New ‘Discovery Experience’ augments Family History Library

A new attraction at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City invites visitors to discover not only who their ancestors are but to learn more about themselves through engaging, interactive technology.

“Discovery Experiences,” a 10,139-square foot facility, was introduced at a grand opening Feb. 7 conducted by leaders of the Church and the Family History Department.

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided over the event, saying the new attraction is “the first major change in the interior appearance of the Family History Library,” which was dedicated in October 1985.

A prototype for the new attraction, the FamilySearch Discovery Center, was introduced two years ago at the nearby Joseph Smith Memorial Building, and similar facilities have been opened in other locations since then. This larger facility will meet demand that the one at the Joseph Smith building could never quite accommodate, although the earlier one will remain open for visitors who come to that building for receptions and other purposes.

“This multi-million dollar project enables personal interactive exhibits to connect families with their ancestors,” Elder Renlund said. “It in many ways is a gift to the community. It’s a gift for families. It’s a gift for groups large and small. It’s terrific for students in schools, for them to come and have these experiences.”

The new attraction offers more than 100 custom iPads, 44 touch-screen monitors and 42 computers with research and discovery experience capability. Visitors may use any of six recording studios to create free, high-definition videos to preserve family memories.

Noting that the Family History Library is one of the top three visitor attractions in Utah, Elder Renlund said that the Discovery Experiences “will enhance that experience for visitors to Salt Lake City. It also doesn’t do anything to diminish this facility as a research library for both beginner and expert.”

The Family History Library also serves as a family history center for neighboring stakes in Salt Lake City, he said.

Elder Bradley D. Foster, General Authority Seventy and the executive director of the Family History Department, said the Family History Library “has massive collections of records, genealogies and other information about families, names and dates. But now it can add more to that. It can help you discover who you are, where you came from, why your parents and grandparents came here.”

Elder Foster said that with the new attraction, visitors to the library will discover “not only who they are but who they’re connected to in their hearts.”

“This is where we’ll begin to build families. The Lord wants us to know who we are. It seems when we understand who we are in our relationship to God and to other people, we act differently and we treat other people differently. That’s what He wants for all of us.”

Stephen Rockwood, managing director of the Family History Department and president and CEO of FamilySearch International, said the Family Discovery Center launched in 2015 was so successful it couldn’t serve everyone who wanted to experience it.

“We are now able to accommodate full classrooms, busloads of tourists and families of any size.”

Referring to many children in the audience, Brother Rockwood said, “I think some people get this a little backwards. They think, ‘This is where parents can bring their kids.’”

On the contrary, he said, children and grandchildren will bring the oldsters to have a family experience that causes them to gasp with delight.

Brother Rockwood likened such an experience to the account of Lehi in the Book of Mormon who, after the family had departed into the wilderness, sent his sons back to obtain the record that included their family history.

The story of his ancestor, Joseph who was sold into Egypt, inspired Lehi, Brother Rockwood recounted. He said people today are inspired when they learn about the lives of their own ancestors.

“That’s why we have the FamilySearch Discovery Center and Discovery Experiences,” he said.

Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, spoke of her own experience with the new facility.

“It reached out and grabbed my heart,” she said.

“I viewed geographical locations of my ancestors. I became aware of historical leaders and distant family members in my family tree and studied information I didn’t even realize existed about their personal lives, about their unique struggles and about how they overcame them.”

Like all visitors to the new facility, Sister Jones was issued a computer tablet that can be docked at the various learning stations.

“I felt a renewed motivation to work on my life history as well as the need and urgency to reach out to older family members to encourage them to record their memories to capture, preserve and share while they are still able,” she said.

At one station, Sister Jones said, she posed against a green screen for a photo that simulated her standing “on a beautiful hillside location of Denmark, the land of my ancestors.”

“The picture, surprisingly, brought tears to my eyes. It created such an immediate connection to family and culture I don’t yet know. It also reminded me of our sons who comment time and time again that they always feel emotion when they hear Scottish bagpipes, a significant reminder of my husband’s Scottish heritage.”

She added, “After over an hour of moving from dock to dock, I realized that I had literally lost track of time, and I had to pull myself away.”

That night, during family home evening, she said, she relived her experience “of unearthing what felt like puzzle pieces of the past through the email that was sent to me from the library documenting different aspects of my time spent earlier in the day in the Discovery Experiences. I realized I could easily email these findings to family members in an effort to enliven their desire to join in the fun and spirit of family history.”

Posing the question “Why did it captivate me so completely?” Sister Jones answered, “It was the feeling! I felt connected to family members here and beyond the veil. I yearned to know more about them, because their stories define who I am.”

The Discovery Experiences in the Family History Library is now open to the public. Admission is free.

The library is located directly west of Temple Square in Salt Lake City.