19:45 PM

The Transformation of FamilySearch.org

Fifteen years ago Apple was a beleaguered tech company. Today, it is a transformative leader across multiple industries (computers, smart phones, music, movies, wearable technology). Robert Kehrer, senior product manager for FamilySearch.org’s search experience believes FamilySearch is also undergoing a fundamental transformation. He knows because, as a manager at Apple for most of the last decade he participated in the change, and clearly sees the similarities. Kehrer was the keynote speaker at the BYU Family History Conference Thursday morning, July 27, 2015.

“ is a different organization today—focused on the customer and quickly delivering value,” said Kehrer. “Companies that change the fastest to meet customer needs today are the most effective.” Kehrer said that FamilySearch is seeking to change the very landscape of genealogy.

Kehrer received generous oohs and ahs and applause from attendees as he outlined FamilySearch.org’s priorities for the near future and demoed some of the latest features on the website. He explained the current focus of much of the product development is focused on the following customer needs:

  • More records—faster
  • The ability to preserve and share personal family records online
  • Be more mobile—focused (ability to do more on cell phones and tablets)
  • More accurate and full-featured search experiences
  • Gather online sources easily and completely at a patron’s fingertips
  • Ensure the FamilySearch Family Tree is “genealogically sound”
  • Expand to work with partners and industry leaders to tackle the ominous needs of the marketplace

Since 2013, FamilySearch.org has seen a 234% increase in its LDS patrons and a whopping 1035% increase from the nonLDS segment. He believes these increases are due to improved patron experiences. Record collections on the site have nearly doubled since 2012 (1033 to 2019), and the searchable indexed names have grown from 750 million in 2010 to 5.2 billion today.

FamilySearch is expanding it’s 293 digital camera teams worldwide and the effort to digitally convert the microfilm in the Granite Mountain Records Vault is forging ahead—adding new content online at an impressive rate.

FamilySearch’s new indexing program—a community-based initiative to engage online volunteers to make the deluge of digital record images easily searchable by name and other variables online—is currently being rolled out in waves. Since it will be web-based, the biggest selling point is that it will run on all devices, including smart phones. It’s also collaborative, meaning volunteers and organizations can create their own groups to tackle projects of interest, track their progress, and message each other. And the new interface will enable users to reorient the way they view images and enter data according to personal preferences.

He also demonstrated automated indexing, a technology FamilySearch is developing that scours ASCI (typeset) type historic records and intuitively “indexes” them by pulling researchable data out of the document. This will vastly increase the production of indexed collections and free up volunteers to index older, handwritten record sets.

As its product manager, Kehrer’s areas of responsibility is FamilySearch.org’s search systems. He demonstrated FamilySearch’s evolving hinting feature—a service that automatically scours the rapidly growing body of historical records for your ancestors in the FamilySearch Family Tree and presents their records to you.

The location specific research pages, accessed thorough the map, bring together location relevant content from across the FamilySearch site (digital image collections, indexed records, Catalog, Wiki, and Help content). And image views now show the indexed data at the bottom of the screen. Seeing the image and the index together on the same screen significantly enhances user efficiency.

Coming soon are some impressive tools and more functionality for the FamilySearch mobile apps, Memories feature, and Catalog online. Advancements in search will be applied to all these applications. Microfilm images and indices will be accessible directly from the FamilySearch catalog and will enable users to quickly browse through digital images or search the film’s indexed records.