BYU hosts family history exhibit

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The Evolution of Family History exhibit commemorates the 50th anniversary of the BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy. (Ty Mullen)

The BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an interactive exhibit.

The Evolution of Family History exhibit takes a nostalgic look back on how family history work has been done in the past while admiring how it has evolved today. The BYU library is presenting the exhibit with the subtitle, “Bringing it Home.” Through its interactive activities and stations, the exhibit emphasizes the ease of doing family history work in every room of the house.

The exhibit’s main message is to look how far the world has come in regard to family history and visually display how the technology has evolved.

Joe Everett, the family history, local history and microforms librarian, produced the exhibit. “The hope is is that they’ll appreciate our journey of how we’ve done family history over the years, at the same time that they’ll also appreciate how we do it now and be excited for how it’s getting better and better,” Everett said.

The exhibit is on display at the BYU Conference Center from July 31 to August 3. The exhibit is divided into two spaces: one is a library space, and the other is a home space with seven interactive activities to do in each one.

Visitors can sit down and read through some of the historically most important family history textbooks. (Ty Mullen)

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors arrive at an old card catalog and receive an activity card that looks like a library checkout slip on one side and a to-do list on the other. The exhibit’s activities are listed below.

The library space is filled with technologies of the past that people used to do family history.

“We used the best technology that we had at the time, and as the technology improved, we moved with it,” Everett said.

Some of the technologies and resources in the library space include a typewriter on which the exhibit’s visitors can type and log where they have done research on their genealogy. Visitors also can use a microfilm reader to look at a 50-year-old newspaper and answer some questions about what was going on during that time period.

Part of the exhibit celebrates how people did family history in the past by allowing visitors to type on an old typewriter. (Ty Mullen)

With other technologies and paper resources in between, the library space culminates with a 20-year-old beige PC, where visitors can explore the era of doing family history work on CD ROMs.

“And then in the new space — in the home space — it’s going to be set up like a modern home. The idea is that this is how we do family history today. More and more it’s mobile, it’s on the internet, it can be in any room of your home, and it’s something that’s for all ages and all abilities,” Everett said.

The home space includes a living room, kitchen, home office, kids play area and bedroom with typical family history activities that can be done in each room. In many of the rooms, visitors can use tablets and try out multiple family history apps. Twelve of the apps come from the BYU Family History Technology Lab.  

Mark Clement, a computer science professor who also supervises the lab, said the purpose of the lab is to lower the entry barrier into family history through the creation of apps.

Visitors can return to the time where people relied on CD-ROMs by doing an activity on an old PC. (Ty Mullen)

“We’re just excited for this conference and hope that people’s hearts will be turned to their ancestors. That’s really what we try to do in the lab, to get people to be more involved in family history while making it easy and fun for them,” Clement said.

“Geneopardy” is a twist on the classic game show Jeopardy, except participants answer questions about their ancestors. Another app, “The Wheel of Family Fortune,” takes names and events out of one’s family history. Players then have to guess the missing information.

“It’s actually incredible. After a few times playing it, you really start to know more about your ancestors,” Clement said.

Other apps in the exhibit include capabilities that make family history work easier and more efficient, while others include games and activities to get young children involved.

“You know when I first started doing family history, copy machines were just coming out, and so it is amazing to see the difference,” Clement said.

After completing three activities on both sides of the card, visitors can go to the kitchen in the home space for a BYU brownie.

In the kitchen area, visitors can test out family history apps and eat a BYU brownie. (Ty Mullen)

“I hope that what people will feel after they’ve been through the exhibit is this feeling of treasuring the memories. We’re not just treasuring the memories of our family history itself but also our journey through doing family history,” Everett said.

Although the exhibit is primarily for the conference attendees, it is open for all to see and experience.

Director of the Center for Family History and Genealogy Jill Crandell said, “Those 50 years, to me, I look at where we’ve been and where we are, and it actually makes me stand in awe of the Lord and what he’s accomplished with this.”

Family history and genealogy work has greatly increased in popularity over the years among all people.

“I think there’s just this universal desire to feel connected, and family, of course, is something that by and large people value, treasure and want to remember. There’s this desire to want to understand more about who we are and to feel connected to the past,” Everett said.

The BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy offers almost 160 classes for all skill levels.

“It’s interactive and fun. I was super impressed with what Joe’s created, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it. I think that the participants will be thrilled with it,” program administrator at BYU Continuing Education Ann Baxter said about the exhibit. 

Everett said family history work can greatly benefit BYU students. “Some of those blessings include protection from the adversary, strengthening of families and helping youth to be more resilient to overcome trials. And so certainly if that’s true for youth in general, BYU students for sure can benefit from that.”

BYU offers many resources for students to take advantage of in order to participate in and learn more about family history. One of those resources is Religion 261, a class that teaches the basics of family history.

“I would love to see every student a BYU go through that class before they graduate,” Crandell said.

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