Lynn Turner, the assistant director of the Family History Library, has been named the new director of the FamilySearch Family History Library in Salt Lake City, FamilySearch announced Monday, April 11. The outgoing director, David E. Rencher, will continue to be FamilySearch’s chief genealogical officer.
Turner has been the assistant director since 2019 and has worked with Rencher, the director since 2018.
Rencher said that one of the things they’ve focused on is customer service.
“I just really wanted to focus on everybody coming through the door having a really great personal experience,” Rencher said of the visitors who range from “curious tourists” to professional genealogists. “When they come through that door is all about them — it’s not about us. … It’s literally ‘What would you like to learn about your family?’”
Turner said that in addition to continuing to focus on customer service, he wants to finish what they started in the renovation that they were able to do while the building was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The library reopened to the public in July 2021.
Renovations are nearly finished, with work still to be completed in expanding the family archive space, ensuring all of the restrooms are ADA compliant and refurbishing the elevators, Turner said. The family archive space includes photo scanning, audio and video conversion, and memories preservation and is one of the busiest parts of the library, he said.
“The vision has also been [to have] a million people to visit the library,” Turner said. Pre-pandemic, about 400,000 people a year would visit the library in downtown Salt Lake City. Building on that goal, he changed it a little.
“I kind of flipped it on its head and I said ‘OK, how can we actually go to a million people instead of a million people coming?’” he said. They’ve been expanding the Family History Library’s web pages, translating the FamilySearch Research Wiki pages into more than 100 languages, providing online consultations, Record Lookup Services and other online classes and services.
The new director
Turner’s interest in family history started when he was a teenager, and he also received guidance and blessings related to family history work in his patriarchal blessing. It was piqued when he was a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in El Salvador and was helping a man he had befriended who didn’t know his exact birth date or marriage date, which wasn’t uncommon. He helped track down his friend’s vital records and continued to help others do so, too.
He said the experiences from his mission helped him focus on Latin America and Hispanic countries. He decided to focus on Spain with its influence on Latin America. While at Brigham Young University, he was mentored by George Ryskamp, a pioneer in Spanish genealogical research. In 2006, Turner became the first person in more than 30 years to become an Accredited Genealogist in Spanish research — the first since Ryskamp.
Turner graduated from BYU in 2004 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in genealogy and family history and started working for FamilySearch shortly after graduation. He has worked with the convergence of technology and family history, including testing the scanning software developed to digitize FamilySearch’s 2.4 million rolls of microfilms; and helping to develop the foundation of the FamilySearch Wiki. He’s also worked in FamilySearch Research Support, where he oversaw all outside correspondence for Spain and Latin America for the Family History Library.
After the library closed at the onset of the pandemic and the earthquake in March 2020, Turner and Rencher walked through the library to check on it.
And that’s when they said “let’s push on on the gas pedal, let’s stomp on it and see what we can do before we reopen when we got a lot of stuff done,” Turner said.
He helped create the new patron workstations and new customer service experiences, including the online consultations, and record lookup services. And Turner does up to 10 online consultations a week, in either English and Spanish.
“It’s usually somebody in Spain or somebody in Argentina or somewhere else in Latin America who just can’t make it to the library, whether it’s too cost-ineffective or it’s just too far,” he said. “And so we’re able to help a broader audience.”
During the week of RootsTech 2022, the Family History Library staff did about 3,000 online consultations.
In the last few years, Rencher and Turner have worked to build a staff where people have multiple skill sets, in both historical expertise and in other abilities, such as business or technological, to help build tools and systems, he said.
Rencher said that Turner has both the skills as part of the genealogical profession and also “an incredible business head.”
“A lot of us who grew up in the genealogy side of the house — a social science side of the house — don’t come with the business skills needed to run an operation. And Lynn had both of those skills,” Rencher said. He added that Turner also has the ability to recognize his limits that that of the staff and to say no when needed.
The outgoing director
Rencher was the library’s director in 1999-2002 and 2018-2022 — and oversaw renovations both times.
As chief genealogical officer he will continue to be working with groups in the community, and has recently presented for family history groups that have been in town. He’s also done outreach on indexing the 1950s U.S. census. Also, in his role as chief genealogical officer, he pays attention to products and services that FamilySearch has, if they are genealogically sound and how intuitive they are for the budding family historian and also a global audience.
Rencher said he’ll miss working with the team at the Family History Library.
“It is one of the highest performing teams I’ve ever had and had the privilege to work with,” Rencher said.
The FamilySearch Family History Library is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and after hours by appointment on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Turner said they are planning to expand those times once they have the number of volunteers to do so.
See the FamilySearch Family History Library’s website for information about hours and services.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated when the Family History Library reopened. It reopened in 2021, rather than 2001.