This past two months, I spent a total of over 25 hours demonstrating FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program to members of my Ward. I was one of the best genealogical experiences I have had lately, but the activity raised some serious issues. One surprising factor was that many of the members of my Ward had an LDS Account to access the online resources of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the other hand, only a very small percentage of the members remembered their login and password. This certainly means that few of the members actually use any of the online programs on a regular basis. This experience occurred during the time of Tithing Settlement and so included almost all of the active members of the Ward. Even among those who were familiar with LDS.org, very, very few were even aware of any of the features of FamilySearch.org.
Overall, the experience of demonstrating FamilySearch.org was extremely positive and a huge success. The established family history related online programs are a fabulous resource. But, considering the huge number of valuable resources on both LDS.org and FamilySearch.org, why would apparently very active members of the Church be entirely unaware of either program? The answer is pretty simple. There is no real reason for the members to look at either of the programs on a regular basis unless they happen to be in a Church position that would require their access to either or both of the websites. Take for example the issue of a Ward Calendar. Most of the Wards I attend as I travel around the country, still rely primarily on a weekly printed program and announcements over the pulpit. I seldom hear a mention of the online Stake and Ward Calendars on LDS.org. Again, the fact that so few of the members of my Ward knew their login and passwords indicates that they are not using this resource. What is even more important, even from the standpoint of an active participant in the online LDS.org website, the Calendar program automatically posts events to my own Google connected calendar so there is no reason to go to LDS.org to look at the calendar.
In the case of FamilySearch.org, unless a member is actively engaged in family history, either by a calling or by personal interest, there is really no reason to go look at the program. Updates and news about FamilySearch.org come through genealogy channels and electronic notices sent to Stake Leaders do not, for the most part, get passed on to the Wards and ultimately, the Ward members. So the general membership is not aware of any of the new resources on the website. One example recently in my own Stake involved some people called to help with establishing an Indexing program for the youth. I had the opportunity to talk to them and found out they had almost no knowledge of any of the online resources either for Indexing or any other website including FamilySearch.org. This likely reflects the fact that the Stake leaders do not know about the online resources either or did not communicate the resources as part of the calling of the people.
Another question raised by my experience is whether or not the introduction we gave to FamilySearch.org and the Photos program will translate into increased interest after the end of the year and all the holidays are over. I did receive considerable initial feedback concerning additional individual experiences with FamilySearch.org's Photo program, but so far, I have not seen any additional interest in being involved in family history as such.
It is very difficult to see how many more people can be motivated to get involved in the basic activities related to searching out their ancestors. I see the Photos and Stories programs on FamilySearch.org to be a huge positive step. I also see the involvement of the youth in family history either by their participation in the Indexing program or by calling youth family history consultants as great steps forward. In my own calling, both as a Church Service Missionary and as a Ward Family History Consultant, I think there is still a huge challenge remaining to raise the awareness level of the members so that there is a path to their participation in the online programs.
During this coming year of 2014, I am planning on making a concerted effort to contact members of my Ward directly and encourage them to become more involved in family history.