Tucson, Arizona – On Sunday October 27, 2013, Brent Summerhays, Area Manager for the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, visited Tucson to present recent innovations in the Church’s program to help connect people to their ancestors.
In a meeting that included priesthood leaders and family history consultants from the six Tucson area stakes, Brother Summerhays used a multimedia format to explain improvements in the family history program. He said, “We are changing the approach we use to help members have their hearts turned to their fathers. We are seeing that learning about and sharing of photos and stories about our ancestors is helping hearts turn like never before. These new resources on FamilySearch.org are making it much easier to learn about ancestors.”
Some of the innovations are:
Involving youth in the computer research for their own families
Calling youth as family history consultants
Having adult and youth family history consultants work in groups with families, in their homes, to find records of their ancestors
Promoting family participation in doing temple ordinances for ancestors
On the ward level, pilot groups have proved that youth readily learn and use the internet-based research tools that the Church has made available, and that they have found it more rewarding than the usual pastimes. Moreover, once they learned the programs, they were able to teach their parents what to do, building family bonds on both sides of the veil in the process.
As president of the Tucson East Stake, Barney Lewis hosted the meeting. He spoke after Brother Summerhays’ presentation, noting many ways that family history can be important for members of wards and stakes. He also introduced some youth who were recently called as family history consultants.
“The Lord is hastening the work, and I’m grateful to be part of it,” he said.
IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR!
Research has shown that “children show higher levels of emotional well-being if they know stories about relatives who came before them.”
A page on the Church’s family history website explains further: “A knowledge about their family history gives children of all ages a sense of their place in the world. It can also give young people something to live up to—a legacy to respect. Family history also provides an opportunity for children and teenagers to make a meaningful contribution to something bigger than themselves. This lesson provides ideas about how to involve children and youth in family history activities. Children and youth who develop an interest in family history are more likely to participate in family history throughout their lives.”
Does this mean that older family history consultants are on their way out? Not by a long shot! Their wisdom and experience are critical to the effectiveness of the work. In one local ward, a youth was working on an indexing project. However, having spent most of her life using a computer, she had trouble translating some of the old-style cursive handwriting on the records. Her mother, having had a much different experience, was able to help her decipher odd-looking letters.
The direction now is to include both youth and adult family history consultants (FHCs), working together to help individuals and families. A video presentation showed how three FHCs went into the home of a ward leader. One consultant (by prearrangement with the mother) took the younger children into another room and helped them prepare a skit about one of their ancestors. While that was going on, the other two FHCs helped the parents and a deacon in the family find an ancestor, learn about him, and take the steps necessary for them to perform that person’s ordinances. It turned out to be a strengthening experience for father and son as they did the work. Afterwards, the father was fully converted to family history and temple work and eager to share his testimony of it with his brethren in the ward.
Brother Summerhays illustrated by his own testimony and the reports he presented of pilot programs that these tools are proving instrumental in retention and reactivation, and in resolving family issues.
A PICTURE AND A THOUSAND WORDS
One of the most exciting developments in the FamilySearch.org arsenal is the ability to add pictures and stories about ancestors. No longer will such family treasures be consigned to albums, shoe boxes and journals on the shelves of one family member. Now priceless memories can be shared with everyone! A video presentation showed how one person shared a special memory about his grandfather that had really touched his life, and how it would now be available for future generations.
Others have reported the thrill of going into their family files on FamilySearch.org to find that other people had posted pictures of common ancestors that they had never seen. Looking into those faces brought them deep and abiding joy—and connection. And connection is the point, after all.
BUT I DON’T USE A COMPUTER!
For those who are not tech savvy or who may want to work on their histories when a computer is not available, the Church has provided booklets in which photos can be pasted and stories recorded. These make wonderful personal records, in a person’s own handwriting. The information can also be transferred later (or by someone who does use a computer) into the database, to be shared with others researching the line.
This is a gift and blessing we can share; FamilySearch.org and the hard-copy booklets are available to everyone. Some people who are not inclined to listen to discussions about the doctrines of the Church are still very interested in tracing their family trees. Those who know about this mountain of information can make it known to others.