In 1987, the Genealogical Library in Salt Lake City, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), was renamed the Family History Library. What led to this change? I’ve heard various explanations, so I decided to investigate. Here’s what I found.
In 1987, Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve stated “It is hoped that … we can simplify the approach to genealogy, and demystify it so that every member [of the LDS Church], regardless of training, will find it doable.”
“The stress on making genealogy ‘doable’ led to a significant change in the name of the Department … In August 1987, the First Presidency [of the LDS Church] announced that the Genealogical Department would be called the Family History Department, and the name of the Genealogical Library (in Salt Lake City) would be changed to the Family History Library. Church leaders hoped this change would remove the implication that professional training was needed to pursue one’s ancestry.” (1)
The official announcement came in the October 1987 issue of the Ensign: “The change of names, as well as other changes, are a result of decisions of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to simplify ancestral research… ‘The word genealogy often suggests a need for professional training,’ said Elder Boyd K. Packer, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve … “and the change to ‘family history’ will make the work less technical and more appealing to the members of the Church.” (2)
Writing in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992), Dr. David H. Pratt of Brigham Young University’s History Department, recalled that “To emphasize the family nature of genealogy, the First Presidency in 1987 changed the name of the Genealogical Department to the Family History Department and the name of the Genealogical Library to the Family History Library.” (3)
- James B. Allen, Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile Mehr, “Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994,” BYU Studies, Vol. 34, No. 2 (1994-5):277-278.
- “News of the Church: Family History Department Is New Name for Genealogical Department,” Ensign, October 1987.
- David H. Pratt, “Family History Genealogy,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992).