Discovery Experiences Center serves as useful resource

Roots & Branches

I’ll be reporting on a number of things from my recent trip to Salt Lake City (via a wonderful weekend of lecturing in Denver, Colorado) in the next few weeks’ worth of “Roots & Branches” columns.

There’ll be an update on the digitization status of the Family History Library’s huge cache of microfilmed records from around the world.

And some “good finds” I made for a high school classmate, one of my hosts in Colorado — and even in my personal genealogy!

But first and foremost, I have to report on the new Discovery Experiences Center on the first floor of the Family History Library, owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or Mormons.

Mind you — I’m a traditionalist when it comes to libraries, so devoting a whole floor to something other than books or microfilm cabinets in a library gets a skeptical eye from me.

I was told that I’d need a FamilySearch account (which I already had — this is a free registration that allows you to post a family tree on the site) and a family tree.

I thought that latter qualification might trip me up since I’m not a fan of public member trees on any of the genealogy services. When I created a FamilySearch account some years ago, I had only put in information for myself, my father, Richard Lee Beidler, and mother, Mildred Mae Hiester Beidler.

Still and all, I figured I would look at what Discovery Experiences had to offer.

When you go to the Discovery Experiences Center, Mormon missionaries first either sign you up for a FamilySearch account or, as was my case, help you recover you user name or password to log on to the system.

Participants are then given a tablet computer to “dock” into various stations around the Discovery Experiences Center.

The first station I visited showed a list of famous people to whom I was related. I figured this would be a bust since I hadn’t done comprehensive work on my family tree — but I figured wrong!

That’s because other FamilySearch users had linked me into their trees, most with surprising accuracy (including a tie to Abraham Lincoln that looks legitimate — if very distant!).

Other stations took the information and computed ethnicity percentages based on my family, allowed me to record a story about my family, take a picture with a historical background … and even create a photo in the heritage garb of my choice (it will be the only time you’ll see my face appear with lederhosen!).

All in all, I came away from my visit thinking that the Discovery Experiences Center is a wise use of the library’s space — and a “must see” for genealogists of any experience level!

In addition to the Salt Lake library, Discovery Experience Centers exist or are coming to Seattle, St. George (Utah), Philadelphia and Paris.

Beidler is a freelance writer and lecturer on genealogy. Contact him either at Box 270, Lebanon, PA 17042 or by email to Like him on Facebook (James M. Beidler) and follow him on Twitter, @JamesMBeidler.