News Release

Church Service Missionaries and Employees Work on Family History During Pandemic

More than 1,500 employees and service missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints displaced due to COVID-19 associated safety precautions have been reassigned to work virtually from their homes on family history and other several other related assignments until they can return to their regular assignments.


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The coronavirus pandemic caused Church facilities and operations around the world to halt or adjust their day-to-day services.

“It was overwhelming,” said Lorys Saavedra, who works at a Church distribution center in Centerville, Utah. “We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Precautionary measures temporarily impacted temples, distribution facilities, historic sites and thousands of family history centers around the world.

Steve Rockwood, president and CEO of FamilySearch International, explained that as COVID-19 safety measures unfolded, FamilySearch and Church leadership discussed options to help the displaced service missionaries and workers find opportunities elsewhere.

That is when the FamilySearch team offered to match displaced individuals’ skillsets with FamilySearch’s online operations and opportunities until they can return to their previous duties.

“Some technical skills, language skills, some genealogical skills were all put into play,” said Rockwood. “FamilySearch has 15 years of experience engaging a globally distributed workforce online. We were thrilled we could help accommodate these displaced workers and missionaries from other areas, and they in turn could help us help others to discover their families and ancestors.”

To accomplish this, the Church’s remote operations center, an online platform that already existed to help Latter-day Saint missionaries remotely, was expanded to offer physically displaced individuals with remote opportunities.

“We've had people [from] all over the world,” said Samantha Ann Sulser, a Remote Operations Manager in the Family History Department. “Latin America, Europe, Africa ...”

Sulser and her team collaborated with the Church’s Human Resources group to provisionally reassign the service missionaries and employees to these new types of meaningful work during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Because we have [historical] records that we process from all over the world, there are a number of different things that we need to do with those records to get them published for our patrons,” said Rockwood.

To help, employees and service missionaries are now contributing to record indexing (making historical records searchable by name online) and access, translating English content to other languages, gathering data from other cultures, testing products and even lending a helping hand to FamilySearch’s online community by answering users’ questions.

"There was some concern about how we were going to do our jobs,” said LeChele Gishi, who works as a rare book and scripture cataloger at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Like many other displaced individuals, Gishi explained that her work requires her to be physically present to work on the collection material she catalogs.

As of recently, she dedicates a portion of her 40-hour work week to her new FamilySearch assignment.

“Census indexing just seemed like a really good opportunity to jump on,” said Gishi. “I’ve actually really enjoyed it.”

A FamilySearch blog post was published to capture the available opportunities that employees and Church service missionaries now dedicate their time to and are accessible to anyone interested in volunteering remotely to do family history work.

“It was such a blessing for all of us,” said Saavedra.

Kevin Carter, a Church History Library service missionary from Kaysville, Utah, explained that prior to COVID-19, he and his wife, Marcia, offered tours and helped answer visitors’ questions.

Today, Elder and Sister Carter spend up to 10 hours a week working on making family history records accessible online from home.

“We’re going to make it available for people to research and that’s exciting,” said Elder Carter.

Displaced employees and service missionaries around the world have already helped make over one million historical records searchable online.

"Their efforts during COVID have now greatly accelerated the opportunity for you and I and others around the world to find their ancestors,” said Rockwood.

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