The Seattle Family Discovery Center, similar to one operating since February at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, opened to the public on Aug. 21. Several members of clergy and other representatives from the Seattle community were invited to tour the facility. Afterwards, the center hosted a youth and young single adult event with Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International and managing director of the Family History Department of the Church.
Based in a meetinghouse next to the Seattle Washington Temple in Bellevue, the center offers interactive experiences for visitors of all ages to discover, share and preserve family histories and memories. The Seattle Family Discovery Center is a free community attraction funded entirely by the Church. Free tours are available to the public by appointment.
“The purpose of the Family Discovery Center is to help people encounter their families and themselves in an interesting way, with the goal of turning their hearts towards their fathers and their ancestors, and to motivate them to become involved in recording their own history and that of their ancestors,” said center co-director J. Scott Bowen.
"We want people to feel a connection to their ancestors and we want people, when they see the holes that are in their ancestral lines, to feel motivated to go find their ancestors," said Annette Bowen, one of the center's directors.
In the short time since the center opened, Sister Bowen said the community response has been great. "Whether [visitors] have full charts on Family Search, or if they’re just going to start building their family tree, they always say, 'We’ll be back. We’ll be back,'” she said.
Visitors are invited to "Begin My Story" at the first station of the center where each is given a tablet. They log in to their FamilySearch account or as a guest, and use the tablet as a personal guide to interface with the stations. The tablet docks at each station, which has large touch screens where visitors learn more about themselves, view family origins and discover how ancestors might have lived and dressed. Data used for the interactive experience is drawn from online data at FamilySearch.org and select partners.
At the "Discover My Story" station, visitors learn about the origin and meaning of their name and the names of their ancestors. They also learn how many people in the United States share the same name. Additionally, visitors can explore various statistics on the date of their birth from the price of gas at the time to who won the Superbowl that year, if they were born during or after the year it began, 1967.
On an interactive map at the "Explore My Story" station, visitors learn where their ancestors came from. Using this map, visitors see pictures of their ancestors and discover famous historical figures they are related to.
Visitors can further immerse themselves in the past with the "Picture My Story" station, where they can place their face in a photo of a person in historical and national dress through use of a Kinect. This picture, along with all the other data gathered during their visit, is later emailed home as a digital keepsake.
The "Record My Story" station features a high-definition video recording studio where visitors are interviewed and asked questions about their life stories. "We want people to capture their own stories, to realize that if they add information about themselves, even as a living person, that they are doing family history," said Sister Bowen.
The recordings are then archived for long-term preservation so future children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren can access the recording later. Visitors can also bring a USB drive to take home a copy of the recorded session.
“Today, family history research and telling, sharing and preserving family memories through stories, photos and technology are engaging a growing number of individuals of all ages from every faith and ethnicity like never before,” said Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International and managing director of the Family History Department of the Church.
Brother Bowen hopes that when visitors leave the center, that they have a greater appreciation for where they came from. "They are really tied to their ancestors and who they are is linked to who they came from and where they came from," he said.
Construction of the Seattle Family Discovery Center was completed in April 2015 after years of development. In addition to the family discovery centers in Salt Lake and Seattle, FamilySearch has announced future centers in London, England, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ground was broken for a new center in St. George, Utah, on Aug. 15.
The Seattle Family Discovery Center is located inside the Church meetinghouse at 15205 SE 28th Street in Bellevue, Washington. Visitors must schedule an appointment beforehand at FamilySearch.org/discoverycenter/seattle.