Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Why don't Church Members do more Genealogy?

Commentator Nathan Murphy made the following statement;
I'm not from Mormondom, but am a Mormon (I was raised in Kentucky). I'd like a better understanding of why so many people in Mormondom dislike family history. In Kentucky, it was usually adult men who were not interested in genealogy. Adult women were more interested. Boring? All done? For geeks? Irrelevant? Would rather look to the future, than the past? Too hard? Too many pushy people telling them to do it? I'd love to hear your fount of wisdom on the matter.
Recent presentations by some of the leaders of the Church's genealogical efforts have noted the overall lack of involvement by members. In a presentation made on 31 July 2013, Dennis Brimhall, the managing director of the LDS Family History Department, made the following statement:
With more than 2.9 billion names available to search in the FamilySearch database and millions more added each week, there is still a lot of work to be done. But even with all of the resources made available, only 25 percent of Church members have at least registered, and studies show that in a year-long span, only 8 percent of Church members have logged on and used FamilySearch.
Dennis goes on to say, “And so the question we ask ourselves is ‘What changes must we make to get more people engaged and involved in this work?’

I think I would not go so far as to say that members of the Church "dislike" genealogy, I would guess that it is a situation where too many other activities and obligations of the Church are given priority over genealogy. For example, if you are a member of the Church and have one or more callings in the Ward or Stake, you already spend a considerable amount of time in Church related activities. Adding in a labor intensive activity such as genealogy seems to be more than most members can handle. This fact alone could be the root cause of the lack of action on the part of the members.

For another viewpoint, the Church has provided proxy names for Temple attendance for many years. I am of the opinion that most of those who avail themselves of the pool of names provided do not really connect the idea of researching ancestors with attending the Temple. Despite statement from Church leaders about the importance of taking one's own family names to the Temple, the members feel no sense of personal urgency on this subject.

I doubt if any of the people who have not done genealogy would think of it as boring, but researching your ancestors does take a pretty sophisticated level of reading and writing ability. Frankly, I think there are a significant percentage of American adults, including those in the Church, who do not feel comfortable reading and writing and using a computer simply from lack of sufficient education to do so. There also seems to be an assumption that having access to a computer and familiarity with using a keyboard and mouse equate to an interest in genealogy. Computer competency is entirely distinct from any interest in genealogy as far as my experience is concerned.

My impression is that many members have no idea about how to do genealogy. They are convinced of the necessity, but lack the basic concepts and/or computer skills to progress. Even among members who have a significant desire to do family history work, the lack of computer skills forms and almost insurmountable barrier to being more than casually involved.

I also definitely see that there many members who equate genealogy with old age. They lack any role models of young people doing genealogy. Even if they do see some younger person doing genealogy, they are further intimidated by the young person's ability with the computer and are afraid to show how little the know.

As to the issue of members who are not interested, I think their lack of interest comes in part from an inability to see how to do genealogical research and fit it into the their own schedule and interests. How many younger people with leisure time if given the choice between a trip to the lake or a ski trip and doing genealogy, would choose genealogy?

I think the Church's approach with stories and photos is highly productive in making people aware of the programs and the subject matter. The photos and stories have the effect bringing the whole subject out of the libraries and into the homes. The real question is whether this transient interest in photos and stories will convert into an active interesting doing research? In many cases, I think it will.

All references in this post to the Church are intended to refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed in this post are entirely those of the writer and do not represent the official position of the Church or any of its official representatives.

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