Photo from Mormon Newsroom
Have you ever wondered what life was like for your ancestors? What the most popular song was the year you were born? What you might look like in the clothes your favorite grandparent used to wear?
The newest tourist attraction on Temple Square could tell you just that.
The Family Discover Center, located in the Joseph Smith Memorial building, is family history of the future. Visitors start by grabbing an iPad, logging into their FamilySearch account, and then letting the magic happen. By taking the device to one of five stations, you can see the migration patterns of your ancestors, check out where your name comes from and what it means, and even take a virtual picture of yourself in period clothing,
Scott Stout, Discovery Center project manager, says the goal of the Discovery Center is to "reinvent that in-person experience. We used to think of Family History as computers in a computer lab doing research." The new attraction is anything but. The interactive and highly visual approach to family history draws visitors in and helps them engage.
"The Discovery Center is a place where one can start off with a desire to learn about themselves and move from there to a desire to learn about their ancestors," explains Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International and managing director of the Church Family History Department. "The fundamental reason people are interested is this basic desire to discover."
"It's supposed to be fun!" Merrill White, manager of the Family Discovery Center, explained in a press release about the opening. "We even have them take a selfie to begin with because it’s about them and then connecting with their heritage.”
The hope is that innate curiosity will draw those formerly uninterested in doing family history work into understanding what makes it more than a chore.
Stout hopes such people will "leave with a sense of self that they didn’t have before they came, and feel special and important, because they’ve learned about themselves through their family." He also hopes that people will "leave with a feeling of connection to ancestors," that they will think, "I am part of something that is bigger than just me. And that they'll have a desire to go and learn more or do something when they leave."
The center is breaking ground in other ways as well. "What you’re seeing here represents five different departments of the Church all coming together to build this," shares Stout. "And that’s the first time anything like this has happened of that magnitude in the Church, to have that many groups coming together to make it work."
Of the new center, says Elder Allen F. Packer of the First Quorum of the Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department of the Church, "There are two basic things that the Discovery Center will do for people. One is there’s a value for society and helping build a stronger society. We also know that it’s intended to help a divinely appointed responsibility that the Church has in assisting in our doctrines."
The prototype Discovery Center in Salt Lake City is the first of its kind, but expansion to the Seattle area and Philadelphia are expected in the future.
The center in Salt Lake City is now officially open to the public with no admittance fee. Visitors should plan to spend about an hour to fully experience all the attraction has to offer. Walk-ins are welcome, but pre-registration is recommended to ensure space (especially for youth or FHE groups). These reservations can be made up to two months in advance and can accommodate up to 25 people per registration. (There are longer reservations available for larger groups as necessary.)
Visit the Discover Center in Salt Lake City at 15 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, UT. Make reservations or learn more at familysearch.org/discoverycenter.