This video is an interview with Dennis Brimhall, the CEO of FamilySearch International, exploring the remarkable things that are happening in the world of family history.
The hottest ticket in Salt Lake City last weekend was for the RootsTech 2015 Conference. Crowds lined the halls of the Salt Palace. Classes on topics like DNA testing were standing room only. Innovation was applauded. The atmosphere was electric.
Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International said, “They used to say anybody who says family history is fun has never done family history or has never had fun.”
Not so anymore. This RootsTech conference began in 2012 with 3,000 participants. This year more than 20,000 attended, representing 49 states and 37 nations with 170 exhibitors.
What makes it the largest family history conference anywhere is that many sessions were taped and will be broadcast at several family history conferences around the world in the months to come. Last year these talks went to 1183 different locations to a total of 200,000 people.
It wasn’t just technology that made this a “not your grandmother’s genealogy” conference. Part of the excitement was the 1,000 teenagers who attended with their families on Saturday, for a special LDS session featuring Elders Neil L. Andersen and Elder Quentin L. Cook.
Something is happening, a swelling of excitement with technology to match. As one noted, “It’s a great time to be a genealogist, because we are seeing revelation fulfilled.”
Put away your old way of doing family history and fasten your seat belts because we are going to warp speed.
A Friendly FamilySearch
Brimhall said, “People who don’t do family history say one of these things: I don’t have time. It’s too hard. I don’t know where to start. Or it’s all been done.” The question becomes how to help them overcome those objections and dive into something that is really fun, as intriguing as a mystery with ah-ha’s along the way.(It’s notable that Sherlock Holmes himself showed up at the conference.)
FamilySearch has worked to answer those objections. Before Brimhall directed FamilySearch he worked in the healthcare industry and saw that all the efforts there were made from the doctor out. The doctor’s needs were met long before the patients needs in large healthcare systems. He determined that instead FamilySearch had to be from the user in—that the most important thing to create was a friendly, accessible user experience.
The staff of FamilySearch were given assignments to go visit and observe those companies (like Four Seasons Hotel) that were particularly known for their customer service and make careful notes. What did theses companies do to help the customer have a top-notch experience and want to come back for more?
Employees made extensive notes and analyses on what these companies did. They were told, “We want you to take what you’ve learned and write a story about what it would be like if a FamilySearch user had a perfect experience. We need to design to make that happen.”
“Now we have some people who are experienced in the best customer service in the world.” Brimhall said.
Colors were changed on FamilySearch. Accessibility and help features changed. The capacity to add stories, documents and memories were added. Since the standard was the perfect experience for the customer, the technical engineers were constantly on hand to make adjustments. Little things make a difference.
“I wanted to find out what somebody who was not a skilled genealogist experienced when they came to FamilySearch. I am pedestrian at family history. I know that if I am having trouble working on the site than others are as well.:
This means the FamilySearch site is constantly improving with three or four adjustments a day. “We’re not 100% there toward that ultimate user experience, but we are a solid 35% with more changes coming every day.”
The result is that 30% more people are using the site—a phenomenal increase. Think what it would mean if 30% more people came to sacrament meeting or 30% more people were baptized a year. This is significant.
Partnerships of Power
“Then,” said Brimhall, “there came a blinding flash of the obvious. We don’t care where people find their ancestral name. We just hope they’ll find them.” The idea of partnerships was born.
The LDS Church FamilySearch has partnered with the top names in family history research like Ancestry, My Heritage, Find My Past , New England Genealogical Society and most recently AmericanAncestry. Brimhall said, “Our purpose is different than these groups. We have no competitive goals. We said, ‘Why don’t we figure out a way to share?’ The result is that 3-1/2 times more unduplicated records are available to our members.
However, since Church members assembled the records from years of devotion and unpaid offering, FamilySearch negotiated a free membership for Church members in most of these sites. These can be accessed here. https://familysearch.org/partneraccess While not every record available on these sites is in this free access, vast new vistas of records are available.
Seasoned genealogists say using a combination of the records on all these sites allows them to open more doors than ever before. MyHeritage will have some records that Ancestry doesn’t have and vice versa. A much easier complete picture of your family tree can be created using all the partner sites.
In addition to these partners, FamilySearch.org/apps has tools for your mobile devices that make this all easier than ever before.
Do you want to find where an ancestor is buried? There’s an app for that.
Do you want to have your family tree in a quick download for your mobile device? There’s an app for that.
Do you want to plot your family tree on an interactive map to see all the places where your ancestors were born? There’s an app for that.
Start exploring. You can’t believe what’s available right at your finger tips. And if it’s not available today, it will be tomorrow.
Take a Hint
Do you have critical missing information on an ancestor? This piece of the jigsaw puzzle may be closer than you think.
A new tool that practically puts the missing information in your lap on a given ancestor is the “hint” button. The hint links you to records that may give you the very information you’ve not been able to find yet by pointing you to documents that were previously unavailable.
Somebody else did all the work in your family and you think you are off the hook? Think again. This vast field of family history can still be fun for you, too. Not only is more information available than ever before, but now you can do the work for cousins as well through descendancy views and Puzzilla. Videos are available to show you how to use these, but the main idea is this. Go back to your fourth or fifth great grandparents and begin to check their descendancy to see if their temple work has been done.
You’ll tap into lines—your cousins– whose work hasn’t been done. So many people are reporting that now they have their own names to take to the temple that they never have had before.
You’ll hear the idea repeated more and more that we are to do the work for our ancestors and their descendants. This won’t be hard to accomplish with Puzzilla and descendancy views.
In a world where technology is moving at a breakneck speed, applying it for family history purposes is also moving fast. Wherever there is a technologist, there is a family history buff right at his or her side finding out how to apply what’s new to genealogy.
Because of that, RootsTech 2015 sponsored an Innovator Showdown. 51 innovators with enterprising ideas or new technology competed against each other for the final four spots and cash prizes worth $25,000. Judges and audience got to weigh in on the winners.
Here are the final four cutting edge ideas.
Storyworth makes recording family stories easy. Each week Storyworth emails their customers a question about their life. They can be questions like “What is some of the best advice your mom ever gave you?” or “Did you ever pull any pranks?” or “How did you meet your wife?” Users respond via email with a written story or record their stories on the phone.
Storyworth automatically lays out the stories and privately saves them on the site. In time, with minimal effort and using only technology that’s already familiar, users create their personal histories, one story at a time.
Stories are at the heart of family history and make new connections between family members. These questions prompt a sharing that doesn’t always come up in every day conversation. Don Anderson, FamilySearch senior vice-president said of this winning idea, “StoryWorth hits all the right notes, helping users ask questions they would otherwise never think to ask, and get answers they’d never expect.”
ArgusSearch is a handwriting recognition technology that may be a breakthrough in searching un-indexed digital images of records. It uses similar technology to facial recognition technology already available, but goes to a new level with 98% accuracy.
This may make the indexing process much faster in the future.
GenMarketplace: Do you have a genealogy research question, a fact to fill in, a missing piece of information? This is a new program that will match your research need with the experts all over the world who may be able to help you.
LucidPress makes putting together digital family books online in a way that is beautiful and sleek with intuitive design.
RootsTech reminds us that searching for your ancestors means finding yourself—and now you can do it in a way that is easy and—yes—fun.