David Rencher, chief genealogical officer (CGO) of FamilySearch and director of the Family
History Library, received the prestigious Certificate of Appreciation from
the American Society of Genealogists at its annual meeting on November 2, 2019,
in Salt Lake City. Rencher received the certificate “in recognition of his
vigorous and visionary efforts to serve the aims of scholarly genealogy at the
Family History Library and at FamilySearch.”
The society rarely gives the award, bestowing the accolade only
on those who make outstanding contributions to the field of genealogy. Rencher
is the 18th recipient of this award since the society was incorporated 73 years
Rencher, a diehard advocate for the family researcher, has
made a career of promoting the industry. Below, we have highlighted just a few
of his significant contributions to the genealogical community.
Family History Library Service
In the last 20 years, Rencher has twice served as director of
the Family History Library. He began serving as the director of the Family
History Library in 1999, and in 2002, he became the director of the Records and
Information Division. In 2008, he became the CGO for FamilySearch.
Since 2018, Rencher has assumed both duties.
The Family History Library is respected among genealogists
worldwide for its diverse collections of historically important genealogical
materials organized for ready access online and in the library. In addition to
maintaining the library’s research materials, Rencher oversees some library
outreach programs such as webinar classes, putting materials online, and
authorizing new affiliate libraries.
Rencher initiated the book scanning program for the library
collection during his first administration as director of the Family History
Library. More than 458,500 have been
digitally published online to date. He
and his staff are currently working to replace books removed during the
digitization and to expand the library collection, which already includes more
than 600,000 items. Through his efforts, the library is helping to identify other
public libraries to digitally publish historical books of genealogical
During his service in the Family History Department, Rencher
has also been instrumental in the production of the automated indexes for the
Social Security Death Index records, the 1880 United States census, the 1881
British census, and the military casualty files for Korea and Vietnam.
Adapting to a Changing Genealogical Landscape
Changes in research have developed rapidly in recent years,
and Rencher works with his staff to meet these changes at the Family History
“The landscape has been completely erased and redrawn [at
the library]. It is like night and day literally between now and the ’80s and ’90s.
We have collections online I’d never have dreamed would be available in seconds,”
Rencher said. “For example, church and vital records. To actually see vital
records of deaths and marriages online—we didn’t even conceive of such thoughts
when I began 39 years ago.”
The collections at the library continue to expand
exponentially as the library adds books, documents, and other artifacts to its archive.
Providing Research Assistance
Rencher and his team work to invite more than just the
scholarly community to enter library doors. In the collections on four levels
of the library, scholars and amateurs alike pore over books, documents,
microfilm, and computer screens to sort out the details of their families’ pasts.
Trained associates are on hand to provide free assistance,
and research classes are available at the library and online. At the same time,
the main floor is devoted to engaging family history discovery
experiences for people of all ages and cultures—inviting them to come
inside, participate, get a feel for their ancestry, and capture and preserve
memories for posterity. Special event activities throughout the year enhance
Creating Discovery Experiences
Under Rencher’s direction, the library is now working to
grow the interactive discovery experiences on the main floor directed at
younger age groups and others unfamiliar with family history research.
Additionally, the library hosts special events throughout the year to include
all people and cultures.
Working with Staff
To best serve FamilySearch’s and the Family History Library’s
joint efforts, Rencher relies on the expertise of his deputy chief genealogical
officers and reference specialists, who assist in ensuring the genealogical
soundness of the products and services offered by FamilySearch. They serve as
ambassadors for FamilySearch to genealogical and historical societies,
libraries, and archives to maintain relationships for partnership
“They provide an enormous public relations function as
representatives of FamilySearch,” Rencher said. “I have an outstanding team to
oversee the library, and skilled genealogists and trained volunteers who help
visitors find success,” he added.
Involvement in the Genealogical Community
Rencher is a proponent for the continual development of
tools to encourage family research across the industry. In that capacity, he
reaches out to other genealogical organizations to encourage them to make
records more available, broaden enthusiasm for the process, and raise the
standard for the outcomes.
As vice president of development for the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), Rencher
helps establish fundraising priorities and goals and oversees fundraising
activities in the broader genealogical community, including choosing records to
digitize in the National Archives and
Records Administration (NARA). These efforts augment the work that
FamilySearch does and reduce digitization costs to FamilySearch.
Most recently, Rencher supervised raising funds for the
multimillion-dollar War of 1812 Preserve
the Pensions Project. Through this effort, digitization of these
genealogically rich records is nearing completion. About 80 percent of the
records are available for free access indefinitely through Fold3.com.
Rencher is also the former chair of the FGS Records Access and Preservation Committee
(RPAC) and now serves as a committee member representing the FGS. The RPAC is a
joint committee made up of representatives from the FGS, the National Genealogical
Society (NGS), and the International
Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).
For Rencher, the objective of family history is to promote
family connections. While building the library collections and increasing
access, he continues to champion the craft by aiding genealogical societies to
make their records more accessible and create meaningful family experiences.
Source: Family Search