David Rencher Receives Rare, Prestigious Genealogy Award

February 5, 2020  - by 
David Rencher holds award

David Rencher, chief genealogical officer (CGO) of FamilySearch and director of the Family History Library, received the prestigious Certificate of Appreciation from the American Society of Genealogists at its annual meeting on November 2, 2019, in Salt Lake City. Rencher received the certificate “in recognition of his vigorous and visionary efforts to serve the aims of scholarly genealogy at the Family History Library and at FamilySearch.”

The society rarely gives the award, bestowing the accolade only on those who make outstanding contributions to the field of genealogy. Rencher is the 18th recipient of this award since the society was incorporated 73 years ago.

Rencher, a diehard advocate for the family researcher, has made a career of promoting the industry. Below, we have highlighted just a few of his significant contributions to the genealogical community.

Family History Library Service

In the last 20 years, Rencher has twice served as director of the Family History Library. He began serving as the director of the Family History Library in 1999, and in 2002, he became the director of the Records and Information Division. In 2008, he became the CGO for FamilySearch. Since 2018, Rencher has assumed both duties.

The Family History Library is respected among genealogists worldwide for its diverse collections of historically important genealogical materials organized for ready access online and in the library. In addition to maintaining the library’s research materials, Rencher oversees some library outreach programs such as webinar classes, putting materials online, and authorizing new affiliate libraries.

Scanning Books

Books for scanning

Rencher initiated the book scanning program for the library collection during his first administration as director of the Family History Library. More than 458,500 have been digitally published online to date.  He and his staff are currently working to replace books removed during the digitization and to expand the library collection, which already includes more than 600,000 items. Through his efforts, the library is helping to identify other public libraries to digitally publish historical books of genealogical relevance online.

Increasing Indexing

During his service in the Family History Department, Rencher has also been instrumental in the production of the automated indexes for the Social Security Death Index records, the 1880 United States census, the 1881 British census, and the military casualty files for Korea and Vietnam.

Family History Library missionary smiles at the camera

Adapting to a Changing Genealogical Landscape

Changes in research have developed rapidly in recent years, and Rencher works with his staff to meet these changes at the Family History Library.

“The landscape has been completely erased and redrawn [at the library]. It is like night and day literally between now and the ’80s and ’90s. We have collections online I’d never have dreamed would be available in seconds,” Rencher said. “For example, church and vital records. To actually see vital records of deaths and marriages online—we didn’t even conceive of such thoughts when I began 39 years ago.”

The collections at the library continue to expand exponentially as the library adds books, documents, and other artifacts to its archive.

Providing Research Assistance

Rencher and his team work to invite more than just the scholarly community to enter library doors. In the collections on four levels of the library, scholars and amateurs alike pore over books, documents, microfilm, and computer screens to sort out the details of their families’ pasts.

Trained associates are on hand to provide free assistance, and research classes are available at the library and online. At the same time, the main floor is devoted to engaging family history discovery experiences for people of all ages and cultures—inviting them to come inside, participate, get a feel for their ancestry, and capture and preserve memories for posterity. Special event activities throughout the year enhance that goal.

Creating Discovery Experiences

Family group enjoys discovery experiences at Family History Library

Under Rencher’s direction, the library is now working to grow the interactive discovery experiences on the main floor directed at younger age groups and others unfamiliar with family history research. Additionally, the library hosts special events throughout the year to include all people and cultures.

Working with Staff

To best serve FamilySearch’s and the Family History Library’s joint efforts, Rencher relies on the expertise of his deputy chief genealogical officers and reference specialists, who assist in ensuring the genealogical soundness of the products and services offered by FamilySearch. They serve as ambassadors for FamilySearch to genealogical and historical societies, libraries, and archives to maintain relationships for partnership opportunities.

A Family History Library assistant helps patrons

“They provide an enormous public relations function as representatives of FamilySearch,” Rencher said. “I have an outstanding team to oversee the library, and skilled genealogists and trained volunteers who help visitors find success,” he added.

Involvement in the Genealogical Community

Rencher is a proponent for the continual development of tools to encourage family research across the industry. In that capacity, he reaches out to other genealogical organizations to encourage them to make records more available, broaden enthusiasm for the process, and raise the standard for the outcomes.

As vice president of development for the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), Rencher helps establish fundraising priorities and goals and oversees fundraising activities in the broader genealogical community, including choosing records to digitize in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). These efforts augment the work that FamilySearch does and reduce digitization costs to FamilySearch.

Family does genealogy on computer

Most recently, Rencher supervised raising funds for the multimillion-dollar War of 1812 Preserve the Pensions Project. Through this effort, digitization of these genealogically rich records is nearing completion. About 80 percent of the records are available for free access indefinitely through Fold3.com

Rencher is also the former chair of the FGS Records Access and Preservation Committee (RPAC) and now serves as a committee member representing the FGS. The RPAC is a joint committee made up of representatives from the FGS, the National Genealogical Society (NGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).

For Rencher, the objective of family history is to promote family connections. While building the library collections and increasing access, he continues to champion the craft by aiding genealogical societies to make their records more accessible and create meaningful family experiences.

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  1. In the very early days of Family History, when internet genealogy was only the library catalog on the computers at our local family history center, my companion volunteer, a young man, and I were packaging the rented microfilm in order to return it, he remarked that the day was coming when all these film would be readable on the internet and we wouldn’t have to return film. I laughed! I said with all the film available to patrons from the library and the vault, it would never happen – to many film. I wish I could find this individual now and tell him that he was so right.

  2. I am so grateful for all the advances that were made in genealogical research and for David Rencher’s accomplishments. Every one of them has greatly increased the success ratio any genealogist has! I remember spending 10 hour days doing research at the library and wishing they would lock me in overnight. I remember some days finding maybe one name or one family when I first started. The Soundex for the 1880 census was the first big improvement I saw and it just kept getting better! Today I spend hours a day doing genealogy from my own home and find sometimes names by the score. I completed a letter written in 1889 with all of the descendants of 14 children up to 1889. I had 31 pages of written family descendants. In the past this would was impossible because often it didn’t give locations of residence. It might say where they lived in 1889 rarely gave dates of birth for many people. I was able from home to find every one of these people and add information up to the 1900s. I used census records, scanned books, marriage and birth records, death records and city directories all from my desk at home! My gratitude is overflowing for these blessings!

  3. Hi My name is Vickie Martin. I think this is awesome. I’m glad there is someone out there that realizes that family history is more than just looking for your family name and where you came from. I’m not sure how to navigate the Family Search site. I get frustrated and confused about how to make it work for me. Any suggestions is greatly appreciated.
    Thank you.

  4. What remarkable achievements! So glad to have read this. Congratulations to David Rencher on his well deserved award!

  5. It is great to have an inside view of what goes on in the Family History Library from so accomplished a person. This speaks well for the focus direction of FamilySearch.org and all the affiliate organizations. When I read this I think of a friend who visited the Library and speaks highly of the help received that enabled her connect with her Quaker roots and discover several generations. She’s planning to return — which is no easy trip for someone who lives in Virginia.