Irvan Lathief
March 22, 2024

Bridging Cultures: Our Journey with FamilySearch

This blog showcases how DotDesign and FamilySearch's partnership revolutionizes genealogy by blending cultural insights with tech advancements. It reveals the project's success in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, and its expansion into the APAC region. Readers will discover the significance of culturally informed genealogy for personal identity and global unity, highlighting the project's role in making genealogical research more inclusive and accessible worldwide.

In a world where the past intricately weaves into the present, understanding our roots has never been more crucial. FamilySearch, a titan in the realm of genealogy, faced a pivotal moment: stagnant user retention and insufficient new sign-ups. Recognizing the urgency to revitalize their connection with users globally, they sought a partner with a deep understanding of the Asia Pacific market and a knack for navigating the delicate tapestry of cultures within it. Enter DotDesign, a beacon of innovation and cultural acumen. Led by the insightful Derek Dobson, Senior Product Manager and Customer Experience Manager for International - Asia Pacific at FamilySearch, a collaboration was born out of necessity and vision. This partnership aimed not just to bridge gaps but to forge a new path in connecting individuals to their ancestral stories through a lens of cultural relevance and sensitivity. Join us on this transformative journey with FamilySearch, where we delve into the heart of cultures across Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand, redefining the narrative of genealogy for a more inclusive and engaging future.

Why Cultural Relevance Matters in Genealogy

  • Indonesia's Rich Tapestry: Indonesia, a nation marked by its diverse ethnicities and cultures, offers a unique perspective on genealogy. The country's history is a complex saga of transmigration, especially during the colonial era, which saw vast movements of people both within the archipelago and from abroad. These migrations have resulted in a rich mosaic of communities, each with its own distinct traditions surrounding death and remembrance. For instance, the Javanese, known for their syncretic belief system, combine Islamic practices with local customs in their ceremonies honoring the deceased, showcasing a unique blend of cultural and religious practices.
  • Australia's Dual Narratives: In Australia, the narrative splits between the indigenous Aboriginal communities and the descendants of European settlers. Aboriginal Australians have a deeply spiritual connection to the land and their ancestors, with practices and ceremonies that date back thousands of years. These traditions, which include the Dreamtime stories, are a testament to their rich cultural heritage. Conversely, the European settlers brought with them their own customs, which have evolved over time. The contrast between these practices highlights the diverse approaches to commemorating ancestors in Australia, offering valuable insights into the country's complex cultural landscape.
  • The Spirit of Cambodia: Cambodia, with its profound Buddhist beliefs, views death and the afterlife through a lens of spirituality and reincarnation. The Khmer people, deeply influenced by Buddhism, conduct elaborate ceremonies to honor their deceased, ensuring their peaceful transition to the next life. These practices, steeped in centuries of tradition, provide a fascinating glimpse into the country's cultural fabric and its people's enduring respect for their ancestors.
  • Malaysia's Melting Pot: Malaysia's multicultural society, comprising Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous populations, presents a vibrant array of customs surrounding death and remembrance. Each community, with its own religious and cultural beliefs, contributes to the rich tapestry of Malaysian heritage. From the Islamic practices of the Malay population to the Chinese and Indian communities' ancestral worship, Malaysia embodies a confluence of traditions that enrich its genealogical narrative.
  • New Zealand's Cultural Heritage: In New Zealand, the Maori culture offers a unique perspective on ancestry and the afterlife. The Maori, with their concept of whakapapa (genealogy), place immense importance on the connection to their ancestors, which is central to their identity and culture. The practice of tangihanga, the Maori funeral rite, is a powerful expression of respect for the deceased, encapsulating the depth of the Maori people's ancestral bonds.

Through this exploration of history, transmigration, and cultural perceptions of death, DotDesign and FamilySearch aim to forge a deeper, more meaningful connection between individuals and their ancestors. By understanding the diverse contexts of Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand, this collaboration not only enriches our comprehension of genealogy but also fosters a more inclusive narrative that honors the myriad ways cultures commemorate their past.

Navigating Cultures: Our Research Methodology

generated by DALL-E

In the heart of our project with FamilySearch lies a profound exploration of how different cultures perceive the deceased, revealing much about their core values and benchmarks for life. Through extensive research, ranging from desk and archive inquiries to immersive fieldwork across Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia all the way to New Zealand, our team uncovered unique cultural practices that offer a window into the diverse ways communities honor their ancestors and, by extension, what they hold most dear in life.

  • The Toraja Tribe of Indonesia: In the highlands of Sulawesi, Indonesia, the Toraja people practice an extraordinary funeral ritual that underscores their deep respect for the deceased. The elaborate ceremonies, which can last several days, involve feasting, animal sacrifices, and a series of rituals that ensure the deceased's smooth passage to the afterlife. For the Toraja, death is not an end but a crucial phase of life's journey, reflecting a belief system where the connection between the living and the dead remains strong. This practice illuminates the Toraja's values of family bonds, community support, and the cyclic nature of life and death.
  • The Chinese Community in Malaysia: Within Malaysia's multicultural tapestry, the Chinese community adheres to traditions that emphasize filial piety and ancestral veneration. Through practices such as Qingming Festival, families gather to clean their ancestors' graves, offer food, and burn incense and paper effigies, signifying respect and remembrance. These rituals highlight the Chinese emphasis on the continuity of the family line and the importance of remembering one's roots, reflecting values of respect, continuity, and collective memory.
  • Aboriginal Australians: The Aboriginal people of Australia possess a profound connection to their ancestors, land, and the Dreamtime – a complex network of stories, art, and rituals that explain the creation of the world and its creatures. Their funeral practices, often referred to as "sorry business," involve a period of mourning that includes storytelling, singing, and dancing to honor the deceased and guide their spirit back to the Dreamtime. This deep spiritual connection underscores the Aboriginal values of kinship, the sacredness of the land, and the interconnectedness of all living things.
  • The Maori of New Zealand: For the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, ancestry (whakapapa) is the foundation of identity. Tangihanga, the Maori funeral rite, is a powerful expression of grief and respect, bringing families together to mourn, celebrate the deceased's life, and reconnect with their ancestral roots. The ceremonies, rich in traditional songs, speeches, and hongi (the pressing of noses), reinforce the Maori values of family, community, and the eternal bond between the living and their ancestors.

Through these examples, our research not only provided insights into the diverse ways cultures honor the deceased but also revealed underlying life values that guide these communities. From the Toraja's view of death as a continuation of life, the Chinese emphasis on ancestral memory, the Aboriginal connection to the land and the Dreamtime, to the Maori's deep-rooted sense of identity and kinship, we see a tapestry of beliefs and practices that enrich our understanding of human values across cultures. This exploration is a testament to the power of cultural research in bridging the past with the present, offering a more nuanced and inclusive narrative of genealogy that respects and celebrates the diversity of human experience.

Localizing History: Tailoring Content for Each Country

In our journey to create culturally nuanced and locally relevant landing pages for FamilySearch, the role of In-Depth Interviews (IDIs) has been paramount. With a commitment to authenticity and accuracy, our team embarked on a rigorous process of research and design revision, engaging up to 15 individuals from each target country: Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand. These interviews, rich in cultural insights and personal narratives, have been the cornerstone of our endeavor to ensure that every landing page resonates deeply with its local audience.

Challenges and Collaborative Solutions:

One of the significant challenges we faced was encapsulating the collective contextual understanding unique to each country. To address this, we implemented a meticulous testing and revision process, with each landing page undergoing 3 to 4 rounds of refinement. This iterative approach allowed us to fine-tune content, design, and user experience, ensuring that each page not only reflected the cultural nuances but also engaged the local audience effectively.

In Australia, for example, our collaboration with Paul Bennallack and the in-house team proved invaluable. Working closely with the Australian National Archives and leveraging insights from FamilySearch's team members, we honed the Australian landing page to capture the essence of the nation's rich heritage. This included considerations of both the white Australian and Aboriginal perspectives, offering a comprehensive view that celebrates the diverse tapestry of Australian society.

Impact of IDIs on Design:

The IDIs were instrumental in transforming our initial designs from generic templates to vibrant, culturally relevant pages. By engaging directly with individuals from each country, we gleaned essential feedback that informed every aspect of the design process. This hands-on approach enabled us to create landing pages that not only attract but also resonate with local audiences, enhancing user engagement and retention.

Real Numbers, Real Impact:

The significance of this project extends beyond design aesthetics; it's about reaching a potential market comprising millions. For instance, Indonesia, with its population exceeding 270 million, and Australia, with its diverse population of over 25 million, including a significant Aboriginal community, represent vast audiences whose engagement can be profoundly impacted by culturally sensitive and relevant content. The meticulous research and design efforts are geared towards tapping into these substantial markets by offering an authentic and engaging online experience.

Over the past three years, our concerted efforts in the Asia Pacific region have led to a transformative impact on FamilySearch's non-logged in user experience. Through a meticulously designed approach that moved away from the "one design fits all" strategy—previously encapsulated in the generic "Happy Boy" design—we've seen a staggering 95% increase in new users. This achievement not only underscores the effectiveness of culturally tailored designs but also highlights the limitations of a one-size-fits-all approach in a region as diverse as Asia Pacific. Our success in reimagining the user experience showcases the profound impact that thoughtful, localized design can have on engaging new users and enriching their journey with FamilySearch.

Transforming from a generic to a culturally nuanced design, we've achieved a remarkable 95% increase in new users across Asia Pacific—a testament to the power of diversity in design.
This was their generic design
this is the localized design
The Power of Local Relevance:

The transformation of the FamilySearch landing pages through IDIs underscores the power of local relevance in the digital age. By prioritizing cultural understanding and community engagement, we've not only enhanced the user experience but also set a new standard for how genealogy services can connect with their audiences globally. This project is a testament to the importance of listening to and learning from the very people we aim to serve, ensuring that our digital spaces are welcoming, inclusive, and reflective of the rich cultural diversity of our world.

Through this comprehensive approach, we've not only addressed the initial challenges of user retention and sign-up rates but also paved the way for a more inclusive and engaging future for FamilySearch and its users worldwide.

How IDIs impact a design locally

Connecting Diasporas: A Cross-Marketing Strategy

In an age where storytelling and history intertwine to shape our understanding of identity and belonging, the recent release of the Indonesian movie "Eksil," which delves into the lives of exiled societies, offers a poignant reminder of the power of historical narratives. This cinematic exploration into the themes of exile and society not only captivates audiences but also resonates deeply with the work we've undertaken with FamilySearch. Our project, aimed at uncovering rich historical insights across Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand, finds a parallel in the narratives showcased in "Eksil," emphasizing the importance of understanding and preserving our collective pasts.

Cross-Country Marketing and Historical Insights:

Leveraging the historical insights gleaned from our in-depth research, FamilySearch is positioned to engage in cross-country marketing that speaks directly to the heart of each audience's cultural and historical identity. By integrating stories of migration, exile, and the diasporas from each country, we can create a marketing narrative that is not only more impactful but also deeply relevant to the diverse communities we aim to reach.

Indonesia's Exiled Societies:

In Indonesia, the story of "Eksil" echoes the historical complexities and the rich tapestry of cultures shaped by centuries of migration and transmigration policies. These movements have created a diverse society where stories of exile and adaptation are woven into the fabric of the nation's history, offering invaluable insights for engaging the Indonesian diaspora.

some of the data that we learned about Indonesian Sub-Tribes

This is some of the ethnic groups and languages that’s recorded in Indonesia itself. Imagine the wealth of culture within that archipelago.

Cambodia's Resilience:

In Cambodia, the resilience of the Khmer people, especially in the face of the Khmer Rouge regime, speaks to the profound strength found in the preservation of history and culture. These narratives of survival and rebirth are essential for connecting with the Cambodian diaspora, highlighting the importance of family and ancestral roots.

some of the insights from Cambodia
Malaysia's Cultural Melting Pot:

Malaysia's history is marked by its status as a cultural melting pot, with significant Chinese and Indian diasporas contributing to the nation's rich diversity. Understanding the intricate history of migration and settlement in Malaysia allows for targeted engagement with these communities, emphasizing the shared history and diverse heritage.

Here’s some of the fascinating history that we found about Malaysia;

Australia & New Zealand

Australia's Dual Narratives

Australia presents a unique opportunity for cross-marketing through its dual narratives of the indigenous Aboriginal communities and the descendants of European settlers. By honoring both the ancient traditions of the Aboriginal peoples and the stories of migration and settlement of Europeans, we can create a cohesive narrative that respects and celebrates Australia's complex history.

New Zealand's Maori Heritage:

In New Zealand, the Maori concept of whakapapa (genealogy) underscores the deep connections to ancestry and land. Integrating Maori stories and perspectives into our marketing efforts not only honors this rich heritage but also engages the Maori diaspora in a meaningful dialogue about roots and identity.

By weaving these rich historical insights and narratives into our marketing strategies, FamilySearch can foster a deeper connection with audiences across the globe. The stories of exile, migration, and resilience resonate across cultures, offering a shared experience that can unite people in their quest to discover and preserve their ancestral heritage. Through this approach, FamilySearch not only enhances its global outreach but also strengthens the bond between individuals and their past, creating a more inclusive and engaging platform for exploring genealogy.

created by DALL.E

The Impact of Our Work

Over the past three years, our efforts have led to extraordinary results: in Indonesia, we exceeded our new account conversion goal by 147%, while in Malaysia, we surpassed it by an impressive 195%.

For FamilySearch, integrating these rich historical insights and narratives from countries like Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand into their platform and marketing strategies signifies a transformative shift towards a more inclusive, culturally sensitive, and engaging approach to genealogy. This strategic pivot not only enhances FamilySearch's relevance and appeal across diverse global communities but also elevates its mission of connecting individuals to their ancestral roots. Here’s what this means for FamilySearch:

Enhanced Global Engagement

By acknowledging and incorporating the unique cultural histories and narratives of exile, migration, and resilience from each target country, FamilySearch is poised to deepen its engagement with a global audience. This tailored approach makes the platform more accessible and relevant to users worldwide, encouraging exploration and participation in genealogical research.

2024-2025 Prioritization

Along the road, based on the data given to us, DotDesign, we also helped FamilySearch reprioritize based on the potential market penetration that’s most viable for the campaign. And here are some of the countries within the reach of Asia Pacific.

FamilySearch's approach of incorporating cultural histories and narratives significantly enhances global engagement, making the platform more accessible and relevant to a diverse audience. This effort has led to a more inclusive and culturally sensitive platform, respecting the diverse ways communities perceive their history and honor their ancestors.

Key enhancements include:

  1. Global Engagement: By incorporating unique cultural narratives, FamilySearch has become more accessible worldwide.
  2. Inclusivity: Understanding diverse cultural practices has transformed FamilySearch into a welcoming platform for all users.
  3. Cross-Market Connections: Using historical narratives for marketing connects users with their ancestral lands, preserving cultural heritage.
  4. Diverse Content: The platform now offers a wider range of records and stories, enriching users' genealogical research.
  5. Empowered Narratives: Users can construct nuanced family narratives, thanks to a deeper understanding of their ancestors' histories.

Overall, FamilySearch's initiative not only enriches genealogical research but also fosters a global community united by shared histories, transforming genealogy into a journey of cultural discovery and connection.

Conclusion: The Future of Genealogy and Cultural Preservation

Our collaboration with FamilySearch over the past three years has led to significant achievements in genealogy and cultural preservation, notably in Indonesia and Malaysia, where we've seen new account conversions surpass our goals by 147% and 195% respectively. These results highlight the impact of our approach, blending cultural sensitivity with technological innovation to connect individuals with their ancestral roots.

Key Points:

1. Significant Achievements: In Indonesia and Malaysia, we far exceeded new account conversion goals.

2. The Future Is Inclusive: We're committed to making genealogy accessible and enriching for all, leveraging cultural research and advanced technologies.

3. Evolving Role of Cultural Research: It's crucial for deepening understanding of personal and collective identities, enriching the field of genealogy.

Expansion Plans:

DotDesign & FamilySearch are expanding their collaboration into the APAC region, focusing on Australia, New Zealand, and improving user experience for Chinese-speaking users in Malaysia through cultural research and in-depth interviews (IDIs).

As we move forward, our focus on inclusivity, technology, and understanding cultural legacies sets the stage for a more connected and personalized exploration of ancestry. This continued collaboration aims to unlock new insights and stories, fostering a deeper connection with our heritage.

As we continue to weave the rich tapestry of our past into the fabric of the present, the journey with FamilySearch is far from over. Your story is a crucial thread in this ever-expanding mosaic of human history. We invite you to join us on this remarkable journey of discovery. Dive into your family's past, uncover your roots, and connect with the stories that shape you. Together, let's embark on this journey of exploration and connection. Visit FamilySearch today(, and take the first step towards uncovering the stories that make you, you.


We owe a tremendous thank you to Derek Dobson, Senior Product Manager and Customer Experience Manager of International - Asia Pacific at FamilySearch. Derek's unwavering trust and advocacy for our work have been the cornerstone of this successful collaboration. His belief in the importance of integrating cultural insights into genealogical research has not only propelled our project forward but has also enriched the experience for users worldwide. The best aspect of working with Derek has been his consistent support and vision, ensuring that our joint efforts not only meet but exceed our shared goals. His commitment to our partnership exemplifies the power of trust and advocacy in achieving remarkable outcomes.


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