Janet Hovorka. Founder & Development Director.
- Date of Incorporation: January 2004
- Location: Pleasant Grove, Utah
- Industry (Yahoo Finance): Publishing Services
- Employees: 6
- Website: www.generationmaps.com
How did you get started with Generation Maps?
When we got married my husband owned an antique table that had belonged to his great grandparents who were from Sweden. I’m not particularly interested in antiques, but my husband’s grandfather was raised using that table. His mother, who I only met a few times before she died, was very vested in making sure that we knew about her family. She wanted everyone to know that they weren’t just Hovorkas, but that they were Andersons as well. She gave us several heirlooms, but this table intrigued us. My husband’s uncle and brother had done some research on the Hovorka side, but we decided to work on the Anderson line because of that table. So we went to the Family History Library to do research on that line. It was a very confusing place even though I had a Master’s Degree in library science. We finally made a break-through, and I got bit by the geneology bug. I just absolutely loved learning about these people. I eventually became acustomed to the Library and realized that it didn’t have to be a confusing place. When I finally came back to my own family history, which I call the “burned-over district” because I have seventeen ancestors who were endowed in the original Nauvoo Temple (Pratts, Romneys and Snows), I faced the challenge of knowing that I had great grandparents who had done genealogy at the turn of the century, which meant the easier to find names were already found. Finding names earlier than that was so overwhelming. I went to my sister who was a professional genealogist and said, “What shall I start with?” She gave me some of the files and they were already in PAF, but it was still overwhelming. I couldn’t see it all on the screen. I gave it to my husband because he is a programmer and he put it all out on the screen. It was our first generation map.
When did you start with physical charts?
We started with working genealogy charts and then we made some decorative charts for display. The working charts are important so you can have the information in front of you to fix and to add to. I have a passion for decorative charts because it is important to have things out where you can see them. Whether it’s our charts or someone else’s, you need those pictures and artifacts somewhere visible so that those people can become a part of your life. It changes you. It gives you a different perspective, a little more wisdom.
I usually share a story about the impact that charts can make when we lived in Redding, California.
Please share your story.
I tell this story all the time. I came home one day just shortly after we started the business and the washing machine had flooded. It was six inches deep with water on the main floor and it was raining down through the furnace ducts into the basement, which wasn’t finished so it wasn’t as big of a problem. I had a box of negatives that were right under the laundry room; the basement was flooded as well. I came in and started picking things up and said, “Ahh! I can’t believe this is happening.” Everything was sopping and I looked up on the wall at this picture chart we had done of my grandparents. I saw people who had settled St. George, and I saw people who had crossed the Plains. I saw people who had lived through World War II and the Depression, my grandparents, and people who had faced mobs in Missouri. I looked up and saw that perspective for a minute and thought, “Oh, this is not a big deal. I have insurance.” I had to leave for a conference while a team gutted the main part of the house, rebuilding the kitchen. In addition to that happening, my daughter became extremely ill that week. We ended up in the hospital for quite a long time. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her, but she’s fine now, it was just one more trial at the time. It was one of the worst weeks of my life, but I went through that week with a sense of calm, and a sense of assurance that when you study the span of a life, your little crises don’t seem as important. I love having that understanding in my life. It is really important to me to try and maintain that perspective. I think that is an attribute of God.
Great Story. So, did you always intend on becoming an entrepreneur?
No, not at all! I am probably not an entrepreneurial spirit. My dad worked a stable government job, with all the holidays. When we got married my husband had a stable government job, with all the holidays. When we decided to do this it was pretty scary. In fact it is still scary, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. I love being home; I love working with my spouse; I love doing what I want to do, which is doing genealogical work. I could never do a different job now because I love being in charge of what I do, and creating something that is important to me.
What scares you about being an entrepreneur?
The instability. I grew up with a lot of boring stability. (laughs) Now I love the excitement of it, and the passion of it, but it’s still not stable. That’s okay though, because it’s fun.
You started Generation Maps with your husband Kim. Will you please share a bit about dynamics of starting a business with your spouse?
That’s a loaded question. We always knew we had a good balance. I’m very out-going and gregarious. I can do marketing. He’s a very hard worker. He can stay up all night, if that is what it takes, to get something done. I didn’t ever want to start a business because if it was something I believed in I knew I’d have a hard time selling it. I would want to give it away instead. It probably takes a certain kind of marriage. You have issues of course with any kind of co-worker, but we love being home and being available to our kids. We love the flexibility. We’ve delineated out the parts that are his and the parts that are mine. Working at home can consume your life. You have to work hard to still have a life separate from your work, but it is fun to share all of that with your spouse. You can talk to each other about every part of everything that you do.
Let’s talk about your products. What makes your charts so successful? Why do you do so well?
I think the reason we do well is that we can do anything.
We do inexpensive working charts, which are family charts that you can write on and add information to. The biggest one we have ever done was for the Pratt Family Foundation, with eight hundred feet of charts displaying 30,000 people. That was fabulous, spectacular. It’s amazing to do a chart like that and realize the effect that a couple of lives can have. Descendants or ancestors, it’s exponential. You come to realize that one life really makes a difference even over just a few generations.
We also do decorative charts. As I said, I am passionate about having family history out where I can see it. We can do any style or any design that someone wants to do. We can do things from any type of file. We’re trying to make this the place to do genealogical printing. There really aren’t any other companies out there that can make any type of chart from any file.
I understand that 90 percent of your clientel are from members of other faiths. Why do you think this is?
I don’t know why LDS people aren’t doing as much, but I know that non-LDS people are drawn to geneaology because of how soul satisfying it is and how important it is to be grounded in where your family is from. There’s healing that comes from that. Everybody has good and bad in their ancestry. The bad part is important to understand so that you can change things and heal, and the good part, well it’s wonderful to know that you come from good stock, that it’s part of you as well. Knowing who you are and what you are capable of and what you can do, that you are part of a family who loves you, that is so important—feeling like you are a part of a bigger whole, and just being emotionally healthy. I think non-LDS people are drawn to it because it feels good.
Statistics show that only 1-3 percent of LDS members do Family History work. What needs to change to improve this?
I think it is changing. The New FamilySearch™ is putting some things together that are going to be fabulous. Being better able to collaborate is what Family History research is all about. At first it is hard because people have different ideas. I was scared at first too, but now I think collaboration is really going to work. As New FamilySearch™ develops over the next few years, it will create the infrastructure to enable people to work together more easily, and to draw in the sources, the pictures, the documents, and things like that. Once you have a document attached to a fact, that fact becomes more concrete, it’s accurate. We’re not quite there yet, but with the New FamilySearch™, as it progresses and the capabilities expand, the work will become much easier. I think as LDS people see the power in it, and as more people experience this, the percentage of members doing genealogy work will increase. I think there will be new entreprenurial opportunities as that interest grows. I’ve already seen some companies do well filling the needs of the members as they venture into this. There is definitely an interest because they know they are supposed to be doing it, but a lot of them don’t know how. Anybody who can come in and make that easier for them is going to do well.
What are some of these companies that you see as being able to fill the needs of the members?
Right now there is an affiliate program with FamilySearch™ which brings in companies to partner with the new FamilySearch™. The church has decided to use tithing resources for the infrastructure, something that is harder for the industry to produce; they have decided not to update PAF because the industry is not willing to do that and there were already some wonderful products out there that were similar to and better than PAF. I think it is wise that they have decided not to waste tithing resources to produce something that the industry is willing to do. Four years ago the Church brought us and five other companies in to develop products compatible with New FamilySearch™. They set up a certification program so that products have a “seal of approval” and people know that the products work well with the database and are secure. There are currently eleven companies with products certified to work with New FamilySearch™, with several more soon to be certified. Our company prints charts straight from New FamilySearch™ with opportunities to correct the information if you need to. And we’ve got some exciting things coming out next year that will make it really easy for members to create any kind of chart to decorate their homes and use to inspire their families.
Do you foresee entrepreneurship as a means of engaging LDS members to do family history?
Sure. It’s always better to have more heads working on solutions. Who knows what someone might be able to come up with to engage more people and make family history work easier and more exciting. Maybe turning it into a video game, who knows? I think that is the wisdom of opening up access to the New FamilySearch™ database. And I really believe capitalism works. If someone can build a better mousetrap and make some money, there is motivation there for people to think of new things.
What do you hope to see in the future of entrepreneurship for our genealogical community?
I think the trick to engaging the LDS community in Family History work is to make it simple, to get involved in bite-sized sections. Everyone knows how important it is; everyone cares about it. But, because of all of the stuff out there we all think we are too busy. We aren’t too busy for what is most important, but a lot of LDS people don’t want to invest the time in something that seems too complicated. So they end up with a lot of guilt over it and don’t ever get far enough in to be able to see the enormous blessings. I think entrepreneurs have a great opportunity here to make family history easy to engage in because once people are engaged the strong spirit of it makes it really addictive. There’s an invested interest that Church leaders have, they want it easy and they want it right. That is the challenge: to make it right and easy at the same time. Meeting that challenge is going to solve many of the complications. They also have to make it so a person can stop when they need to and come back to where they left off without difficulty. That’s going to be the hard part.
Do you have any advice for members of the Church?
Just that family history is such a soul-satisfying, wonderful thing. I see non-members enjoying the benefits of it all the time and I just can’t recommend it to you enough. President Packer said it is the most spiritual work of which he knows. I have experienced that too. It is a very spiritual, powerful thing. Irrespective of our business or our company, I would encourage members to take advantage of the blessing. We never say, “Grandma paid all the tithing, so I don’t have to.” or, “It’s not my time or season to go to the Temple, or go to Church,” and yet we do that with family history work all the time. I don’t know why we get so overwhelmed with this. Maybe that’s an idea for an entrepreneur, to make it not so overwhelming! This is the new idea I have about this: the Lord doesn’t need us to do the temple work. He’s God. He could do it some other way. But it’s a privilege and blessing in our lives to be able to do it. Like every other thing He’s asked us to do, He’s given genealogy to us to benefit our own lives. It really has nothing to do with them needing us. We need them. It doesn’t have as much to do with the thought, “Oh they are waiting for me, and we have to do this for them,” as with us needing that power in our lives. The Lord never gives us something to do just because it will make more busy work for us. He gives it to us because He knows the blessings that will come from it.
I think we’ll see lots of new excitement this next year with New FamilySearch™ and other things that are coming up. It’s an exciting time to be in the genealogy industry. Members and non-members are waking up to how exciting genealogy can be.
It’s turning around and entrepreneurs are helping that happen.
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