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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.