Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

More about the changes in Family History Centers

In my recent post about the closure of the Utah South Area Training Center and the remodeling efforts and closure of the Mesa FamilySearch Library, (See Are Family History Centers Changing?), I received several speculative comments. In response, here is a quote from Elder Allan F. Packer in the October, 2014, General Conference.
Doing the work now is much easier and limited only by the number of members who make this a priority. The work still takes time and sacrifice, but all can do it, and with relative ease compared to just a few years ago. To assist members, the Church has gathered records and provided tools so that much of the work can be done in our own homes or in the ward buildings and the temple. Most obstacles have been removed. Whatever your past perception, it is different now!
 His talk goes on to explain:
However, there is one obstacle the Church cannot remove. It is an individual’s hesitation to do the work. All it requires is a decision and a little effort. It does not require a large block of time. Just a little time on a consistent basis will yield the joy of the work. Make the decision to take a step, to learn and ask others to help you. They will! The names you find and take to the temple will become the records for “the book.” 
Even with the dramatic increase in member participation, we find that relatively few members of the Church are regularly involved in finding and doing temple ordinances for their family. This calls for a change in our priorities. Don’t fight the change, embrace it! Change is part of the great plan of happiness.
As I go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, what do I see? Hundreds of people using computers. Much of what they are doing in the Family History Library could be done from their own homes. I have recently been helping a friend with his family history research in Mexico. We have found a number of family names for him to take to the Temple. What is significant is that all of this research has been done from his own home. We have yet had to take a trip down to the very close Brigham Young University Family History Library.

I think it is significant that the comments made in response to my post were made by people who do intensive and complicated research. But even those the are extremely involved in family history are often unaware of the resources online. I am not saying that access to microfilm and books is not important, but look at the "average" Family History Center. I visited one this past week and I am quite certain that there were no resources available there that I could not get in my home except those provided through the Family History Center Portals. In short, many Family History Centers today have two main functions; providing a place to view rental microfilms and providing a place to use the set of "free" programs available through the Portal. Every time I go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah it seems that they have added more computers. That perception might be wrong, but there are fewer patrons who are using the books and other resources. What if all the FamilySearch microfilms were digitized and available through What if all the books and other resources in the Family History Library were available online? Why would I travel to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City? Isn't this exactly what they have been saying they are going to do?

Now, we can get into a long discussion about whether or not you can do "real" research from your home computer and about the fact that "many records are not yet digitized," but the reality is that even very experienced researchers are almost entirely unaware of the wealth of information that is available online. For example, whenever I mention the digitized books on the website, even to experienced researchers, I usually draw a blank look. Very few of them, in fact almost none of them, realize what it means to have over 250,000 books online to research.

Yes, I agree with Elder Packer. The present circumstances call for a change in our priorities. What we are seeing may simply be a reflection of that change and the results of the reality of the huge flood of information about family history going online. What I am doing with my friend, in his home, is exactly what is happening to the Family History Centers and should happen around the Church. It is apparent that Family Discovery Centers are one innovative way to transform the moribund Family History Centers into a real resource.


  1. Question on the digitized books. I assume you talking mostly about the Surname Family books. Right? So many books on the site say something like "you do not have privilege to view this item." And it didn't use to be that way. I also noticed the wonderful Community Trees project has now been shut down, so one cannot access the info on European Royalty, and so forth. Maybe it is all copyright stuff.

  2. Kathryn Grant, whose dad ran the Utah South FH Center, said that the stake president of that region said they needed the rooms the center was using for other purposes, and that they could not find another affordable site. Very sad, and speaks volumes about priorities.

  3. I agree with your comment that much that is done in Family History Centers could be done at home. One important component of a Family History Center is getting assistance from knowledgeable staff members. Many people prefer learning from another person, and almost everyone learns better from hands-on, one-on-one training.