As we travel around and visit different Family History Centers, the contrast between centers is remarkable. The differences are evident even in the same town or city. Some Family History Centers are full of people and finding a place to work can be a problem. The staff in such centers are busy the entire time they serve. The contrasting Centers are those where there are no patrons at all. Dedicated volunteers' only activity is to unlock the door and turn on the lights. Otherwise, there is no activity evident.
What is the difference?
I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on why some Family History Centers seem to be busy and others look a little bit like this Nevada road shown above. What is even more interesting is that the level of family history activity of the wards and stakes that participate in a particular Family History Center is directly related to the amount of activity in the Family History Center. There can be two wards that share the same building and one can have a high level of activity and participation and the other's activity can be nonexistent. In this case, the activity in the Family History Center is generated by the active ward.
It would be easy to attribute the difference to the level of involvement of the ward leaders but that conclusion is overly simplistic. There are some Family History Centers that have a high level of participation but have almost no leader support.
One of the main differences as the degree involved in participation in the Family History Center by those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have observed situations where the level of activity by those who were not members exceeded 70% of the total activity in the Family History Center. In fact, some Family History Centers have a significant number of volunteers who are not members.
One thing that stands out is the involvement and dedication of the Family History Center Director or Directors. If the director focuses on a lack of support from the sponsoring stakes or warrants instead of focusing on attracting patrons and working with those who come then as a result, the Center thrives. Additionally, if the Director and the volunteers actively promote the center and have classes in periodic activities that involve a greater genealogical community consequently the Center thrives.
If the volunteers and the director simply take the position that they are "custodians" of the Family History Center and somehow believe that people will wander in voluntarily without a specific goal or invitation, then nothing will happen. A vibrant Center will have youth activities, a place for young children to play while their parent or parents use the Center's resources, a schedule of classes and presentations, local special interest groups such as those reflecting the ethnicity of the community's population and other such pro-active activities.
The Family History Center should be available to be used during the Sunday School time of the Block meetings. As I have written before, however, genealogy is not a Sunday School class. This time should be used by the Temple and Family History Consultants to help individual members with finding their ancestors and relatives. Quoting from the LDS.org webpage for Family History Center Resources:
Use these resources to help you operate a family history center that invites members new to family history to have personalized experiences finding their ancestors and preparing their names for temple ordinances as well as encourages those seeking to continue their family history efforts to use the resources offered.Even one person who becomes dedicated to helping others and uses the Family History Center as a support for that helping activity can make a huge difference. Quoting from the Family History Center Operation Guide on LDS.org:
Family history centers help Church members fulfill their divinely appointed responsibility to discover their families and submit their names for temple ordinances. Centers are a resource for priesthood leaders to minister in the work of salvation, including missionary work, convert retention, activation of less-active members, temple and family history work, and teaching the gospel. Centers inspire and help Church members engage in family history activities, including sharing and preserving family stories and photos, and indexing. Centers provide one-on-one assistance, training, research expertise, and convenient access to family history resources.If you visit a Family History Center that seems abandoned, then, using your skills and interest in genealogy, you should be helping make it into the vibrant and useful place it should be.