LDS Church’s new Family Search Discovery Center offers high-tech, interactive approach to genealogy

Posted at 6:18 PM, Feb 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-15 20:22:36-05

SALT LAKE CITY – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been helping people discover their family history for many years, but a new take on genealogy is making the process more advanced and interactive than ever before.

Brigham Skarda is a youth host with the new Family Search Discovery Center in Salt Lake City, and he said he’s already learned some interesting things about his family.

“I've learned that my 64th grandpa was a Gothic king, so that was pretty cool,” he said.

Leaders for the LDS Church decided to give serious consideration to the question: What does it take to get more people involved in their family history? Some of the answers to that question have made their way into the new center in Salt Lake City. Dennis Brimhall, Managing Director for the LDS Church’s Family History Department, spoke about the shortcomings of previous approaches.

"What we realized is that our family history centers, to a certain degree, become like computer laboratories, so people went, and they weren't family-oriented, and they just... people did research."

The new take on family history is the Family Search Discovery Center.

“It’s an engaging place for people to discover about their ancestors, that's different from the old days when you'd sit down at a computer or go through a bunch of records in a library,” Brimhall said. “…When we thought about it from the patron's standpoint, what they wanted to see, they wanted something that was engaging, that was using technology, that they could see and touch, and have their kids see."

The centers feature interactive stations, some with large touch screens that do more than just teach people about their ancestors. Elder Alan F. Packer, a member of the LDS Church’s First Quorum of the Seventy, said the interactive approach is a better fit, especially for kids.

“Youth particularly are excited because they have a natural interest in technology, they want to find out who they are, and we put the two together and we have that experience of discovery,” he said.

Brigham said he appreciates the chance to interact with his family history.

“My last name is Skarda, and it means 'sour face,’” he said. “So, you know, it's not necessarily a good name, but I thought it was cool."

Tristen is another youth host who said the interactive approach is exciting.

"I was surprised to see how many places I came from,” she said. “I didn't even know that I had like a third great grandma who lived in South Africa or something. I never knew that about myself."

While building the "Museum of You" at the center, visitors can also record their life experiences or take a photo of themselves from another time.

"So if you're German, it would take a picture of you as a German person, and it just puts your face on it,” Brigham said.

The LDS Church is opening a smaller version of the discovery center in Seattle and is looking to open a center in Philadelphia that's geared toward people looking at Revolutionary War ancestry.

"I've learned what makes me special,” Tristen said. “What makes me unique, and I think that's really important."

The Family Search Discovery Center is located at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, 15 East South Temple in Salt Lake City. The center is open to the public, but only by appointment. The center can accommodate groups of up to 24. Click here for more information about the Family Search Discover Center, and click here to schedule an appointment.