Inside FamilySearch’s “Renovation Project”

By Diane Haddad

One of the most interesting parts of the FamilySearch Blogger Day was a talk by Dan Lawyer, the guy in charge of what he termed the “big renovation project” that is the makeover.

“Genealogy is hard” is a conclusion his team reached after studying how genealogists were using FamilySearch. Which isn’t news to family historians who’ve done some research, but Lawyer pointed out three factors that can make it difficult:

  • Life circumstances may not allow people the time or other resources needed to do genealogy.
  • Logistic and technical hurdles, such as getting online and knowing how to use a computer.
  • The way genealogy is often presented to a newcomer can make it appear not-so-engaging.

Do you agree with these findings? Click Comments at the end of this post to let us know.

So the goal for the renovated FamilySearch site—which FamilySearch Beta will become—are:

  • Make genealogy easier.
  • Make the site suitable for beginners and advanced researchers—so you don’t have to be a genealogist to use it, but even advanced researchers will find it useful.
  • Facilitate giving and getting research help on the site, as well as learning how to research.

Though researchers have been using the beta site for months (as of earlier this week, it had 35,000 visitors from 17 countries in October alone), it’s still being tweaked.

User input into the site is spurring improvements in features such as, to name some minor ones: the hard-to-find arrows that let you expand search results (see the tiny gray triangles on the right side of the screen shot below) and the loooooong Advanced search panel on the left side of the search results (it continues beyond this screen shot).

Within the next three to six months, Lawer says, updates will include adjusting search forms, adding browsing filters, boosting the quality of results, and adding how-to content. (Interestingly, but not surprising to me, was the finding that new genealogists don’t look around the site at that how-to content until after they’ve used the search function.)

The Pedigree Resource File from the current will be added to the beta site’s Family Trees search, which already contains the Ancestral File.

The beta site will probably become the official FamilySearch site sometime between December and February, Lawyer said. “New” FamilySearch, the online tree-building software available to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, likely won’t become part of the site for some time, as developers work out a way to handle conflicts among different users’ trees for the same lines.

See my Bloggers Day disclosure in this post.

Learn more about “classic” FamilySearch and other popular genealogy websites in our Web Guides digital downloads, available from Family Tree Shop.