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When it comes to family history, many people enjoy the thrill of discovering long lost ancestral lines. But what about your group of friends? Or your coworkers at the office? Have you ever been with a group of people and thought to yourself, “I wonder if any of us are related?”

Thanks to a BYU-developed app called “Relative Finder”, which is now officially certified by FamilySearch.org’s Family Tree, you can find out just how closely related you are to not only past historical figures, but your neighbor, your BFF, or even your boss at work.

“This app allows you, in three minutes of time and effort, to discover how you are related to all these people,” said computer science professor Tom Sederberg. “It is fun and informative, and can stimulate interest in family history work.”

Professor Sederberg has been working on this project with undergraduate students for nearly fifteen years now. In 2011, it launched as a Facebook app that had data limited to members of the Church.

Now that it is certified by FamilySearch, the Family Tree database contains almost ten times as much information -- connecting you to even more people.

In order to access the app, users must have an account with FamilySearch. LDS members can sign in with their membership number, and non-LDS must have previous genealogy completed on the website. Once logged into FamilySearch and Relative Finder, the user can start finding relatives among pre-made groups including U.S. Presidents, European Royalty, Constitution Signers, and LDS Prophets.

Users can also make and join groups with friends, coworkers, or classmates to see how closely related they are to people they know and associate with every day.

“Relative Finder can really change the dynamic of a ward or work office,” Sederberg said. “People are often astonished to learn that they are closely related to someone they live near or work with. Suddenly they are "family" and they look at each other a little differently, knowing that they share some heritage.”

Professor Sederberg, along with Professor William Barrett, oversees about a dozen undergraduate students in BYU’s Family History Technology Lab. These student developers work to improve Relative Finder and create other family history tools.

One main thing they have improved with Relative Finder is its mobile accessibility. In fact, 37 percent of the app’s traffic comes from mobile devices.

Being able to connect with users through mobile devices opens up a large window for one of their main targets: youth. Sederberg states that recently, FamilySearch hired a business strategy company to assess the use of family history technology from a business standpoint. They found that in order to get more people involved and interested in family history, they need to appeal to a younger audience.

Students in the Family History Technology Lab have developed many other interactive apps that can help introduce the youth into the world of family history. Some of these apps include a 2048-style game called “Ancestral Squares,” a Virtual Pedigree, and “Grandma’s Pie,” which shows you your heritage in the form of percentages and a pie chart.

“What we really want is for these apps to serve as sort of a gateway into family history,” Sederberg says. “If we can just introduce people to family history, they might get more excited and more willing to go out and do more of it on their own.”

With around 4,000 new users a week, Sederberg and his students are excited to expand the work they are doing with family history and Relative Finder. Some of their goals for the near future include a Bluetooth function that lets users find relatives in the same room, an Android app, and an iOS app.

 

Writer: Sierra Thomas