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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How do we hasten the work of genealogy? Family History Work in the Ward

Many of the talks and articles by Church leaders recently have discussed the need to "hasten the work of salvation." Quoting from the October, 2013 Ensign with an article with that specific title:
It is time for all of us to understand more clearly our role in hastening the work of salvation. As we make member missionary work, convert retention, activation of less-active members, temple and family history work, and teaching the gospel a natural part of our lives, we will experience great joy and be endowed with the spiritual gifts we need to strengthen the Church in the 21st century.
The focus of most of the commentary is on missionary work for the living, but temple and family history work are always mentioned. So how do we "hasten" our genealogy or family history work?

One of the biggest challenges and one key to progress, is that of involving the youth in the work of seeking out their ancestors. Whether you call this "family history" or "genealogy" the process is the same. Quoting a comments made by Elder Paul B. Pieper of the Seventy and Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy and Director of the Family History Department, from a Church News article of April, 2013:
Helping the youth gain perspective is a goal of the new youth curriculum—where learning resources replace lesson manuals, said Elder Pieper. The curriculum will allow youth instructors to determine what they need to build into each Sunday experience to prepare youth for temple and family history work and missionary service.

“The new MTC is the home,” said Elder Packer. “The new family history center is the home. The new curriculum is going to help the youth and the parents both in that role.”
Having helped hundreds of people get started with researching their family history, the biggest question I have is who is going to teach all these people how to do the work? Granted, a new member whose family has never done genealogy or family history work previously, has an open field. They can usually go to available family records or easily obtainable online records and complete two or possibly three generations. But what happens when they have to do some actual research into records that may not be as easily obtained? One the other hand, what of the youth who find themselves heirs to a family history that goes back generations? How are they supposed to start? With the now suspended New.FamilySearch.org program it was easy to find "green arrows" or people supposedly ready for ordinances. This was mainly due to the unresolved duplications in the program. FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program brings the process into the realm of reality and out of the dream world of harvesting green arrows. I was amused by a comment I had to a blog post recently that said:
Oh, don't get me started on this subject!!! I love the idea of collaborating on family research, but we keep forgetting that people have different reasons for doing their research, and not all of them reflect the goals of accurate scholarship. My feeling is that FamilySearch should have two entirely separate trees, one for the "feel good about your family" types, and the other for people who cite their sources and can analyze them as well.
Do we really want a "feel good about your family" type of family history work or is there some component here of accuracy and diligence in identifying the right people? Believe me, there are people in the Church who think that they have the responsibility for re-doing all of their ancestors' ordinances themselves, even if someone else has already done the work.

In my own Ward, for example, the individuals assigned to work in Family History are almost entirely isolated from the rest of the Ward, especially the youth. The High Priest Group Leader and the Ward Mission Leader attend Ward Council, but no Family History Consultant or other representative of the family history work is directly involved. None of the members of the Ward regularly hear about "doing their family history work" like they do about missionary work or home teaching. In our Ward, we have a structured help center every Sunday during Sunday School to help members with their family history, but the youth cannot attend, even if they wanted to, because they would be viewed as missing their Sunday School class. Even most of the adults feel guilty because they are missing the Gospel Doctrine class. There is no other scheduled time when Ward members can get help with family history. Family History is mostly viewed as "one more program" competing for the interest and activity of the members and unfortunately is usually viewed as much lower priority than other programs.

The Family History Consultants, during infrequent opportunities to address the Ward, invite the members to ask for individual help, but unless the Family History Consultant or Consultants push the issue, nothing happens. As I have written previously, our Ward uses the Sunday School time as an open time for assistance. Because of this, members of the Ward have qualified hundreds of names for Temple work. This would not be the case if we were "teaching a class" instead of helping the members individually. All this is done "outside" the regular organization of the Ward. This opportunity to receive help with family history cannot extend to the youth because there is no mechanism in place or program or time or whatever to make that happen. If family history is addressed in the context of the existing program, it is looked upon as a "special event" taking away from the regular scheduled classes and activities.

If you are talking about integrating family history into the lives of the youth and their families, this needs to be done in a way that provides the help and support necessary. Presently the whole system relies on a Ward's High Priest Group Leader, who receives little or no formal training in how to do Family History. Most of the High Priest Group Leaders I talk to around the Church are only vaguely aware of FamilySearch, much less of the entire Family History programs of the Church. One minor adjustment would help to change that, in my opinion, put the High Priest Group leaders into the Family History loop or have a Ward Family History Consultant who acts in a similar capacity to the Ward Mission Leader. In many Wards, the "Family History Consultant" is a woman. That is not a problem and usually she is the most qualified person in the Ward. But she has not direct contact with the High Priest Group Leader in any formal meeting. Neither does a male Family History Coordinator who is not a High Priest.

The Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, To Turn The Hearts, says at page 3:
High priests group leaders have the primary responsibility to coordinate the ward council’s efforts to encourage and enable temple and family history work in the ward.
At pages 17 and 18 or the Guide, the program as outlined is exactly what is being accomplished in our Ward with the exception that there is no provision for the inclusion of youth in the activities. Again, at page 19 here is a quote from the Guide:
The high priests group leader directs the work of family history consultants as he:
• Recommends members to be called and set apart as family history consultants, as requested by the bishopric.
• Works with the bishopric to ensure that enough consultants are called to meet the needs of the ward.
• Provides assignments to consultants, including assignments to work with certain ward members.
• Ensures that consultants are properly prepared to perform their callings and makes them aware of the training resources at FamilySearch.org/serve.
In addition, we have already established Family History Centers in the Stakes around the Church, let's use them. Where there are no centers, how about a dedicated family history class room where a class or assistance can be given every Sunday? How about some other innovative ways to provide the training and help necessary to actually do family history?


12 comments:

  1. I recently received an email from a cousin who got my name from Family Tree. She said their bishop and stake president were strongly encouraging them to "hasten the work" by taking family names to the temple. However, as she went back along all the family lines in Family Tree she couldn't find anyone whose work needed to be done. When I suggested to her that doing some original research on collateral lines was probably the best way to get names, she seemed completely overwhelmed since that meant trying to research Danish families in the 1700s. It seems like nearly everyone I speak with thinks that the process of finding names to take to the temple means looking for green arrows on Family Tree. They seem to be overwhelmed by the concept of actually doing genealogical research. While I certainly applaud the emphasis on photos and stories, it seems like truly "hastening the work" means a return to the basics of true original genealogical research. As you suggest, it seems like we need an emphasis on family history "scholarship." Teaching solid research fundamentals and encouraging original research.

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    1. My experience exactly and pressure applied by the leaders can create a situation where the member will "generate" names for the Temple.

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  2. I also wish I knew how to hasten genealogy work. Our stake presidency kept bringing out a young man to talk at different functions who had found over 100 names. When I see this I cringe at the generation of names he has been going through. I have also seen in Family Tree where new work is being done for names that are out of order. I merged one person today whose name is Sietska Alberts. She married William Furniss. His second wife's name was Alberta Sitska Furniss and the temple work had all been done in the last year. Both spouces were obviously the same person and sadly all of the duplicate children's work had been done too.

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    1. Most of those problems are still coming from New.FamilySearch.org. As time goes on, you will see far fewer duplicates in Family Tree, especially if the families get in and clean up the entries. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I so appreciate your comments. When I was called as HPGL several years ago I knew nothing about Family History, however our stake was very active in training all leaders in family history. They expected me to be an active participant and not just farm it out to consultants...I was supposed to know as much if not more than them. We had quarterly trainings for both HPGLs and assistants as well as consultants. I am so grateful for that dedication from the stake and direction that I go to the Mesa FSL for more training over the years.

    Now I am in a different ward and stake. The bishop has had two 5th Sunday lessons on family history, the last of which I taught. But there have been no family history consultants called and neither have I been called. Yet there are numerous families active in personal research. After a year and a half I finally just got them to let me in the family history room during Sunday School. I have taken our HPGL over to my former stake's family history center (Mesa Alma Stake) to try to help him see a bigger vision in family history which I think has helped because he pushed to help me get the room open. I think you are right the the majority, even the leaders just see this as one more program they have to do or oversee when they already have full plates. Everyone has to choose for themselves what will fit in their lives at this moment. I just wish those that oversee wouldn't hold back those that want to do.

    I have always encouraged people embarking on family history to learn how to research and document, but the vast majority just want names and dates. Maybe the Stories program will help people see there is just more to family history and dig deeper in their family lines and quite possibly turn up some more stories through that research.

    Keep up the good work and great thoughts!

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    1. Thanks for the kind comments. I see the same situations all over as I visit Wards around the country.

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  4. I am a Family History Consultant in a Ward in Bountiful, Utah. For the previous four years or so, our Sunday School Family History class was put in spare rooms that were available, even in the kitchen for a couple months. I kept pushing for a dedicated room and class and we have settled into the second overflow in a carpeted cultural hall. We setup a couple tables, and for a year, I roamed the halls and recruited the unwary to attend. I kept recommending that the Bishopric needed to be onboard with family history and that they needed to call specific members to rotate through the class, similar to the way they do with teacher development. We also needed to change the mindset of especially one FHC who just wanted to teach a class about the history of family search and the reason for changes, etc. Anyway, we are finally at the point where things are working pretty well, the HPGL is attending, he has assigned specific members to attend for four or five weeks, etc.

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    1. I think your experience is fairly typical except that you have persevered and resolved the issues. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. I am a FHC for 18 months. I think the idea of a family history Sunday School class .... sadly, is doomed to failure. I have been mulling over this very idea for 6 months and have spent quite a few hours laying out what such a research based course would look like. While I do respect all of your comments, agree with some of them in part, but still feel that none of the posters prior to me have the correct answer.

    The idea to hold a weekly S.S. class on Family History, simply will not work for several reasons. Number one, you cannot effectively teach any more than 1-2 students at a time. It is foolishness to think you can assemble a room full of people and start and stop a discussion in exactly 45 minutes. Family History is part teaching to be sure, but it more SHOWING people how to do it.

    Secondly, you would have to write your own curriculum on Family History Research, and for that you better have top notch Power Point or similar skills. If you were to "borrow" from an exiting course ( I recently took one on line through a Junior College in Northern California), then there would be a book to purchase. As you know, F.S. keeps on changing the Family Tree Program almost on a daily basis, so that any book you have become quickly dated. Teaching software, which is basically what you are doing, is incredibly difficult. Ask any software teacher, and they will tell that students will nod their heads yes that they "get it", and in three months time, you will find they got or retained almost nothing.

    Points 3-4 are related. Like any college class, for every hour of lecture in the class room, at least twice that much is required in personal study, and you can double that for family history. For my 3 unit college level class, our teacher, a Board Certifed genealogist, suggest 16 HOURS PER WEEK would be required to obtain an A" grade.

    The bottom line, if you plan to teach a class, you better take it seriously, plan on months of creating a course and perfecting you delivery. My viewpoint, would be to simply go visit members in the homes, perform what I call a Family History Check Up, and determine what their need is and their next step.

    F.H. IS MISSIONARY WORK, so do it in the home, expect rejections trying to get in there. You are first and foremost, a salesperson for the entire program. You better be able to deliver a convincing answer what Family History research will do FOR THEM and not the other way around..

    Regardless how you handle it, you must first assess the student/clients skill set, both in family history, in computer usage and in research/internet skills. If you lump people together, you will simply hold some back, confuse others, and give yourself a huge headache.

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    1. It sounds like you need to read or re-read the Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work. https://www.lds.org/callings/temple-and-family-history/leader-resources/leaders-guide-to-turn-the-hearts

      The manual clearly explains that the Bishop is in charge of organizing and directing a class to be held during Sunday School and that the it most effectively a workshop. There is no need for an elaborate lesson plan, if teaching is needed the lessons are already in the Member's Guide and on the LDS.org website. See https://www.lds.org/topics/family-history?lang=eng We had a very successful workshop going for about five years and helped ward members individually all that time.

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  6. I hold a family history class (workshop) every week during Sunday School. We spend about half of the time going around the room sharing what each person is working on or struggling with during the past week. And the last half of the time covering how to use some new piece of technology (program, tool, etc), or we focus on the doctrinal aspect of family history. I also help people in their homes with more specific to them situations.

    This past Sunday the entire time was spent going around the room sharing what everyone was working on and me addressing their specific concern at that moment with the entire group. It was the best class we have had in years. So much engagement and collaboration and fun. Everyone, including myself left with new insights. My class has grown so much that this week people were turned away because there wasn't anymore space in the room to accommodate more chairs....we need a bigger room. With my class, the members can come and go as they want, as we cover stand alone topics each week. I have about 15 regulars and we meet in the smallest room in the building.

    This Sunday we also invited all ward members to join a ward group in Relative Finder. When I created the group I had 3 main goals: 1. Everyone who wants to participate in the group has to have a FamilySearch account that is connected to deceased generations - so that means that have to get into the Family Tree first. 2. It is fun to find out how you are related to famous people (if the tree data is accurate). 3. I wanted to increase the unity in the ward family - for when you find out that your neighbor is your distant cousin all of a sudden you have more kindness and love toward them. And the overall strategy is to get them excited about family history ... and to get them into FamilySearch and perhaps they will linger there. So far there are 37 people in the group. And the conversation at the end of the block of meetings was energizing.

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    1. Wow, thanks for your insight. I suggest this comment to some of the other commentators.

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