SALT LAKE CITY — If you haven’t been to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in a while, you might drop by to explore a new attraction.
Known as “the discovery experiences,” the feature is on the library’s main level and grabs the visitor’s eye immediately upon entry. Its technological dazzle is designed to appeal to people of all ages, whether they are genealogical novices or experienced researchers.
The 10,139-square-foot attraction includes more than 100 custom iPads (each visitor is issued one upon entry), 44 touch-screen monitors and 42 computers. Six compact recording studios beckon visitors to create free, high-definition audio and video recordings for preserving family memories, such as conducting interviews with grandparents or other family members.
“Discovery experiences” at the Family History Library was introduced Feb. 7 to coincide with the annual RootsTech conference. At a grand opening on that day, Elder Bradley D. Foster, an LDS General Authority Seventy, said the new attraction will broaden the library’s appeal.
“This beautiful Family History Library has massive collections of records, genealogies and other information about families, names and date,” noted Elder Foster, executive director of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “But now it can add more to that. It can help you discover who you are, where you came from, why your parents or grandparents came here. It will be a wonderful opportunity to find how you fit into this new journey of humanity.”
Elder Foster said he hoped the facility would be “the start of something eternal: families gathering families unto our Heavenly Father.”
The typical experience of a visitor was captured by Sister Joy D. Jones, general president of the church’s Primary organization, in a talk she gave at the grand opening.
“It reached out and grabbed my heart,” she said of the new feature.
“Upon entering, I was handed my own personal iPad to dock at each station, and it only took a matter of minutes for me to become completely engaged.”
With the iPad, the visitor is invited to enter a login name and password or other identifying information linking him or her to the church’s massive genealogical database and extensive family tree at FamilySearch.org. The key is thus turned for that individual’s session with “discovery experiences.”
Sister Jones said that at one station she viewed an electronic map showing the geographical locations where her ancestors had lived or from whence they had emigrated.
“I became aware of historical leaders and distant family members in my family tree and studied information I didn’t even realize existed about their personal lives, about their unique struggles and about how they overcame them,” she said.
“I was actually reading what is in my genetic heritage. On TV, we often hear the (advertising-slogan) question, ‘What is in your wallet?’ Perhaps the appropriate question today would be, ‘What’s in your genes?’”
Moving with her iPad from station to station, Sister Jones said she felt a renewed determination to work on her history “as well as the need and urgency to reach out to older family members to encourage them to record their memories to capture, preserve and share while they are still able,” she said.
At one station, Sister Jones said, she posed against a green screen where an electronic photo could be generated that simulated her standing “on a beautiful hillside location of Denmark, the land of my ancestors.”
“The picture, surprisingly, brought tears to my eyes. It created such an immediate connection to family and culture I don’t yet know. It also reminded me of our sons who comment time and time again that they always feel emotion when they hear Scottish bagpipes, a significant reminder of my husband’s Scottish heritage.”
After she turned in her iPad and left the library, the experience lingered with her through an email that was sent to her from the library documenting the different aspects of her time spent with “discovery experiences.” To her, they seemed like “puzzle pieces of the past” helping her to assemble a clearer view of her family heritage.
Thus, she was able to relive the experience that night during family home evening. “I realized I could easily email these findings to family members in an effort to enliven their desire to join in the fun and spirit of family history.”
Posing the question “Why did it captivate me so completely?” Sister Jones answered: “It was the feeling! I felt connected to family members here and beyond the veil. I yearned to know more about them because their stories define who I am.”
Though it is new to the library, the “discovery experiences” concept is not new to Salt Lake City. A prototype was introduced two years earlier at the nearby Joseph Smith Memorial Building, and similar facilities have been opened in other locations since. This larger facility will meet the demand that the one at the Joseph Smith building could never quite accommodate, although the earlier one will remain open for visitors who come to that building for receptions and other purposes.
With the larger capacity of the new facility in the library, “we’ll see people from all over the world, from all faiths, all homelands,” said Steve Rockwood, president and CEO of FamilySearch.
“The opening of this discovery center is the first major change in the interior appearance of the Family History Library in several decades,” said Elder Dale G. Renlund of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “This multimillion-dollar project enables personal interactive exhibits to connect families with their ancestors. It in many ways is a gift to the community. It’s a gift for families. It is a gift for groups large and small. It’s terrific for students in schools and for them to come and have these experiences.”