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

August 21, 2018  - by 
David Rencher, new director of Family History Library

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 Rencher
    What 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.

    1. At our FHC here in Mn, we are continually identifying the many genealogical pamphlets that our local society has collected. They are outlined, scanned to the main library in Salt Lake to see if those are needed to be included into FamilySearch. It has been a big project but is almost completed. I hope other centers are doing this to include manuscripts in the vast library information.

  8. David Rencher, Director
    Lynn Turner
    Fritz Juengling
    I feel compelled to write and share my sincere appreciation for the outstanding collaboration among the professional and personable staff at the Family History Library and in particular the B-1 staff.
    My name is Dee Hert; I research “Germans from Russia” and belong to several organizations to facilitate this knowledge.
    I have visited the B-1 floor for years; consistently staff has been professional, courteous and informative. Gradually the collaboration between staff and Germans from Russia interests have resulted in enhanced working relations.
    Dr. Fritz Juengling extended an invitation; to teach Germans from Russia classes to the professional B-1 Germanic staff. This honor was accepted and I invited Shari Stone to join. Classes have been presented for a year. The positive response to the unique culture of the Germans from Russia has been inspiring. It is my understanding that this teaching approach is new; obviously Dr. Juengling is willing to open new avenues of education. Patrons benefit from increased Germans from Russia knowledge. As a result of this training an outgrowth of enhanced collaboration resulted in the interest in expanding knowledge of FamilySearch with other organizations. Dr. Juengling’s approach is positive and supportive; I appreciate his suggestions for improvement.
    One of the Germans from Russia organizations I belong to is the “American Historical Society of Germans from Russia.” (AHSGR.org) I am affiliated with the local chapter of AHSGR; Intermountain Chapter.
    The local chapter is willing to assist the FHL, for example we purchased a set of maps from AHSGR and donated them to the library.
    I am a past president of the local chapter and presently Membership and Activities Chair; my personal mission is to expand awareness of our culture and increase collaboration.
    The AHSGR international convention convened this year, July 23-27, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Mid-July the idea of taking staff to convention as speakers was discussed by Dr. Juengling. This was short notice for staff and AHSGR. AHSGR was agreeable.
    The team selected to present was:
    • Ellie Vance, employee at the FHL.
    • Annette Adams, volunteer and former missionary and former intern.
    • Taieno Kaiser, former intern at the FHL.
    The team drove to Nebraska and were prepared to present the following day. The three ladies were amazing; they represented the FHL at its best. The convention attendees expressed amazement at the tools and techniques available at FamiySearch and CommumityFamilySearch. The ladies presentations were well received by the convention attendees. The decision to attend was very short notice but the performance was nothing short of professional by all. We had last minute presentation room adjustments and unexpected alterations to the master plan. All was well; each person was not only professional but courteous and friendly to all. The ladies worked the crowd and were encouraged to return next year. Presentations also included a previously scheduled live webinar by Ellie Vance, not only successful but outstanding in all regards. She and the team are treasures. The ladies are consistently supportive of each other.
    My personal goal was to increase collaboration with AHSGR; the ladies were a huge success, goal accomplished! The 2020 AHSGR convention is scheduled July 28 – Aug 1st in Pasco, Washington; continued collaboration with the FHL and other organizations would be win-win for all.
    Ellie, Annette and Taieno deserve the highest praise and recognition possible. It is apparent they possess all the skills and excellent training as interns necessary to be not only professional but also exceptional research specialists. The FHL intern training and their participation was an outgrowth of FHL efforts.
    Shari and I were honored to be part of this project and look forward to additional activities; whatever we can do to assist.
    High phrase also must be extended to Dr. Juengling, for without his forward thinking approach we would have missed the opportunity to collaborate with AHSGR and had the opportunity to watch the staff shine as brightly as they did.
    I hope this project results in future collaboration, perhaps AHSGR and other outside groups will select Salt Lake City as a host site. Efforts to promote the Germans from Russia culture is welcomed.
    I am available for questions.
    Dee Hert

  9. I have worked in the centers with the microfilms and microfiche and worked through the beginning of technology when you had to have the IBM model of computer to get the most up to date genealogy program and as a
    Teacher, I had an Apple. It was very frustrating. Then the PAF PROGRAM was done away with and of course I had generations and generations of information in my
    PAF and the software wouldn’t upload. Yes, I made a GED.com file. I broke it down into smaller family files and then tried to get it to upload some dead but I couldn’t get them all to especially the Curtis file it was the largest. So I’m so glad that things have evolved and it’s much easier and there’s more information for me to be able to access and things are easier to do at first family church was very difficult to work with very slow and very difficult. But it’s much easier now and I am so glad much is your to be able to teach other people how do use it and that’s a relief so I’m glad for the increase in technology that were able to use in the development I’m in my 80s now I’m still working on genealogy and have a new line to work on so thank you family search.