Steve Rockwood, president and CEO of FamilySearch International, recently spoke to those in attendance at the 48th Annual BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. He acknowledged that “time is extremely valuable” and shared his hope that after his remarks participants would say, “that was worth my time.” Whether one is involved in family history as an avocation, a vocation or a religious obligation, Rockwood hopes that FamilySearch will continue to provide the experiences that will “serve the world” in discovering their family history.
Rockwood threw a “curve ball” to the audience by opening the session with a Q&A. After recording general concerns in a notebook he carried, he asked the question, “As you engage in [family history] tasks, what do you become? Even more importantly, what becomes of those in your family?” He acknowledged that family history is “an extremely emotional work.” He believes that these emotions are equated with the Spirit of Elijah. He referenced Galatians 5:22-25 and Ephesians 5:8-9 and expounded on these strong, positive emotions as being “divinely planted” and that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel that this is the Holy Ghost. He stated that, “We are here to save families. We are here to save THE family.” He reported that only 2 percent of LDS members would respond to the call of doing family history when they were told “here’s a chart; here’s a record; here’s a computer.” So FamilySearch decided to “turn the model upside down. [FamilySearch is] going to start with stories.” Stories are not a “niche” like genealogy. Memories and photos are a place where “all the people on the earth” can participate. This is an area that attracts more young, single adults and statistics show a greater participation by the millennials.
As for the changes happening in family history, Rockwood stated that, “we all have to learn to adapt.” He used an analogy to make his point, asking those present if they remember what was said during the transition from an agricultural to urban society. The older generation expressed both fear and concern. He said, “Family history is in that space.”
Family history is “a sacred work to those who are LDS and a universal work for everyone.” Rockwood described Elijah, the prophet who restored the power and authority to seal families on the earth through temple ordinances, as a “spectacular prophet, an exciting prophet” and a prophet who was “NOT boring. Just think of the Mount of Transfiguration!” He emphasized that the work of family history “above all else, it must be a spiritual effort.” He encouraged participants to “come in the Spirit of Elijah: learn, understand, execute.” Rockwood stressed that “the squeaky wheel does not get the grease” at FamilySearch. The organization prioritizes “kind feedback.” He stated that as we counsel together under the spirit of inspiration “we’ll know what to do.” Rockwood shared his vision of Family History Centers being “the most fun, spirit-filled place for youth.” He stated that FamilySearch will “honor the genealogical standards.”
Rockwood then discussed the 5 experiences revealed at RootsTech earlier this year by sharing a scriptural story of the family of Lehi found in 1 Nephi 5. In this chapter Lehi’s sons return from obtaining the brass plates. In verse 10, Rockwood pointed out, Lehi “took the records … and he did search them from the beginning.” Lehi then finds on these plates “a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph … who was sold into Egypt.” Rockwood shared that after Lehi’s discovery “he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy concerning his seed—“Rockwood then asked, “Where’s your Jerusalem?” A person’s Jerusalem is where that individual’s ancestors’ records are and FamilySearch seeks to obtain copies of those records to share with the world.
The mission of FamilySearch is to help individuals discover the history of their families in the following ways by providing:
- Searchable Records—“Indexing is vitally important” to this effort.
- Memories—“Memories are core” in this pursuit.
- Contextual help—FamilySearch seeks to provide assistance in the languages and countries of individuals, onsite and through technology.
- Family Discovery—both high and low tech experiences that are “packaged so that it will have a taste of the tree and get [family members] excited.”
Rockwood acknowledged that the availability of resources depends “on your Jerusalem.” He discussed the fact that efforts in the past have focused on obtaining British and Scandinavian records. Individuals of other ethnicities have had fewer records when seeking their ancestors. The focus is now shifting to obtaining more records of an international scope. He estimated that it will take approximately 3 years to digitize all of the microfilm in the Granite Vault.
FamilySearch continues to look for partners to provide technical and nontechnical solutions to deliver services that will help the world discover their families. Rockwood continued, “It is our hope that you will help us and lead in this effort.” He closed by asking those in attendance, “Who in your family specifically can benefit from the things that you learn in the next few days?” Family History is a life-long learning opportunity, but more importantly it is a work that can exalt families and bring them unto Christ.