Imagine that you received a beautifully wrapped gift. Would you simply set the gift aside and fail to open it or find out what was inside? I fear that many of the members of the Church will gain access to the three online genealogy websites and, just like my hypothetical, fail to take advantage of the gift they have been given and in a real sense, fail to open the gift. There are several reasons why this might happen. I would like to list a few of those reasons. But first a little background.
FamilySearch has negotiated agreements with MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com and findmypast.com. In each case, over the next few months, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will receive an email inviting them to participate in these three online programs for free. Over the past few weeks, in classes and conferences, I have discovered that most people familiar with genealogy are aware of Ancestry.com merely from their saturation advertising. On the other hand, sometimes only two or at most, three people in a large class have heard of either of the other programs. The following list analyzes the reasons why these other two database programs are relatively unknown.
One other note, this is not at all intended to be a criticism of the FamilySearch agreements. They are wonderful and fantastic. As genealogists in the Church, we now have an opportunity to capitalize on this arrangement and seriously increase genealogical activity in the Church. This post is directed at that effort and the understanding and attitudes of the general Church population both interested in genealogy and those who are not.
Finally, here are several reasons why members may fail to take advantage of this opportunity.
1. Lack of previous knowledge of the three programs.
Even though a significant number of people have heard of Ancestry.com, among genealogists generally in the United States the other two programs, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com are relatively unknown. The qualifier here is the genealogical community. There is no doubt, that MyHeritage.com, for example, has millions of users worldwide. I simply find lack of knowledge of these programs to be generally the case in the Church.
2. Lack of interest in genealogy in the general Church population.
As I have quoted in previous posts, there is a relatively small percentage of the Church who actively participate in genealogy. This lack of general interest translates into an even smaller percentage of the participating population who are aware of the online genealogical resources presently available.
3. The need to become actively involved in an online family tree in order to utilize the advantages of these online programs.
For some time now, I've noted that the general demographics of those inside the Church who are interested in genealogy indicates that they are less computer literate and less inclined to participate in an online family tree program than younger populations of users, most of whom are outside of the Church. For example, at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, the Church Service Missionaries were early recipients of invitations to use the three online programs. Although the invitations were received some time ago, I find a significant number of the Missionaries who have yet to take advantage of the invitation. I attribute this to the lack of understanding or of the need for these online programs.
So, there are different levels of nonacceptance that need to be overcome in order to utilize these programs i.e. "opening the gift." First, the potential user must be convinced of the need for an online family tree. The reality is that I have been personally trying to get members to put their genealogical research into FamilySearch.org for some time without success. Even if a member is currently using FamilySearch.org, they may not see the need to use other programs with which they are unfamiliar. The invitations themselves do not come with any instruction, links to any instruction, or explanation of the way to take advantage of the three programs. It is my guess, without prior instruction most of the members who receive these invitations will ignore them for the above reasons.
How do we overcome this problem? There needs to be a serious concerted effort by the knowledgeable family historians and genealogists in the church to educate as many members as possible to the advantages of the three programs. Of course, this will also involve educating the knowledgeable genealogists. It is interesting to me, that we have known about this impending arrangement for many months and yet an examination of the class listings of several large family history centers fails to disclose any changes in the subjects of the class offerings to accommodate the new programs. For example, the upcoming Saturday seminar schedule at the large Riverton FamilySearch Library does not include any presentations on any of the three programs. Likewise, the Salt Lake City Family History Libraries class schedule for the next week also has no classes on these new programs. I could go on.
It is my opinion, that unless there is a change in the general awareness of the need to educate members concerning this fabulous opportunity, very very few will take advantage of it.