Computing That Serves

Opportunities for Technological Breakthroughs at FamilySearch


Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 11:00am


Jake Gehring and Jon Morrey


Bill Barrett

Colloquium presented by Jake Gehring and Jon Morrey
Thursday, January 28, 2016
11:00am 1170 TMCB

Abstract: During a 1994 talk on family history and temple work, President Howard W. Hunter declared that "The role of technology in this work has been accelerated by the Lord himself, who has had a guiding hand in its development and will continue to do so."  However, he also added that "we stand only on the threshold of what we can do with these tools."  While the advent of the Internet seems to have been a partial fulfillment of that prophetic statement, there remains much for information technology to solve within the domain of family history and temple work.  In fact, it seems every new technological breakthrough brings with it a host of new problems to be solved!
Perhaps more so than any other area of the Church, Family History promotes and even depends on advancements in technology to help fulfill its mission.  However, the "guiding hand" of the Lord is clearly at work in developmental efforts outside as well as inside FamilySearch.  All of us have potential to contribute, wherever we work or study.  Perhaps that is one reason why you are where you are today!
As leaders of Research at FamilySearch, Jake Gehring and Jon Morrey will discuss the technological advancements they believe will most benefit FamilySearch's mission in the next two to twenty years, including:
* Indexing automation through Natural Language Processing (NLP)
* Enhanced OCR of historical text
* Offline handwriting recognition
* Document layout analysis
* Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
* Big Data analytics
Jake and Jon will talk about where FamilySearch currently is with these problems, where it soon plans to be, and where BYU and others can help.  They will also provide a candid look at some of the non-technical factors which influence FamilySearch's decision to pursue a particular technology or approach.


Over the last few years, Jon Morrey has managed several FamilySearch engineering teams within the Research, Family Tree, and Temple areas. Prior to coming to FamilySearch, Jon worked in software development at in Seattle and in Park City, Utah. Jon has been developing software in a professional setting since 1997. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of Utah.

Although his official church calling is ward clerk, Jon is also an active family history “helper” within his stake and region. He has given keynote addresses to hundreds of people at regional family history events. However, Jon most loves to help individual members discover family history in a one-on-one setting. It was while helping youth in his own stake that Jon personally developed the logic and software code for “Golden Hints”, a system that automatically identifies new family names for members with “full” family trees. In 2014, that same program was successfully used by several stakes (including one at BYU) in an experimental pilot. FamilySearch has since incorporated elements of Golden Hints into its mainstream products.

In his current capacity as manager of the Advanced Technology Research team at FamilySearch, Jon oversees exploratory software projects aimed at large-scale breakthroughs in family history research and productivity. Examples of his team’s projects include applications of Natural Language Processing (NLP), Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of historical documents, handwriting recognition, and graph databases, to name a few. Often these projects rely on advancements in pure academic research. Jon thus maintains a close relationship with professors and graduate students at BYU’s Department of Computer Science. He’s constantly looking for ways BYU and FamilySearch can work together to solve our most challenging problems.

Jake is former editor of Genealogical Computing and lecturer and author of several dozen articles in genealogical journals on topics ranging from GIS to lineage-linked databases to query management.

He has been heavily involved in genealogical publishing and digital publishing technologies for over twenty years. His career highlights to date include work as product manager for search features and functionality at, the largest genealogical web site on the Internet; director for, the largest free community of genealogists on the web; and publisher for HeritageQuest (a division of ProQuest), the largest and most successful provider of genealogical data to public and academic libraries in the United States.

Jake is currently employed with the FamilySearch International as Director of Content Development. He is responsible for the indexing and related publishing functions of the Family History Department. As part of this role, one of Jake’s most important strategic goals is to dramatically increase indexing productivity in the coming years. FamilySearch already acquires more historical records each year than we can possibly index. Jake is always on the lookout for faster ways to get those new records into the hands of the patrons who need them while maximizing the time of our volunteer indexers.

Jake is active in the professional genealogical community and past-president of the Association of Professional Genealogists. He has lectured at national conferences of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and National Genealogical Society as well as GENTECH and the Brigham Young University Computerized Genealogy Conference.