They’re calling it the “museum of me.”
It’s the FamilySearch Discovery Center, a high-tech, high-dazzle experience for acquainting people with their individual family heritage.
It is series of fun and interactive stations aimed primarily at youth from 12 to 18 but expected to wow their parents and grandparents as well.
FamilySearch International showed off the new Discovery Center, the first of its kind in Salt Lake City, at a grand opening Feb. 11. But FamilySearch also gave throughout the week, to attendees at RootsTech 2015, a sort of appetizer for the three-day family history conference that convened in Salt Lake City on Feb. 12-14. (Because of early press deadlines, the Church News will feature coverage of RootsTech in the issue of Feb. 22 and prior to that in online news articles.)
Located in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building just west of the FamilySearch Center, the Discovery Center offers a personal experience to attendees who have a FamilySearch.org account. (Church members who have an LDS account through lds.org can log on to FamilySearch with their user name and password.)
“This is a prototype center that we’ve put together and have been testing,” said Merrill White, a FamilySearch manager. “The project has taken about two years to get to this point, but about October of last year, we started bringing in groups, specifically youth groups. We’ve had over 4,000 youth come through so far.”
They have loved it, Brother White said.
Upon entry, a visitor is given a tablet computer on which he enters his FamilySearch login. This becomes the visitor’s personal guide as he or she takes it to any of the individual stations.
At the “Discover My Story” station, the visitor puts the tablet on a docking pad. This opens up a heroic-size touchscreen that tells the visitor the meaning of his or her first and last names, how many people in the United States have that name, what was happening on his or her birthdate, etc.
Docking the tablet at another station, “Explore My Story,” unfolds a large map on which are displayed icons representing the visitor’s ancestors going back eight generations at the locations on the map where they were born. Zooming in reveals a closer detail of the birthplace, right down to street level. By touching on an icon, the visitor can find out more about that individual ancestor, including any photos or stories that have been submitted to FamilySearch by relatives.
Yet another station features a three-dimensional room showing what a home would look like in any given year in the United States between 1823 and 1895. (This feature is intended to be expanded later with a wider time frame and global locales.)
In this “time machine,” visitors “can see what life was like for their ancestors,” Brother White said.
At another station, the visitor can sit in a comfortable room and record his or her own family story by answering recorded questions posed by a skilled interviewer, or go into an adjoining room and do less structured recording, perhaps involving a grandparent or other family member.
Based on the testing and trial going on at this center, a smaller Discovery Center will be open this summer near Seattle, Washington, Brother White said. “We have some partners working with it as well,” he said. “One is being done in Philadelphia in connection with the Museum of the American Revolution.”
Centers will be developed on a smaller scale elsewhere, such as interactive stations at kiosks located at some of the Church’s hundreds of family history centers.
Speaking at the grand opening, Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department said that the two existing Discovery Centers, “are built in a way that we can discover how to build them better over time.”
“From these two facilities we will be discovering how we can replicate this experience in other locations,” he said. “Our hope is that over time, we will actually be able to extend some of the technology into your homes.”
Dennis C. Brimhall, FamilySearch CEO, said, “For a number of years we’ve asked ourselves why people are interested in family history. And we’ve always said if we could figure that out and crack that nut, we could get more people involved.”
He said the fundamental reason that has been determined is that people have a basic desire to discover. “It’s an innate curiosity we have about ourselves and particularly our ancestors.”
He identified the Discovery Center as “a place where people can start off with a desire to learn about themselves and move from there to learning about their ancestors and digging in deeper.”
The FamilySearch Discovery Center is free to the public and open Monday through Saturday. Walk-ins are welcome, but registration is recommended, particularly for family or youth groups. Visits can be scheduled at FamilySearch.org/discovery.center.
The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.