08:59 AM

FamilySearch Family Tree's Ron Tanner, Taking Care of Business

By Jan Mayer

FamilySearch Family Tree by the NumbersIf you’ve ever tried to attend a session at a family history conference where Ron Tanner is speaking, you know of his popularity, or the high consumer interest in the product he manages—the FamilySearch Family Tree. There are standing room only crowds, and conferences have to offer multiple sessions to accommodate demand for his classes. At FamilySearch, Ron Tanner is the product manager for the FamilySearch Family Tree—a very robust, massive, free online genealogy service that enables millions of people to collaborate on their family history worldwide. Users can create, share, and preserve family research, artifacts, stories, and photos. To-date, there are over 1 blillon persons in the FamilySearch Family Tree, and millions more records are added monthly. To speak with Ron for this story, I had to meet with him by phone and in his home. The popularity of Family Tree means Ron is very busy, and his days are long. Outside of work, he’s known as “family history Ron,” sweetheart, dad, grandpa and friend. But he’s much more than the titles he wears.

Ron has one of those dispositions where even though you may have just met him, within minutes, you feel like you’ve known him all your life. He is a happy kind of guy, full of stories and ideas, but not full of himself. Providing a free service that enables individuals and families to record and share their collective history is a daunting challenge. Yet Ron is very open and affable when he speaks publicly, and particularly when responding to sometimes very pointed questions from Family Tree users in the audience. In fact, the average speaker would hold questions until after the presentation, but Ron is undaunted as he takes them upfront--warmly disarming the audience while simultaneously endearing himself to them.

Away from the lectern, Ron couldn’t be more down-to-earth or attentive when he’s helping people--which is how he sees the Family Tree product and his role as its product manager. He seems quick to praise others but doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at himself. His work in helping people discover and connect their family history is crucial to him, but his deepest devotion is to his own family—his wife, CheRee, their 4 grown children, and 6 grandkids.

Preparation for Family History

Ron Tanner, senior product manager for the FamilySearch Family Tree, Memories,and mobile apps.Ron was raised in El Paso, Texas, but hadn’t considered a career in computer programming until he needed more semester credits. The only class that fit at the time was Introduction to Computer Science. He admits the class was tough, but he was hooked and graduated from BYU with B.S. and M.S. degrees in that field.That wasn’t the only thing that hooked him. The first week after he returned to BYU after a two-year proselyting mission to Guatemala, he joked with a family home evening sister about being poor, and that he would have to propose  with a band-aid for a ring.  By the end of the week, he had proposed to her with a band-aid, and amazingly she accepted.  That was 38 years ago in July, and she’s still his greatest fan.

“He always asks me where I want to go for dinner. We can go to McDonalds—it doesn’t matter—I just want to be with him,” CheRee said. And Ron can’t gush enough about CheRee, who grew up in Brigham City, Utah.

“I admire her—she’s a good woman. She’s spiritual, and we have good conversations. She’s very talented as a school teacher and professional seamstress. She can make a pattern from looking at a dress in a magazine. Anything that can be sewn, she can sew. She’s amazing,” he said.

Ron worked for Bell Labs in Denver for 9 years and Novell in Utah for 13 years before accepting the product management job with nonprofit FamilySearch International. It meant a 40 percent pay cut at the time, but he wanted to do something that had profound value.

At first, he hesitated to take the job because he worried that his “excitable and animated” personality wouldn’t fit into the subdued, conservative work environment.

“I warned them that I’m kinda crazy and asked if they were ready for this,” Ron said. The reply was, “I think we could use you.”

Helping Others Connect in the Family Tree

FamlySearch senior product manager Ron Tanner in his office in Lehi, Utah.Ten years later he’s responsible for Family Tree and everything related to it. That includes anything connected to FamilySearch Memories, Search, and hinting of historical records, and the mobile apps. He is also working on family history solutions for Chinese patrons. His office is in Lehi, Utah, where he and his team of project managers work to continually develop or improve programs to meet the needs of FamilySearch customers.

His usual workday is spent “running from meeting to meeting. It’s nuts,” he remarked. “When I came here, I was amazed at the caliber of the employees. They don’t make the most money in the industry, but they’re devoted like none other,” Ron said.

FamilySearch Family Tree product manager Ron Tanner in a typical working meeting with fellow colleagues. “You can’t beat the reason for what we’re doing here,” Ron says referring to their goal to create free web-based services that enable individuals to discover, gather, and connect their family history. His team is constantly meeting several days a week to understand user needs and to see what they could do better.

“There are miracles that happen in this stuff. I’m convinced that God writes code because He has saved us a few times,” he laughed. There have been times when the team was stumped, but through inspiration they’ve finished a project in half the time. “It’s just amazing to see,” Ron said.

The most fun he has at work is figuring out what his team can do to make things better—new capabilities that make a desired task easier for the customer. But sometimes adding or changing programs can be risky. “I was really petrified minutes before we launched Family Tree, because it was going to change the whole way of doing genealogy. I remember saying to an associate, ‘remind me this is a good thing.’ I was worried that everyone would run away; they wouldn’t want to do it. The exact opposite happened. The [Family Tree] growth has been phenomenal, and it continues to be helpful to more and more users,” Ron stated.

As the tree has grown (to-date, 4.4 million users and 1.2 billion records), so have his responsibilities. And it doesn’t stop once he gets home.

“All day long I’m busy doing things to keep the wheels going. My kids will tell you that the first thing I do when I get home is turn on the computer. I answer about 200–400 emails every night. I just have to keep it up and create plans for the future—for 2 to 5 years out,” he stated.

But he’s not complaining.

“I have deep passion and lots of energy—even though I am getting old—and sometimes I’m tired. But I find that the Lord helps me. I get inspiration like, ‘You need to take care of these 3 things,’ or ‘Here’s an answer to this problem you’ve been working on.’”

Family History Ron

Ron Tanner at home working on his  podcast using the moniker Family History Ron. Ron is a popular presenter at family history conferences and usually allows questions at the end—or the beginning and middle—of his sessions. But no matter how many answers he gives, the same thing happens every time. People stand in line afterwards to ask him more. And he stays...and stays—sometimes for over an hour—much to the dismay of the audiovisual or conference management crew who are trying to get the next session primed to go on time.

“I love what I do! I like helping people understand how to use the product and work with them until I know they’re happy. There’s just never enough time to answer every question,” he explained.

He wanted to expand his reach to include people from other places that had questions too. In 2016, with the help of his daughter, Teagan, a social media expert, they setup a Facebook page, Family History Ron, where patrons can ask questions, disclose issues, and get reliable answers. Questions can be submitted prior to the live feed. He can also be followed on twitter, instagram and youtube, where patrons can research questions from previous shows.

Living a Happy Life

FamilySearch Family Tree product manager Ron Tanner and his wife Che ReeRon is very close to his family, which fuels his drive with his work. He beams when he talks about gathering for dinner every other Sunday, getting away to the mountains for a picnic or tinfoil dinner, playing games, or watching football together.

“We like to choose opposite teams to cheer for. It makes it more fun,” he said. “One of the best things about my family is the way we laugh with each other, whether it’s over a game, watching a funny show, or just joking with each other,” he expressed.

Ron is the cheerful leader of the whole gang, and they support each other no matter what. “I watch him very carefully. If he’s stressed, I take him to Brigham City to my dad’s, where there isn’t any internet. I give him a book to read and we go to Maddox for a nice steak,” CheRee explained.

At the end of the day, when Ron finally has time to breathe, he grabs a good book from a wide range of fiction—medical mysteries to thrillers, or sometimes he works on one of the two novels he’s writing.

Ron says he learned the value of a jovial nature at an early age. “If you’re positive and happy, everything works out. We can choose whether we’re happy or not, no matter the situation. It’s not that things have always been easy. There were plenty of experiences along the way that were difficult,” he explained.

As a young boy there was an issue that caused him to feel extremely depressed and miserable. He didn’t like the way it felt, so he said he just decided to be happy, and that’s made all the difference in his life.

CheRee smiled and nodded in agreement. “It’s true,” she said. “That’s how he still is today.”


Jan Mayer, who spent most of her life in Colorado, graduated from BYU in Child Development/ Family Relations. Being a parent and grandparent has been the joy of her life, but she has also been a weekly writer for the Denver Post, an elementary school teacher, an editor for DISH Network, and a publisher of  The LDS Community Journal, a monthly tabloid newspaper in the Denver area. In addition to serving in leadership positions in church and community, she is currently a volunteer writer for FamilySearch and a freelance writer. She and her husband, Richard, live in Cedar Hills, Utah, and have 5 children and 11 grand-children.



For reprint permission of this article go to https://permissions.lds.org. If your request is time sensitive, once you submit your permissions request online, you can expedite its approval by forwarding your confirmation email with needed details to Paul Nauta (nautapg@familysearch.org). 

About FamilySearch

FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch and its predecessors have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at FamilySearch.org or through over 5,000 family history centers in 129 countries, including the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Comments 1 - 10 (10)
Thank you for your message.
Помогите мне пожалуйста найти прадеда и прабабушку
Geraldine Conick Bellanca
I am restarting my geological search after a ten year hiatus . After my sister in law died, my sister and I just couldn't pick up what we had started. The sale of our home and move to an apartment has expanded what we though would be a 3 year brake. I have sorted most of the physical data and now need to begin my computer records. Much has changed. Many things are free and others request a fee. How do I access what I can get free and what I will need to pay for. How do I get back into the records we already have done? We originally used Family Tree Maker. Does that still exist? is it compatible with Ancestray that my cousin is using? Thank you for all your help.
James A. McArthur
In 1901 Ron's great grandfather Heber Martin asked to be baptized and my great grandfather James McArthur had the privilege of having this as one of his last baptism before he left from his mission in Chattanooga Tennessee to return home to St. George, Utah. "May 27,1901 -"Versailles, Wood-ford County "...weather cool and cloudy as I arise feeling well and enjoying breakfast with the intentions of leaving for Shelby Co. but being requested to remain by Heber Martin, as he desired baptism. Elder E (Evans) and I did so; while Elder Wilson and Crow departed." page 79 of my grandfather's missionary journal in my possession.
ken knight
RE performing ordinances in order.
The policy of the order of performing ordinances appears to be contradictory. We are told that ordinances are to be done in order, BUT they are valid if done out of order, once the previous ordinances are done. So, does this give us license to do them out of order, if we have made a good faith effort to do them in order? More than half of the 100 or so people in my temple list are waiting for previous ordinances to be performed by others. I always message the person who has reserved them asking when they plan to perform the ordinances, and offer to do them if they would like to share the ordinances with me. Those who answer usually share the ordinances with me. But most do not answer!
Typically, the Baptism & Confirmation are they only ordinances done; suggesting that people reserve ordinances for youth baptismal trips, and then just let the deceased wait.

So if ordinances are valid when all are finished, why can not we do them in any order?
E Huff
Hi Ron
We hope this message gets to you before the big meeting next Monday about changing the family file cards. We work in a Family History Center and have heard many, many discussions on how heartbroken people are that they are not going to be able to keep their family file cards.
We ask you please to prayerfully consider the following that is causing such a sadness to many of us:

We would like to be able to keep out family file cards because they are a representation of our family members. They are not simply a piece of paper. We look back on our shoe boxes of cards and reminisce the memories we had of when we did the ordinances, and all the research we put into them.

When you research a person, starting with their birth record, then each year as the censuses roll by, we see them getting older. Then the war draft comes along! Soon this person is married, we see signatures, we think about how happy that day must have been for them.
Then the children begin emerging. And then the inevitable death certificate.
We follow them from birth through death.
Our family file cards represent the closest thing we have to them. These cards mean a lot to us.

Please remind them who will be at the meeting that this also will be 4 times the amount of paper being used because we will be printing each ordinance at a time. (Very inconvenient for those who want to spend the day completing all the ordinances for a person. And please keep in mind, many of us do not have iphones to use to reprint while at the temple.) Some are scratching their heads saying they thought the Church was trying to become paperless, yet now all this extra printing is going to take place. The ecology minded folks aren't too happy about that, they said it make the Church look like they don't care about ecology and saving the natural resources. (very sad to hear that)

One of the most important reasons we hear, is that the cards are good to hold onto because they are considered an accurate source to show that the ordinances were completed. Once someone merges a person the incorrect way, the ordinances can disappear. We see it daily. When this has happened, we show the card to the temple that it was performed in, and they restore the ordinance. That is so much quicker that having to contact Family Search, have a case written up, escalated to the correct dept, and then wait until you see if it gets taken care of. Sooo much easier to simply take it to the temple and have it fixed in a minute. (Less burden for Family Search too :-))

And lastly, please have them at the meeting consider how we used to record ordinances in the temple, then verify them right after the recording is done. We didn't verify family file, only the temple lists. But couldn't we go back to that way of recording and verifying--and include the family file cards? Even though it might take an extra 5 minutes for the folks to get their cards back, they probably would be happy to wait, knowing they will get their cards back.
And the few cards that have problems with them, the temple could keep.

We appreciate all the hard work you guys do and some of the new features are awesome that you've implemented, such as the messages telling you the work has been completed. Very good idea!
Thanks you for all your hard work, you are truly appreciated!
E Huff
Ron Tanner
E Huff,
Thanks for the feedback. I can understand the desire to have the card for ordinance validation later and as a memento of a particular experience. We do not want to remove that opportunity. I will fill you in on some recent discussions:

- The temple is providing a way for a user to come and complete the whole card while at the temple that day. But the card still will be kept after the final ordinance.
- The temple needs to keep the card in order to ensure that it is accurately recorded in the system. With the rush of many workers to get the cards recorded within a short time, it causes many issues in the process and anxiety to all involved, including the patron who is waiting. Often this takes more time than one thinks as many temples have sessions every 20 minutes and can be 100s large. For example, 1 minute per person for a session with 100 would be 1.6 hours, but session cards are coming every 20 minutes. As you can see the recording task can be challenging, but it must be accurate. Keeping cards allows the temple to take the time they need to get it right.
- We are considering providing a "completed" list for members in FamilySearch.org. Where they can come after the ordinances are recorded and print a card for their keeping. The card would have all the recorded dates of the ordinances printed on it. We could even consider adorning this sheet with other information such as vitals, portrait, etc. Would love to hear your ideas. Email: ron@familysearch.org.
- Merging two people never looses ordinances. The ordinances are most important to us and we make sure none are lost. However, FamilySearch.org shows the effective ordinance - which means the 1st in time. So if a merge was with someone who had ordinances done first then those would be the ones that are shown.
William G Holt
Keep going Ron, it is all good and helpful
Daniel Vaughn
I just got a new calling in my ward. Indexing consultant! I'm a beginner with no training at all. I've tried and tried to find help. With no one will to give me subjective responses. I need full time courses, classes, advised material along with any books that would help me. The main reason why no one is willing to answer me. My wife and I are retired and on very limited funding. We live on paycheck to paycheck. And no one seems to care. I would like to take all the courses I can at RootsTech but finding a way to find the money is the problem.
Ron Tanner
Try going to the learning center.

There may be some helpful guides that can get you going.

Also The Family History Guide website is a great training resource: http://www.thefhguide.com/
I went there and saw several articles on indexing. Try starting with this one:


Good luck! We need indexers to help us all find the records of our ancestors. I am thankful for your help.

Tammy Montgomery
I happened to stumble on to a presentation given by Ron Tanner at a family history conference. Years later, it’s still my favorite and he is my favorite presenter. It’s wonderful to read more about him. I’m looking forward to seeing his presentation at the BYU Family History Conference in a couple of weeks.
Chris Armstrong
Wonderfully written article about a swell guy! I must meet him! Thank you!
Jim Terry
About the WATCH feature. I like to use WATCH alot, but I get the alerts AFTER the fact, sometimes after a well-meaning user has messed up a perfectly good family group. For instance, my ancestor Henry Gragg was married twice and had a number of children by both wives. Recently a user removed the marriage of 2nd wife Elizabeth Pharoah and attached all of her kids to the first wife Nancy Crow, who died in 1800. SO the warnings show a bunch of children born after her death. Henry Gragg died in 1823 so this user then added a child Peter Gragg born in 1824 to the family of Henry Gragg and Nancy Crow, AFTER BOTH OF PARENTS WERE DEAD! I have over 20 sources attached to Henry! Is there a way that the WATCH feature could prevent well-meaning people from making changes until AFTER they collaborate with the user who placed the WATCH? I took me quite a bit of time to fix Henry Graggs family. Thank you, from Trying to Feel Charitable in Washington State
Ron Tanner
Watch is one of the best ways to be able to run off and check that things are still accurate. We recognize that once a week is just not often enough to find out about these changes and make them easily correctable. We are looking into a daily option or possibly even an immediate (within 15 minute) kind of option to see if that would be better. If we get it fast enough, then we maybe could introduce the option of chatting - who knows!

Thanks for the suggestions! Ron