I have lived in my present Ward now for eight years. During that entire time, with a few very limited breaks, I have also been a Missionary at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (formerly the Mesa Regional Family History Center) and also acting as one of the Family History Consultants in our Ward. Early on in my experiences in this Ward, we focused on holding periodic classes on genealogy using the very well done and basic lesson materials supplied by the Church. What we found was that, for the most part, the class members would sometimes become interested in pursuing their own research, but that the classes did not provide the tools they needed to advance beyond looking at what was already recorded online. It appeared that the main obstacle to increasing family history activity was a way to capture the interest of the members, but at the same time, provide a pathway for them to advance in finding their ancestors from a practical standpoint.
In our Ward building, we do not have a FamilySearch Center, but we do have room with some computers. After some discussion, we decided to change the focus of our efforts from holding periodic classes to providing an open forum for members of the Ward to come to us every Sunday during our class period and work with individuals on their particular needs. Although response was slow at first, our persistence in the being available for consultation every Sunday eventually resulted in a marked increase in research activity among the Ward members with the results of some discovery hundreds of their ancestors. It is not unusual now to have every chair in our small computer center filled and people standing around asking questions.
Two events in the last month or so have dramatically changed the family history atmosphere in our Ward. First, the Stake implemented an Indexing program among the youth with active Stake representatives organizing and teaching the youth about Indexing. In addition, during the past month, our Bishop gave us permission to visit, very briefly, with each of the member families as they came for Tithing Settlement. We agreed not to do anything to interfere with the appointment times, but since our computer room was right next to the Bishop's office, this was not a problem.
We have now had a full month of meeting with most of the members of our Ward. The key factor to the success of this effort was using the Photos and Stories on FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program. We took less than five minutes, in most cases, to have one of the members of the family sign on to FamilySearch.org and showed them what the program had in the way of photos and stories. If their family did not have any photos online, we showed them briefly a file where there were a lot of photos and stories.
The results of this effort have been dramatic. What has been missing from the genealogy efforts in the past is engaging the class members in their own families. With stories and photos the reaction from the members, most of whom had not seen anything like this before, was extreme. We had people burst into tears and become so involved we had a hard time getting them to go to the Bishop's office for their appointment.
To reinforce what we had been doing every Sunday for a month, the Bishop held a "Fifth Sunday" meeting earlier in the month of December on the subject of FamilySearch and the Photos and Stories. We were able to present a brief overview to a a large number of Ward members, most of whom had already seen their own file online. When I went to a Ward gathering after these experiences, every person I talked to for over an hour wanted to tell me what they had found online about their family and how they are going to put more photos online.
I think there are some specific points here that need to be made. First and foremost, the Photos and Stories part of FamilySearch.org is a fantastic success even with all of its problems and challenges. Second, the members of the Ward need a specific experience that gives them an emotional interaction with their ancestors and the Photos and Stories provides that link. Last, the effort needs to be supported by active Family History Consultants that can provide the information to the members about how to translate their interest into concrete research on their family lines. If this is done consistently, day after day, week after week, the members will begin to take their own initiative and become actively involved in research. We are also fortunate to have the Mesa FamilySearch Library so close to our area for backup to our local Ward efforts.
Think about whether some variation on this type of approach might not help your own Ward.