FamilySearch Opens High-Tech Discovery Center in Salt Lake City

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 12 February 2015

Media tour the Family Discovery Center, a prototype center. Based on the testing and trial going on at this center, a smaller discovery center will open this summer near Seattle, Washington.  Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • The new Family Discovery Center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City uses the latest technology to give patrons an "immersive experience" in their family's history.

They’re calling it the “museum of me.”

It’s the Family Discovery Center, a high-tech, high-dazzle experience for acquainting people with their individual family heritage.

It is a series of fun and interactive stations aimed primarily at youth from 12 to 18 but expected to wow their parents and grandparents as well.

FamilySearch International showed off the new discovery center, the first of its kind in Salt Lake City, at a grand opening February 11.

Located in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building just west of the FamilySearch Center, the discovery center offers a personal experience to attendees who have a FamilySearch.org account. (Church members who have an LDS Account through LDS.org can log on to FamilySearch.org with their same username and password.)

“This is a prototype center that we’ve put together and have been testing,” said Merrill White, a FamilySearch manager. “The project has taken about two years to get to this point, but about October of last year, we started bringing in groups, specifically youth groups. We’ve had over 4,000 youth come through so far.”

Chris Cowdell demonstrates how to use an exhibit in the Family Discovery Center at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

The Family Discovery Center “time machine” shows visitors what life was like for their ancestors. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Items families can use during their visit to the Family Discovery Center. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

The Family Discovery Center uses the latest technology to display genealogy, giving patrons an “immersive experience” as they learn about their family’s history. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Facts about a patron's genealogy is displayed in the Family Discovery Center at the Joseph Smith Building in Salt Lake City.
Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Merrill White gives a tour of the Family Discovery Center at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on February 11. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

They have loved it, Brother White said.

Upon entry, a visitor is given a tablet computer on which he enters his FamilySearch log-in. This becomes the visitor’s personal guide as he or she takes it to any of the individual stations.

At the “Discover My Story” station, the visitor puts the tablet on a docking pad. This opens up a heroic-size touchscreen that tells the visitor the meaning of his or her first and last names, how many people in the United States have that name, what was happening on his or her birth date, and other facts.

Docking the tablet at another station, “Explore My Story,” unfolds a large map on which are displayed icons representing the visitor’s ancestors going back eight generations at the locations on the map where they were born. Zooming in reveals a closer detail of the birthplace, right down to street level. By touching on an icon, the visitor can find out more about that individual ancestor, including any photos or stories that have been submitted to FamilySearch by relatives.

Yet another station features a three-dimensional room showing what a home would look like in any given year in the United States between 1823 and 1895. (This feature is intended to be expanded later with a wider time frame and global locales.)

In this “time machine,” visitors “can see what life was like for their ancestors,” Brother White said.

At another station, the visitor can sit in a comfortable room and record his or her own family story by answering recorded questions posed by a skilled interviewer, or go into an adjoining room and do less structured recording, perhaps involving a grandparent or other family member.

Based on the testing and trial going on at this center, a smaller discovery center will be open this summer near Seattle, Washington, Brother White said. “We have some partners working with it as well,” he said. “One is being done in Philadelphia in connection with the Museum of the American Revolution.”

Centers will be developed on a smaller scale elsewhere, such as interactive stations at kiosks located at some of the Church’s hundreds of family history centers.

Speaking at the grand opening, Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy and Executive Director of the Family History Department said that the two existing discovery centers “are built in a way that we can discover how to build them better over time.”

“From these two facilities we will be discovering how we can replicate this experience in other locations,” he said. “Our hope is that over time, we will actually be able to extend some of the technology into your homes.”

Dennis C. Brimhall, FamilySearch CEO, said, “For a number of years we’ve asked ourselves why people are interested in family history. And we’ve always said if we could figure that out and crack that nut, we could get more people involved.”

He said the fundamental reason that has been determined is that people have a basic desire to discover. “It’s an innate curiosity we have about ourselves and particularly our ancestors.”

He identified the discovery center as “a place where people can start off with a desire to learn about themselves and move from there to learning about their ancestors and digging in deeper.”

The Family Discovery Center is free to the public and open Monday through Saturday. Walk-ins are welcome, but registration is recommended, particularly for family or youth groups. Visits can be scheduled at FamilySearch.org/discoverycenter.

Fran Kitto takes a tour of the Family Discovery Center, a high-tech experience for acquainting people with their individual family heritage. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Media tour the Family Discovery Center at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on February 11. The center uses the latest technology to give patrons an “immersive experience” into their family’s history. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.