Family history experts are making learning about our ancestors more fun for families, especially youth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened its first Family Discovery Center on Temple Square on February 11, 2015. The opening coincides with RootsTech 2015, a family history and technology conference that runs February 12–14 at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City. The center, located in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, provides visitors a unique and highly interactive experience coupling their family history on FamilySearch.org with the latest computer technology and mobile devices.
“It’s our prototype center,” said Merrill White, manager of the Family Discovery Center. “We want the whole family to come experience it.”
White said the concept of the discovery center began a couple of years ago when FamilySearch decided it wanted to begin offering a new type of patron experience in its 4,800 family history centers worldwide. “We went to the drawing board and tried to create a discovery-type experience for youth and for the entire family so that everyone would feel welcome and everyone could come experience their family history in new and engaging ways,” he added.
Construction on the facility was completed in May 2014. Since that time, thousands of guests have been testing out the new experiences, which include exploring their family tree on a giant virtual map. There are plans to open more discovery centers in the coming years.
Visitors to the center use a customized iPad to interface with large-as-life interactive displays at seven stations to learn about themselves and where their family came from, how they lived and even how they may have dressed on special occasions. “It is supposed to be fun! We even have them take a selfie to begin with because it’s about them and then connecting with their heritage,” said White. Guests can also record a video about themselves or a family member.
White said visiting the discovery center is a social experience. “Children, as they take a picture, they want Mom and Dad or brother and sister to come see it because they know they’re making a place [for] themselves in history.”
The new discovery center in Salt Lake City will continue to serve as a primary development and testing facility to create and improve new experiences that can be offered online and in other family history centers throughout the world. Another discovery center is expected to open in Seattle, Washington, near the Seattle Washington Temple in the summer.
Visits to the Family Discovery Center last about an hour and are free to the public. The center is open Monday through Saturday. Walk-ins are welcome, but online registration is recommended, especially for family or youth groups.
FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources and services to learn more about their family history.