ST. GEORGE, Utah
Located just two blocks south of the 140-year-old St. George Utah Temple, the Church’s newest family history facility was dedicated June 21, the day before being unveiled to the public in a three-day open house.
And like its recently opened counterparts in Salt Lake City and Layton, Utah, the St. George FamilySearch Center offers a high-tech “discovery experience” designed to draw novice visitors as well as experienced genealogy enthusiasts.
Stake presidency members throughout the area, their wives, and the temple presidency and mission president and their wives were among those who attended the by-invitation dedicatory service, which was presided over by Elder J. Kevin Ence, Area Seventy, who gave the dedicatory prayer for the new facility.
Prior to the prayer, Elder Ence said that youth in the area, including those assigned to conduct the open house tours, would lead the way in encouraging family history work. “They will be the ones to take us to the next plateau,” he said.
Elder Ence noted that about 135 Church-service missionaries are serving in the new facility. “Great blessings are going to come to this community and this facility from your individual efforts,” he told the Church-service missionaries in the congregation.
Elder Mickal Merrell and his wife, Sister Linda Merrell, temple and family history consultants assigned to manage the facility, greeted the congregation.
“This building is all about families,” Sister Merrell exclaimed. She recounted the Book of Mormon story about Helaman’s army, the 2,000 stripling warriors, and compared them to youth today, such as those leading the open house tours, who will aid older, more experienced Church members in engaging in family history.
Elder Merrell noted that, prior to the service, some of the stake presidents had been photographed in front of a green screen, one of the attractions in the new facility.
“We wanted you to get a little teeny bit of an experience of what’s happening here,” he said.
“We’re shifting directions a bit right now. For years, it has been us old fogies who have done family history. It is for everybody, and we want everybody to be here. They have the ‘discovery experience’ as they come in; that changes our hearts and gets us to connect together. And then we’ll take them to the research site so they can get in a bit deeper.”
Elder Steven Bangerter, Area Seventy, said, “We are drawn here this evening by the Spirit of God that dwells within us. It calls upon us to seek by curiosity, by intellectual pursuit and by deep feelings of love that grow within us the names, identities and histories of those who went before us.”
But there is more that drives men and women, he said, tying it to the ministry of Christ and the need for all to receive ordinances of salvation, including those who have passed through the veil of death.
“The gospel there is the same in all respects as the gospel here,” he said.
President Robert Jensen of the Bloomington Utah Stake, the agent stake president responsible for the new FamilySearch Center, spoke of a “potent combination” that brings souls to Christ. The combination involves the proclaiming of the gospel joined with the turning of the hearts of children to their fathers, he said.
“This FamilySearch Center will change the face of missionary work in our community,” he said, adding that it will advance conversion, reactivation and retention “as it helps turn our hearts with the sprit of Elijah and change our hearts with the spirit and power of the word of God.”
President Jensen said a ward in his stake has had more than 80 percent of its membership find names of ancestors to take to the temple for vicarious ordinance work. Because of the spirit that has come from doing family history work, the ward has more than 70 percent sacrament meeting attendance, he said.
“It is a ward where the potent combination is alive and well.”
At the invitation of Elder Ence, President D. Zackary Smith of the Utah St. George Mission, President Randy W. Wilkinson of the St. George Utah Temple, and Steve Rockwood, managing director of the Family History Department and FamilySearch CEO, each briefly bore their testimonies.
A youth choir directed by T. J. Dick sang for the dedicatory service.
The center has approximately 10,000 square feet of floor space with casual seating and collaboration areas, making it easy for families and youth groups to work together.
The center is open to the public with resources available at no charge except for a small fee for photocopying.
Visitors, with the aid of computer tablets issued to them, proceed to a variety of stations where they can learn about the meaning of their names, find out what happened during the year they were born, see where their ancestors came from, and view photos and read stories of family members. Data is drawn from FamilySearch.org and its internet partners.
Multiple generations in families may use recording rooms to create free, high-quality audio and video recordings to preserve family memories.
The center has two classrooms with computer labs designed for hands-on training in family history research.
Two years under construction, the new center replaces the former St. George FamilySearch Library and will serve residents throughout Washington County in Utah, covering 30 local stakes.
The new facility combines both the “discovery experience” and the research experience under one facility, said Diane Loosle, director of patron services for the Family History Department. “We’re trying to make the facilities more inviting to families and youth and give them the experience where they can discover their families and then go on to discover even more.”
Existing facilities with the “discovery experience” are the flagship Family History Library and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, as well as a FamilySearch Center that opened last year in Layton, Utah. Others will open in Lehi and Ogden, Utah, as well as other locations, she said.