New Tools on FamilySearch.org Appeal to Broader Audience

  By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer

  • 26 July 2013

New enhancements to FamilySearch.org help people make connections with their ancestors and collaborate with their living relatives. 

Article Highlights

  • FamilySearch.org has more to offer than research and indexing.
  • New features, such as the ability to share family stories, photos, and research, make the site more appealing to a wider audience.
  • The free site is designed to invite people of all ages to participate in family history work.

“When people become involved in family history, they will have heart-turning experiences.” —Paul Nauta, senior marketing manager for FamilySearch

FamilySearch.org is one of the premiere websites for doing family history work, and it recently received some significant enhancements. “Many members may have the notion that they have already seen everything on FamilySearch.org,” said Paul Nauta, senior marketing manager for FamilySearch. “If you think your family history is complete, you need to visit the new site.”

FamilySearch.org is packed with features that help move family history beyond research and indexing to appeal to a broader audience that is also interested in family stories and photos. “We all treasure memorable family photos and ancestral stories that inspire, amuse, or connect us,” said Dennis C. Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch. “Families can now share and preserve for posterity those social heirlooms that help vitalize their family history.”

In the past, members of the same family have duplicated research because one person didn’t know what the others were working on. By bringing all of the research online with FamilySearch, family members have a central point to communicate, share and divide responsibilities. On FamilySearch.org, individuals can collaboratively build their shared family tree, starting with themselves and then expanding to past generations. “Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us,” said President Ezra Taft Benson (Ensign, June 1971, p. 33).

Access and use of the website costs nothing, and the design is crisper and easier to understand. It was designed as a way to invite people of all ages to participate in family history work. “When people become involved in family history, they will have heart-turning experiences,” said Brother Nauta. “We want members to have fun experiences with family history, starting in Primary with activities—interesting and awareness-creating activities.”

All of the features and services on FamilySearch.org are available in 10 languages. A robust collection of free how-to videos and other online resources are available as well. Just click on the help button on the site for more details. Below are some descriptions of the new features and upgrades:

Family Tree Wizard: This tool is a resource for those just starting their family history. In an inviting interview style, the tool asks questions about a person’s living and deceased ancestors and then builds connections into the Family Tree to get users started on their own family history. Users can see the status of their family tree in a colorful fan chart or the traditional pedigree view.

The improved Fan Chart has a 360-degree format. It also includes interactive features that allow users to see a family tree in new ways.

Photos: Users can attach photos and documents to any ancestor’s profile in a family tree. The photos can be shared with family members in a family line. Once the family photos are in the system, they can also be shared through social media. More than 600,000 photos have already been added by users to the site.

Stories: With this feature, users can write, preserve and share favorite stories about a specific ancestor in the FamilySearch Family Tree. Family members remember fun or inspirational stories about an ancestor far longer than names and dates. Users can save and contribute the popular stories and honored memories. 

Interactive Fan Chart: In 2012, FamilySearch tested a feature that enables individuals to see their family tree in the context of a colorful fan chart. Millions of fan charts were printed from the website. This feature has been enhanced to be easier to read and more interactive.

Live Help: Interest in family history is growing worldwide, and FamilySearch has launched a global online community that provides free product help and personal research assistance by phone and web chat 24 hours a day—in 10 languages.  

Notifications: Set up an email account to receive updates about changes to your family lines in the Family Tree. If a great-aunt attaches a photo, document or story or adds new information to an ancestor’s file, a person can receive an email notification that a change has been made.                                                                                            

The intent behind the enhancement of the site with improved features is to broaden family history’s appeal to those who don’t consider themselves researchers or genealogists, especially youth who are talented in the digital world and with social media. “So many of us are involved with family history and we just don’t realize it,” said Brother Nauta. “I look at all the social networks today—they are basically family history platforms. People are sharing what they’re doing from day to day, what they’re interested in, and friends and family are finding that interesting and sharing their own thoughts. All of that is family history.”

Advances in technology, strong alternatives from third parties and the need to focus on the latest FamilySearch initiatives have diminished the need for Personal Ancestry File as part of the FamilySearch offering. The Church’s genealogy software program Personal Ancestral File (PAF) was discontinued on July 15 after almost 30 years. This means the PAF program and updates will no longer be available for download and no more support will be available for existing users. 

Stories about ancestors can be shared on the updated website so families can get to know their predecessors.

Even if an ancestor’s information is not available, FamilySearch adds more than a million images of historic records and newly searchable names almost every day. “With the amount of records being added, things can change in a family line quickly,” said Brother Nauta. “It’s important to check back often.”

Concerning participation in family history work, President Boyd K. Packer said, “No work is more of a protection to [us] than ... genealogical research. ... No work is more spiritually refining. No work we do gives us more power” (The Holy Temple, p. 265).