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It is a major decision to gut a floor of the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake, that hasn’t seen a significant change in construction in decades, especially when the library’s collection only continues to grow.
Yet, that counter-intuitive move is what the LDS Church just did to create the new Family Discovery Experience, a center that uses the most cutting-edge technology to bring family history to life with personalized, interactive exhibits.
It’s about intriguing and enticing children and their parents to fall in love with their own legacy and those who went before.
A smaller version of the Family Discovery Experience has been tucked into a corner of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building for awhile, but because it was always under such demand and too small for busloads or other large groups, the Church has opened this second, updated, enlarged center as an invitation not only to church members but to the entire international community to come and explore their roots and find their connections.
The center combines a bit of magic with meaning that appeals to all ages. In fact, it was children who were demonstrating each part of the technology to the older guests who came to the grand opening Tuesday.
Enter the Family Discovery experience and you are given an iPad where you can personally sign in to your LDS account, access your own ancestry, and then move from exhibit to exhibit, docking your iPad for a customized, and we might add, very fun, experience.
Who are your relatives? At one docking station, you can quickly see your famous relatives as photos or paintings line up, including those who came on the Mayflower, famous world leaders and U.S. presidents, apostles and prophets and more. (By the way, I am Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s 7th cousin. Who knew?)
You can also discover if you are related to anyone who visited the center that day. (Do you have a cousin roaming around the exhibit you never met before?)
Where in the World?
At another docking station, you can access your entire family tree that includes a map of the world showing where they all came from and when they were born. You can find who was the first in your family to be baptized and how they migrated.
In Front of the Green Screen
In another location, you can take a photo of you with the background of a place that matters to you.
You are able to choose whether you want a photo in front of a temple or heritage site, choose from scores of photos for a location, and then plant your feet on the floor in just the right place, and flash goes the camera. In only a matter of seconds you see yourself in the location you chose—perhaps in jolly, old England where your great grandmother was born.
Who Wore It Well?
Put your Ipad on another docking station and you see on the screen before you what percentage you are of each nationality. (Scot was 1% Japanese.) Then, if you stand just right you can appear on the green screen in the clothes of one (or several) of those nationalities. You might look especially good in the native costume of Germany or in a dress with an apron from Romania.
What Was Happening When You Were Born?
Another intriguing experience is learning what was the big news and trends in the world when you were born. What were the popular songs, the bold headlines, the sports teams of the day? You can find out the same for the birth year of any of your relatives who were born in the 20th century.
Ties that Bind
Still another experience is pulling up your family fan chart, choosing an ancestor and accessing all the stories and photos available in FamilySearch for him or her.
The photos come up on the big screen and you see images of relatives that will forever be inscribed in your mind.
But Wait, There’s More
The Family Discover Experience has rooms for recording your family stories. It has rooms designed to absorb children’s interest, while their parents pull up family history on a bank of computers. And when your experience is finished, everything you’ve done and learned that day will be emailed to you, so you can hold on to it and share it with other family members through email.
Yet, what is delightful and intriguing about the Family Discovery Center is not just the innovative tools. It is that same sense that grabs anyone who starts to do family history. Something feels so good and so right, that you are carried along, forgetting the clock.
Sister Joy D. Jones
At a ceremony to open the center, Primary General President Joy D. Jones said, “Technological advances have brought family history out of the darkness and into the light.”
When she first came to the Family Discovery Experience, she said, “It reached out and grabbed my heart. I studied information I didn’t even realize existed in my ancestor’s personal lives.”
She said, “I literally lost track of time and had to pull myself away.”
“Why was I so attracted to this experience? Why did it captivate me so completely? I can tell you it was the feeling. It was the feeling. I yearned to know more about [my ancestors] because their stories define who I am.”
She continued, quoting Elder J. Richard Clarke, “Through family history, we discover the most beautiful tree in the forest of creation is our family tree.”
She said, “We must be the connection between the generations before us and the generations after us.” By bringing our children through this center, it will increase their ability to face the challenges.
Quoting Bruce Feiler, she noted, that research shows that there is a significant link between how successful children are and how much they know about their families. Children who know about their families tend to do better than other children when facing challenges. They have a stronger sense of control over their lives, have a higher self-esteem, believe that their family functions successfully and believe that they belong to something bigger than themselves.
Elder Bradley D. Foster said, “The Lord wants us to know who we are. When we understand who we are in relationship to God and other people we treat other people differently.”
Elder Dale G. Renlund noted that this new Family Discovery Center was all about identity, family, heritage and eternity.
The Importance of Family Memory
Stephen T. Rockwood, the President and CEO of FamilySearch International said that 2600 years ago there was a wonderful father named Lehi who decided that he needed to leave his homeland with his family and then realized that they had forgotten something really important without which they would lose their identity, their language and their belief in God. He sent the young people in his family back to get the plates who could do what was physically necessary to go get the records.
When they returned, Lehi was in his tent and eagerly took those records where he discovered his genealogy. Inspired, he was filled with the Spirit and rejoiced and began to prophecy.
That same joy felt in the discovery of his heritage will be felt by children and their parents and grandparents who come to this new Family Discovery Experience. And, Rockwood said, holding up his cell phone, this center is just the beginning. FamilySearch is looking to the day when this experience will be available across the world on people’s cell phones.
It’s not just about turning the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the fathers to their children. It is about fortifying all against whatever future winds may blow.