This last week I had the opportunity to speak about family history centers. Family history centers are a part of my responsibilities at FamilySearch.
Over the past several years FamilySearch has been articulating a strategy to bring all possible records online. This began in earnest last year and is accelerating. Many millions of names and images will be posted this year and the pace is accelerating.
FamilySearch has also been working to provide a robust family tree where individuals can collaborate on their genealogical findings and come to good conclusions. This tree was launched more than a year ago and while it has a long way to go to be all that we would like to have, it is a good start with many great capabilities.
Lastly, FamilySearch has been engaged in bringing help to patrons worldwide. This began as an initiative to support patrons with the new software being released by FamilySearch, but quickly began to expand into answering genealogically related questions. FamilySearch has published more than 45,000 pages of help content and released more than a hundred online training courses over the last two years. The help content pages have been viewed more than 170 million times and the training courses have been taken more than 200,000 times.
All of this work and focus towards online capabilities have caused many to say that family history centers are dead. Many have asserted that they are a relic of the past that provided film circulation and other services that are all planned to be online.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I think that many of these individuals who are predicting the death of family history centers are likely the same individuals who forecasted the death of retail. I seem to remember many people saying that virtually all shopping would be online and that we would have no need of most retail. Somehow retail seems alive and well to me. Online shopping has grown, but at the same time, retail has remained a strong a vibrant service for consumers.
Why doesn’t everyone shop online? There is an immediacy in retail that online can’t yet match. There is a tactile experience in retail that online can’t match, and there is a service element that online can’t match. This is also true of family history centers.
Not long ago FamilySearch was doing some study on what patrons value most. The groups mostly included those who were only somewhat involved in family history. When given a description of family history centers and their services these individuals were amazed. “You mean I can go to a location in my community where someone will help me with my family history… for free?” was one of the questions posed. There was tremendous excitement about this possibility, and a little skepticism that it seemed a little too good to be true. Each of them seemed to be waiting for the catch.
This is the promise of family history centers. This is the future of family history centers. To bring help person-to-person wherever those trying to do family history are located.
Over the next few years family history centers will get a service facelift. We are working to provide a more rich set of services. These services are being tested in family history centers around the world now.
I expect that within the next year you will be able to take your family history documents to a family history center and they will be able to digitize them for you. They will also be able to help you to upload them to the family tree on FamilySearch so that they are preserved for generations to come.
Family history centers have long been a source of training. This role is being enhanced and many new centers are being equipped with state of the art training facilities to help this role to develop and grow.
Family history centers are alive and well and form a key part of the plan to provide help anywhere, anytime, and in the best way possible to help individuals to find their ancestors, find more about their ancestors, and have their hearts touched and their spirits refreshed as they learn about themselves which finding their ancestors.