LAYTON—It’s a chance to explore your family history in a brand-new way.
The Layton FamilySearch Center, which opened Nov. 8, is an experimental facility by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints designed to make family research a more immersive, family-friendly experience. The center is one of only four in the entire world, and is the most extensive of any of those four facilities.
“This is a very unique center,” said Paul Nauta, public affairs manager for FamilySearch. “We’re looking at doing more of these, because we want more people worldwide to experience the joy of discovering who you are and who your family is.”
The church has 4,900 family history centers worldwide, but chose the four locations to experiment with different services. Three are in Utah – smaller centers are located in Salt Lake and Riverton – and the fourth is in Belle Vue, Washington.
“They’re all limited compared to the Layton Center,” said Nauta.
He said Layton was chosen as the location of the largest center because of the resources in the area. The center replaces 48 family history centers located throughout nearby stakes, and the volunteers that once worked those centers will now have shifts helping out guests at the Layton location.
“There’s a demand here, and this facility will be able to serve that better,” he said.
He added that the center also hopes to create more demand among residents, both those in and out of the church. The center offers several resources that don’t even require a FamilySearch account, such as machines that allow people to transfer VHS home movies to DVD and old slides into digital files.
“I’m seeing pictures I haven’t seen for years and years, and it’s bringing back a lot of memories,” said Doug Packer, a visitor to the center who was transferring an old box of slides into digital files. “To do this at home would take hours and hours. It’s a great service.”
The center also encourages families to share their stories with each other, using technology such as a special video-recording room that prompts the storyteller with different questions they can answer.
“You get to listen to people laughing as they tell their family stories,” said Nauta. “How cool is that?”
For younger kids, there are storytelling sessions that teach them how to tell their own family stories. To help the process along, there are a variety of games available. One is a version of Jenga that prompts kids with questions and activities for each piece they successfully pull out of the tower.
“It gets them to talk about things they wouldn’t normally talk about,” said Nauta.
Some activities require FamilySearch accounts, which are free and available to both church members and non-members. Once you’ve signed up for an account and filled out at least some of your family tree, interactive computer screens will tell you information such as famous people you’re related to, the meaning behind your name, and what happened the year you were born.
“It’s all exciting, wonderful stuff,” said Elder Doug Sheffield, one of the volunteers at the center.
Rooms can be reserved by calling in advance, and there will also be classes and one-on-one help available. Use of the FamilySearch center is free to everyone, and Nauta said he hoped residents would be inspired to come here as part of their family reunions.
“We want the general public to feel like this is their place,” he said. “We want it to be a place of gathering and discovery.”
For more information about the facility, as well as a list of classes, visit familysearch.org/fhc/layton.