9 Questions for David Rencher, FamilySearch CGO and New Family History Library Director

August 21, 2018  - by 

The world-renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a new director, David Rencher, FamilySearch’s Chief Genealogy Officer (See news release: FamilySearch CGO David Rencher New Family History Library Director). Rencher will continue to serve in both roles and sees them as very complementary. 

This will be Rencher’s second time at the helm of the world-renowned library (he was the director from 1999–2002). And since that time, he has been around the block a time or two. And, well, the world for that matter as his leadership responsibilities for FamilySearch have demanded.  He actually started his career at the library 40 years ago as a British Reference Consultant, and although his role and responsibilities have changed over the decades, the genealogy bug in him is vibrant as ever.
 
We polled the FamilySearch community to see what questions you’d like us to ask David considering his new appointment as the library’s director. Here are the 9 top questions and his replies.

  1. This is not your first time as the director of the Family History Library (FHL). Why the return now, and what are some of the biggest changes you see?
     
    I was the library director 1999–2002. During that time, we did an extensive remodel in preparation for the 2002 Olympics. Since that time, the FHL has had another major renovation adding the Discovery Experience (See Family History Library Unveils Salt Lake City’s Newest Attraction) on the main floor as well as the addition of computers on other floors. My return to the library will allow the current director, Diane Loosle, to fill a role in the newly created Business Development area, and together we can tag team on the development and operations of new business units.
     
    The biggest change is the shift to a younger demographic. Transitioning this new generation of interested family seekers into users of the broader set of FamilySearch products and services will be a key focus of the library.
     
     
  2. Will you also continue as the FamilySearch CGO? How will you balance/manage the two roles?
     
    I will continue my role as CGO with the current CGO staff. This is a very seasoned team with years of experience in the genealogical community. They will all continue to engage in their present functions and assist in other areas of the library. We have added Thom Reed to the team for African-American community relations. We are also adding Todd Knowles to the team for his network in the Jewish community. As we move forward, others will be given CGO functions to expand and build the network of relationships throughout the community.
     
  3. The Salt Lake City Family History Library new director, David RencherWhat have you seen and learned as the FamilySearch CGO that will influence you as the library director and might impact future initiatives at the library?
     
    In the CGO role, I have had a lot of interaction with the development teams at FamilySearch. Particularly the Family Tree and Search teams. New initiatives at FamilySearch will continue to be integrated into the assistance provided in the FHL and throughout the FamilySearch library system (FamilySearch has over 5,000 satellite branches globally called “Family History Centers” and hundreds of affiliate libraries).
     
    Future initiatives in the FHL will focus on the patron experience for those of all levels of research skills. We have a great team with an extensive amount of genealogical expertise that will be supplemented with the domain expertise from throughout the department.
     
    Of necessity, we will continue to look at possible renovations that will move the patron experience forward and continue to expand the number of people assisted each year. Visitor experiences must include all ethnicities. For example, we are currently experiencing a growing number of Chinese visitors, and we anticipate this number to grow. We want to give them personalized discovery experiences.
     
  4. How has technology impacted the FHL? Family history centers?
     
    Technology has completely changed the landscape of genealogy in the last ten years. While only a small portion of the world’s historical records have been digitized and posted online, the coming years will see that effort grow exponentially (See UPDATE: FamilySearch Digital Access Replacing Microfilm). With that, our ability to index and publish online material will need to keep pace. New historical record collections will require better integration of the experience in the FHL and family history centers.
     
  5. What do you see as the future role of the FHL?
     
     The library will be the flagship of the FamilySearch in-person experience for all ages and skill levels. This experience will extend quickly to the regional FamilySearch Centers and family history centers. it will also be a great experience on mobile devices. This will invite more people to enter their living memory into the system and share across generations of enthusiast.
     
    There will be a renewed emphasis on the professional development of the staff. We will be exploring different models to include other domain experts in the reference experience, including many others in the community, both local and beyond. Events will celebrate the cultures of homelands around the world. A key component will include online training drawing from the knowledge and expertise of the community at-large.
     
  6. What are the biggest challenges in planning for the FHL’s future?
     
    The biggest challenge will be keeping up with technology and people’s expectations of what can be done with their ancestry. DNA will take family history to new heights and family connections will become easier to make with distant cousins. Augmenting DNA connections with historical genealogical records will create a well-sourced history of the human family.
     
  7. Will you, as the FHL director, also be responsible for FSCs, FHCs?
     
    As Director of the Family History Library, I will also be responsible for the Regional FamilySearch Centers and the guest experience in the family history centers. Operations in the family history centers regarding updates to computers and furnishings will be handled by the operations function.
     
  8. Can you recall the moment or experience when you first realized you had a passion for FH?
     
    My passion for family history sparked at a young age. I transferred to Brigham Young University, noticed the family history classes in the catalog and began taking them. Although I was a business major at the time, I changed majors within a couple years.
     
  9. How will the FHL compete with the growing access to online?
     
    The FHL will embrace technological advancements where applicable to expand the reach of its resources to more patrons and grow with it. The FHL also has access to a wealth of resources that are not available online and images of historical record collections which may only be viewed in one of our facilities. Hundreds of thousands of microfilms still need to be digitized and published as well as maps and other media types. The professional expertise to use, interpret, and connect families is still available in the FHL.
     
    Live classes are taught in the FHL by both resident staff and visiting genealogical experts from throughout the world. Both young and old are having an incredible opportunity with the immersive Discovery Experience on the main floor. From there, they can go directly to other resources in the library and continue their search.
     

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Comments

  1. The Family History Library is wonderful, but we can’t all get there, so what else can be done for the many who live far away overseas as I do?

    The great assets of the Family History Library is the expertise found there, the marvelous classes offered and access to all of the microfilms.

    In Family History Centres we lack the expertise help available there and no longer have access to microfilms. Are there suggestions you can make?

    I eagerly await the digitization of films I’m not able to access yet. I appreciate the work that’s being done to get them ready for us.

  2. I have two questions that should be a major concern at the library and at FamilySearch. What time schedule does the FHL have for digitizing books and microfilms that aren’t currently digitized. What are FamilySearch’s plans (and time schedule) for incorporating DNA findings into the existing Family Tree database? I’m sure there are a lot of people who want to know the answer to those two questions but don’t know how to ask.

      1. Laurie Bradshaw, what an informative answer. Thank you. The article you suggested is one I had read. I read it again to see if I missed anything. Under Quick Facts and Tips, it says microfilms should be digitized by 2020.

        But what about books? I looked at the FAQ. Apparently there are no plans to digitize them all. Or perhaps they plan to restrict access to some which are (or will be) in digital format. Some books and records that are digitized are restricted access. They are available only from computers in the main libray in Salt Lake City and in larger Family History Centers throughout the world. That solves my first question.

        What about DNA? I clicked your link to “GetSatisfaction.” The link takes me to the FamilySearch Forum where I can join the rest of the community asking common questions of FamilySearch. There are 126 topics related to DNA. Replies by FamilySearch employees to these topics inform us that neither DNA nor any other information can be added to living people that can be shared publicly. However, one reply said there is a way to share DNA info on the profile page of a deceased person. I followed this suggestion and was successfully able to add yDNA results for my father by creating a custom fact under the Other Information field. Just click +Add then “Custom Fact.” Hats off to Laurie Bradshaw for directing me to these great solutions.

  3. Dear Mr Rnedell, As a man who at 86 years of age, and who does not really uder stand computers and the language, I wish you all the very best of luck now you are back in the helm. I call in at your church here in Helston Cornwall, England and get the help and expertise that I need all the time of each visit at the genealogy department. Although I am not a member of you church. So please tell them a big thank you from Graham Williams

    1. Dear Graham Williams,

      I wish the person you addressed your comments to and every other one of the 16 million members of my church could respond to you and tell you how much each of us appreciates kind comments like yours. I’m not the person you addressed this to. I’m just an average member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But as someone who has served two full-time missions working as a volunteer in the Family History Department in Salt Lake City, UT, I think I can speak for others who also serve there and throughout the world, your kind words are very much appreciated. May God bless you in your endeavors as you visit your local “genealogy department.”

      Sincerely,
      Ron Vincent
      Family History Consultant

  4. Can you set up a better way to get user suggestions to someone with the authority to actually get something done. Every time I visit the FHL I suggest to the staff that you need to add all the townlands of Ireland to your place names. They admit that this is so but tell me they are just missionaries so have no real power. How do we get our requests to someone who can actually implement them?
    Please do not suggest Get Satisfaction. The staff does not answer and the other users are often busybodies.

  5. I have just visited the Family History Library..we are from Las Vegas and wanted to look at a book by Norman Crowder about the Crowders. I was told in 2012 it was supposed to be scanned, along with several others my husba nd was looking for on the Rainbolt line. The sister said she knew right where they were in outside storage. They realized they needed to be checked for copy right permission. So instead of moving forward with the project each of the books which had been taken apart were bound together with a rubber band and remains there I in storage..I had planned and driven up to specifically see the book hopping to get some information on my William Crowder. Is it possible to look into the problem? Thank you.

  6. I am a indexer of Family Search, and am a member. Of the website for a lot of years now. but if I wish to do a search for myself, when I come across a find. I cannot open it if I am not a member of the LDS , or I need to pay to see it on another site.
    It seems you are quite happy for me to index your pages for FREE, for your members, but then will not allow me access to my searches unless I pay.

    Seems very wrong to me. I indexed many of the USA 1940 census records when they first came out.

    Kind Regards. Alan Long
    Dublin . Ireland.

    1. Alan, I’m so sorry!

      FamilySearch’s goal is to make records available to everyone possible. Sometimes contracts with archives or other partners limit the ability to do so. Some of these contracts include limited access restrictions and so they can only be viewed at a Family History Center or Family Search affiliate library. FamilySearch is making every effort to reduce restrictions through ongoing negotiations. For additional information go to
      https://www.familysearch.org/ask/salesforce/viewArticle?urlname=Restrictions-on-viewing-an-image-in-Historical-Records-1381813525118

  7. Not sure if this is already being done, but are those who volunteer at the family history centers engaged in digitizing records when they aren’t helping patrons or are they encouraged to only do their own research? Seems like a valuable resource. When I’ve gone into the Family Search center I see volunteers chatting with one another when they aren’t busy. Just seems a shame to not utilize their precious time contributing to this monumental challenge.