SALT LAKE CITY — Elder Bradley D. Foster repeatedly reached into the breast pocket of his suit jacket to pull out his cellphone and access the FamilySearch Family Tree mobile app, holding it up to make a point or discuss a feature during a media interview last week.
By the end of the interview, Elder Foster, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the executive director of the Family History Department, had referenced the app enough to realize it symbolized something greater — FamilySearch's progress over many years to make temple and family history work more convenient and accessible for church members.
"We used to ask people to come to us — in family history centers and libraries," Elder Foster said. "We’ve completely changed that, and now we can take family history to the people — wherever they are — in homes, in large groups, and even in the lobby at the dentist office. That is the biggest change I’ve seen. The FamilySearch Family Tree app, 'Ordinances Ready' feature, and all of the other things have made it easier for them. I think that’s where the Lord wants it to go."
In six years of service in the Family History Department, Elder Foster acknowledged seeing the Lord's hand in developing technology, such as the Ordinances Ready feature on the Family Tree app, which is helping families to gather families on both sides of the veil as President Russell M. Nelson has admonished.
"Every day we see miracles," Elder Foster said, holding up his phone once more. "This app is available to everyone — at any time, at any place. You want to do face recognition with the kids? It's right here. Need a name for the temple? It's right here. I have a non-member — tell me the name of your great-grandfather and let me type it in and let's find a record for you. Anybody. Anytime. Right here."
In addition to the Family Tree mobile app, Elder Foster and FamilySearch President and CEO Steve Rockwood discussed RootsTech's growing global audience and international expansion to London, along with trends in the family history industry and this week's RootsTech conference, the largest genealogy event in the world.
"It’s always an exciting time to have people begin to have opportunities to discover who they are, connect back to their ancestors and to each other, and to see the joy that comes into more people's lives as that rolls out across the earth," Elder Foster said.
Those who download the Family Tree mobile app can now do more than 90 percent of FamilySearch's website functions, including three new discovery experiences — All About Me, Picture My Heritage and Record My Story. Until now, these discovery activities have only been available at Family Discovery Centers.
New family activities and DNA Education pages have also been added to FamilySearch.org.
"We are flooding the world with discovery and a main way to do that is with the Family Tree app," Rockwood said.
With greater numbers of those who aren't Latter-day Saints downloading the app and coming to RootsTech, the church has decided to sponsor a RootsTech in London this October for those who can't travel to Utah, Elder Foster said.
Smaller-scale family history conferences or expos not affiliated with RootsTech are developing in countries like Mexico, Brazil and other places, Elder Foster said.
"We think that the common denominator with all cultures and languages and people is family, across the world," Elder Foster said. "As people begin to discover their own story, they want to discover their family story, and we think eventually that will connect them some day to Heavenly Father’s story for them. We think it's a tremendous missionary tool."
Rockwood announced the opening of registration for RootsTech London Wednesday during his keynote address. There's this "inherent interest," Rockwood said.
"For years we’ve been receiving requests of 'please export RootsTech' and we're just so thrilled and blessed that now at this time there's the perfect opportunity to do so, really in the perfect place, which is London," Rockwood said before the conference. "I, like many others, proudly claim The UK as one of my ancestral homelands and some will tell you that our cousins on the other side of the pond seem to love their dogs, their gardens, the queen and family history. So we're thrilled to be able to bring to them the magic of RootsTech. At the same time, it opens up the rest of the world to those archivists and those in the industry that can't come to Utah, but they can come to the crossroads of London, so we're really anxious to unlock that part of the world."
On the home front, Elder Foster encouraged Latter-day Saints to use the Family Tree app as a ministering tool.
"Family history is one of the best, easiest ministering tools anybody can have," Elder Foster said. "Because of the app and all the features and functions there, it will connect you to anybody that you're asked to minister to. It's an easy, easy way to connect to those you're asked to minister to and in a way that’s familiar and natural."
Elder Foster also referenced the December 2018 announcement that young deacons and Beehives, as well as new converts, can get limited-use temple recommends. It's a wonderful opportunity for these "new and tender" members, Elder Foster said.
"They can quickly go to the temple for their first experience and have that powerful experience of connecting to their families," Elder Foster said. "They and all the members of the church can do what President Nelson's has asked them to do, to be warriors in the battalion in the gathering of Israel before the Second Coming comes on both sides of the veil. This is how they can act in doctrine and do that."
Going forward, Rockwood hopes FamilySearch and other organizations in the industry can continue to help people have discovery experiences and find the healing power associated with family history work, as he discussed in his Wednesday keynote.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also shared a message about finding healing in temple work in April 2018.
"The literally tens of millions of people that are coming to discover their families is breathtaking. The opportunity that we have as FamilySearch, and as a whole industry, is how do we help them make sure that's not just one experience that they enjoy, but it's something that they can experience over and over and over again," Rockwood said. "I think that's the great challenge of the industry. We're going to be talking a lot about that. You'll see the whole industry focusing in on that. We figured out how to attract people, whether it's through DNA and other discovery experiences, but now, how do you continue to retain them and bless them and help them on an ongoing journey?"