Church breaks ground for first-of-its-kind Family History Center

Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd


In the block south of the 138-year-old St. George Utah Temple, ground was broken Saturday for a first-of-its-kind Church family history center, one that will combine family-friendly interactive technology with traditional genealogical research.

The 13,500 square-foot St. George Family History Center will open in late fall of 2016 and will be free to the public. The address is 250 E. 600 South.

The Church operates 4,800 family history centers worldwide, but this one will be special, said Dennis Brimhall, CEO of the Church’s FamilySearch International.

“Not only will it be one of our busiest family history centers, but we are building into it a concept that’s a bit different,” he said.

Many people are not interested in or ready to do research, he noted. “They need to just start a journey of discovery.”

Hence, the new facility will incorporate a “museum of me,” Brother Brimhall said, a “discovery center” where, through technological wizardry, visitors can learn more about themselves and then extend that out to their ancestors, who are likely documented in FamilySearch’s vast database of genealogical information.

A similar such FamilySearch Discovery Center, introduced last February in connection with the annual RootsTech Conference, is currently operating at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City (see this link to learn more about the Discovery Center:

“It’s by no coincidence that we’re this close to the temple,” Brother Brimhall said. An earlier site was chosen a bit further away, but there were delays.

“Every time it got delayed, this got closer to the temple,” he said. “Sometimes we say, ‘Why do things take so long?’ Well, sometimes they take so long because the Lord is waiting for us to finally understand what He wants. He wanted it closer to the temple, and it couldn’t be a better location.”

Church members do family history research consistent with their belief that ordinances of salvation can be performed vicariously in temples for their deceased progenitors.

On Aug. 22, the Church will dedicate a similar family history discovery center in Seattle, Washington, within a stake center next to a temple, Brother Brimhall said. In a year or so, one will be opened in the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia and, later, one will be built in London, England, he said.

“So this concept of having people come and discover, then go from discovery to research and then building family trees is a concept that is beautiful and what I think Heavenly Father wants.”

Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy, executive director of the Family History Department, presided at the groundbreaking.

He said St. George is an area of “firsts” in the Church, as pertaining to family history research and temples. The St. George Utah Temple was the first to be built and dedicated after the Mormon Pioneers’ exodus from the East and settlement of the Utah territory in 1847.

He noted that Elder Wilford Woodruff as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1877 had ordinances performed in the St. George temple for the Founding Fathers of the United States, who had appeared to him in vision.

Thus it is fitting, he said, that this unique new building, designed from the ground up as a combination family discovery center and family history research facility, would be built in St. George.

In the eternal scheme, the building is temporary, “but I would suggest that we build something in parallel with the building in our hearts and in our minds that will be permanent,” he said.

He enjoined listeners to create family traditions of personal worship that include family history, “the preserving, the finding, the creating of past and future history. You can do it first; you can be the example for others. I can see it. You can do it.”

Conducting and speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony was Elder Terry L. Wade, an Area Seventy in the Utah South Area.

“This building will be about families and for families,” Elder Wade said. “It will provide a place for us to discover and become better acquainted with our ancestral heritage, and there are few things that are more exciting than to connect with that heritage.”

He shared a personal experience in which he had been traveling with Elder Packer to a stake conference at which Elder Packer invited attendees each to write a story about an ancestor and submit it to website.

Elder Wade accepted the invitation and wrote of Jasper Carolina Wade, his great-grandfather, telling of how his own love for the scriptures was inherited from that ancestor, whom he never knew.

Diane Loosely, director of patron services with oversight of some 4,800 family history centers across the world, told local attendees, “You’re going to have an amazing opportunity to reach out to the members here in the area and also to those who are not members of the LDS faith and introduce them to that spirit, that longing to know more about themselves.”

Attendees at the invitation-only event included civic leaders, area and local Church leaders and their spouses, members of the St. George temple and mission presidencies, members of the local interfaith council, Church family history staff members and missionaries, and the directors of the St. George Temple Visitors Center.

Currently, the St. George FamilySearch Library is located at 162 N. 400 East, Bldg B, Suite 200 and will remain open until the new facility is completed.

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