The executives of FamilySearch met with Innovator Summit attendees to share updates, ideas, and innovations. Attendees were also given the opportunity to ask questions. The panel consisted of Rod DeGiulio, Senior Vice President of Record Preservation; Craig Miller, Senior Vice President of Development; Stephen Valentine, Director of the Partner Division; Diane Loosle, Director of Patron Services at the Family History Library; Shipley Munson, Chief Marketing Officer; and Stephen Rockwood, Managing Director of the Family History Department and CEO of FamilySearch International.
In his new position, Steve Rockwood explained that the role of FamilySearch is to “foster new markets” in the family history realm. Shipley Munson revealed the most recent marketing motto, “Family: The Original Social Network.” Diane Loosle celebrated the new experiences brought to patrons through FamilySearch partnerships. Stephen Valentine revealed that half the content last year came from partners. Rod DeGiulio offered good news from the recent partnerships with Ancestry, Find My Past, and My Heritage. He stated that FamilySearch digitized half of a billion records in 2015; 2.5 billion total records were digitized utilizing partnership agreements.
Just as FamilySearch has partnered with commercial companies, the question was raised about partnering with archives and societies. Diane Loosle offered the perspective that FamilySearch has had informal relationships with these groups for decades but that more formal arrangements are possible. Rod DeGiulio added that the Record Division has developed a “society in a box” kit to assist societies in record preservation. In 2015 FamilySearch provided 6 kits and will expand this opportunity to assist archives and societies in making their records sets accessible to a greater number of patrons.
Three participants addressed concerns about issues with non-English languages. One woman discussed the challenge of Chinese characters — currently FamilySearch separates each character with a space when characters should be grouped together. When a participant asked about when English-speaking indexers will be trained to index records of other languages, like the Italian records, Rod DeGiulio revealed that FamilySearch is training small groups to develop the skill to index these records. To counter this idea, another woman expressed her concern that the nuances of each language requires native individuals to index these records. It was explained that FamilySearch actually monitors the record sets and if a concern for accuracy is discovered, the record set is marked for native speakers only.
With concern for record availability, Rod DeGiulio outlined the process of prioritizing records based on customer need and determining what records are available, what records FamilySearch already has, and what records can be acquired. This process requires an evaluation of privacy laws that vary from state to state and country to country from which a 12 month plan is developed. He provided an example of Mexican records that are now being made available as part of a partnership with Ancestry that would have taken 70 years to publish without the partnership.
Although there were other issues raised, one that appeared to resonate with attendees was the corruption of Family Tree data using the wiki model. In response, a number of points were made by FamilySearch executives. They are aware that the wiki model allows “the riff-raff” to negatively impact the tree. To counter this problem, Craig Miller said that FamilySearch attempts to protect data by requiring changes to be “stitched in, person by person” rather than automate its merging. FamilySearch encourages the citing of sources to provide a basis for good conclusions and that 2.2 million sources are added daily. Shipley Munson reminded those in attendance of the benefits of collaboration by citing the experience that Ken Krogue shared in the keynote session. Ken lived 2 blocks away from an unknown cousin who possessed 210 pages on his direct family lineage. Shipley Munson also suggested that private spaces may be available in the future on FamilySearch but at this time an individual can establish a private tree on a partner site to preserve the integrity of their personal family research.
Lynn Broderick (https://thesingleleaf.wordpress.com/) is a professional genealogist that is passionate about researching individuals of the past in the context of family, community, and social history. She loves to coach people on how to enjoy pursuing their family history and has done so for over 25 years.