Department Spotlight—The Content Strategy Team

Steve Anderson interviewed David Ouimette, manager of Content Strategy, about his team’s role at FamilySearch. Following are some highlights from the discussion.

What exactly does your team do?

The Content Strategy Team—Camille McMurtry, David Ouimette, Jillian Badger, Mike Mansfield, Robert Raymond, Suzanne Adams, Trish Tolley, and Whitney Peterson—identifies and prioritizes records in each locality and time period worldwide for family history research. We do this by:

  • Prioritizing historical and modern populations and cultures
  • Identifying records for family history leading to family temple work
  • Analyzing coverage, condition, and genealogical value of records
  • Forecasting demand for and usage of records
  • Targeting records in each locality and time period
  • Prioritizing camera placement

Of the countless records you have to deal with, how do you prioritize them all?

We assess the genealogical value of records and their coverage of historical and modern populations. We seek records that help people:

  1. Connect to living memory (e.g., 20th-century records)
  2. Locate ancestors over broad geographical areas (e.g., censuses)
  3. Identify ancestors uniquely (e.g., vital records that help minimize temple duplication)
  4. Trace ancestors (e.g., parish registers)
  5. Trace descendants (e.g., wills)

We have developed a content strategy for each U.S. state and for each country, targeting the key records for family history research. We scope out each type of record—it’s priority, population coverage, relevant time period, estimated volume of materials, and key archives. We work closely with Field Relations, comparing negotiation opportunities with archival priorities to recommend specific record collections to pursue.

How about cultures with oral traditions for preserving and sharing family history, like those found in countries throughout Africa and the Pacific Islands? How do you deal with those records?

Oral histories typically name early ancestors and their descendants down to the present. These histories may span a half dozen or more generations. In some cultures, the oral tradition uniquely preserves names and family relationships not found in written records. We’ve accompanied Osei Bonsu, Field Relations Manager over Western Africa, in meetings with tribal leaders and those who keep the oral tradition alive in Ghana. FamilySearch conducts the oral interviews, transcribes the names and relationships, digitizes the genealogies, and publishes the tribal histories online. These oral histories, now available on labs.familysearch.org, will eventually appear in the mainstream search experience on www.familysearch.org.

How do you see your team helping members get more names to the temple?

Our goal is to provide the greatest number of people with the greatest number of useful records for family history leading to family temple work. We assign high priority to government and church records of births, marriages, and deaths, as well as census and immigration records. We select records that satisfy current and anticipated demand in key countries. Today, most of our cameras are distributed across the United States, Latin America, and Western Europe. We have recently recommended moving dozens of additional cameras into Latin America to meet immediate needs; we recommend sending a dozen more cameras into specific countries in Africa to meet future needs. We will also see more camera capture soon in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Oceania.

There seems to be a great sense of urgency in your work.

We feel an urgency to provide records for LDS members to connect with their ancestors for family temple work. We also feel a great urgency to preserve key records at risk of destruction around the world. For instance, when preparing to visit with a civil registrar in Nigeria, we were counseled to not mention the Nigerian census. During our tour of the archive, we observed the poor storage conditions and the great need to digitize and preserve the birth, marriage, and death registers. However, I was not prepared for what we saw in a storage shed we inspect

ed at the end of the tour. We walked in and found sheets of paper and softbound volumes strewn across the floor. We stood on piles of apparently worthless paper while the registrar pointed at the stacks of vital records books. I looked down at the soiled documents on the ground. We stood on the Nigerian census, a record we would not be able to preserve, yet one of the best record sources available to reconstruct families throughout the country. We see this far too often in many developing countries.

Another example of a record at risk is the census of India. Each decade the government conducts a census in India, recording individual names, family relationships, residences, and birth details for each person in each family. After tabulating statistical results, the government destroys the census. The government will soon destroy the 2011 census, which enumerates over 1.2 billion people, roughly 19% of the world’s population. We seek to preserve these records for future family history research.

What do you see in the future for these and other countries where we haven’t had a big emphasis on family history in the past?

We anticipate increasing camera capture dramatically in years to come. Take a look at Latin America. There is huge growth in the number of people getting involved in family history and family temple work. Latin America shows tremendous growth in membership and commensurate escalation of record digitization. More cameras will flow to the archives in Latin America in the near future. We expect an increase in indexing as well, enabling many more members to find their ancestors and connect families.

I see Africa and India only one step behind Latin America. In a generation or two we will see the same thing happening in Africa and India that we are seeing in Latin America today.

 What exciting things do you see happening in 2013?

In 2013, FamilySearch will publish hundreds of millions of digitized documents for family history research in dozens of countries. We will translate the website into ten languages, reaching a much broader audience. The new user experience with trees, records, and stories will appeal to many people just beginning their family history. We will increase dramatically the number of recent records published on FamilySearch, helping engage beginners immediately.

FamilySearch will collaborate extensively with more commercial affiliates, resulting in hundreds of millions of records digitized, indexed, and published online. We will also expand our volunteer workforce in many countries, publishing millions of indexed records in many non-English languages, especially Spanish and Portuguese.

LDS members unable to access the Internet will be given special help to record their family history, preserve their stories, document their recent generations, and do their family temple work.

We have a lot of exciting things coming this year. I am excited to see the direction the Family History Department is going to make products and resources available to members throughout the world. This is truly the Lord’s work. I love seeing it unfold in such a marvelous way and enjoy working with the wonderful members of the Content Strategy Team to do our part.

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