there is going to be very high usage."
Vacationers in Salt Lake City who visit the Church's family history facilities often change their travel plans so they can spend more time researching their ancestry, he noted. Some are curious about why the Church is so committed to ancestral research. Many are surprised to learn that Church family history centers are located near their homes and are available to them.
"People just don't realize the missionary impact the FamilySearch Center is going to have," he remarked.
The center will be open Mondays through Saturdays in the summer from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and in the winter from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Brother Brooks said the opening date for the center has not been announced.