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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Where does Family History fit into your Ward?

The practical reality of average busy Ward activities is that family history ranks about at the bottom of priorities. If the percentage of people submitting names to the Temples and becoming involved in seeking out their ancestors is to increase, there is going to have to be a major adjustment in the way family history (aka the now forbidden term "genealogy") is integrated into the cultural and social life of a Ward.

We had the good fortune to have seven lovely children. The first five were girls and then we welcomed our two boys. Until the oldest of the two boys turned eight, we did not know that we had been missing one of the major social activities of the Ward: Cub Scout Pack Meeting. As we got older and our children grew, we learned about other parts of the "Ward Family" that we had never experienced, such as every level of the Primary organization. As the girls grew older, we learned about Young Women in Excellence and the entire Young Women's program. We also ultimately learned about the Young Men's program. Each of these eras in our lives opened up new experiences and we learned that those who did not have young children or teenagers were essentially socially excluded from these activities.

As out children matured, we had challenges in Elders' Quorum and Relief Society. My Elder's Quorum activity was cut short quite early when I served in Stake callings for about 12 or so years. My wife had the opportunity of serving in the Relief Society for many years during much of the same time period.

After many years, all of our children were grown and ultimately married and now have their own children. We have now learned to live in a completely different social organization within the Ward; the old people who sit on the back row. Then came callings to serve as Service Missionaries and Temple workers. In all this time, we have yet to find any portion of the social organization of the Church that revolves around family history. Now that we are old, we are both essentially invisible. We do not fit in to any of the "social organization" activities of the Ward. All of our activities such as serving at the Temple or Mesa FamilySearch Library are essentially outside of the Ward organization. I surmise that very few of the members of the Ward recognize that we have callings in the Church.

Now, I am not saying this to complain. I like what I am doing very much. But the reality of a lack of social organization built around a common shared experience of family history is missing entirely from almost all Wards and Stakes. If you are a Family History Consultant, you do not even have any regular meetings to attend and many of the members of the Ward avoid you out of fear that you might speak to them about doing their family history.

What can we do to foster a social support mechanism for family history? One factor preventing this from happening is that in most Wards, family history is treated as just another Sunday School class and an optional one at that. Family history is not viewed as an activity to be promoted week after week. Unlike Home Teaching or other regularly promoted activities, family history reports, discussions and topics do not play a major part in the week-to-week Ward activities. I have sat through many reports on youth and Elders' basketball games, but have yet to hear a regular report on Indexing or other family history activities in any of the Wards I visit.

Members are often reminded of their duty to be involved in a number of activities. Referring to my mention of Home Teaching above, I am fairly certain that I have had admonitions to "do my Home Teaching" in the vast majority of all the Priesthood meetings I have attended for my entire life. I am equally sure that any mention of family history related activities is extremely rare. In saying this, I separate out admonitions to attend the Temple regularly. Unfortunately, regular Temple attendance does not equate to active participation in family history. I do believe there is a direct correlation between this lack of emphasis on family history and the fact that it is considered to be a "program" rather than a fundamental religious responsibility that limits the number of active participants in any given Ward.

A first step, in establishing family history as a basic activity would be to provide adequate space and support for the existing Family History Consultants in the Ward. Another step, would be to require that the Family History Consultants hold a family history related activity every week. This would establish family history as a valid and supported organization within the Ward. Some of the buildings housing the Wards throughout the Church, like physical facilities such as a room with computers. In these cases, the Family History Consultants could organize individuals who were willing to bring their laptop computers to church each week. A room could then be designated for family history during Sunday School.

A major step in integrating family history into the Ward activities would be to include the Family History Consultants as the Bishop deems necessary, in the Ward Council. Presently, the High Priest Group Leader has the sole responsibility for coordinating with the Family History Consultants. No matter how enthusiastic the Family History Consultants are about doing their job without support from the High Priest Group Leader, the Family History Consultants are entirely isolated from the rest of the Ward.

It is my belief, that if some of these very, seemingly superficial, changes were made there would be an opportunity for family history to establish itself within the social network of the individual Wards.


9 comments:

  1. Great Article. I totally related to it. Fortunately, I'm in a Ward now where this is changing, and the Stake has issued the challenge for the member to index one million names. The challenge now is to help those people who are indexing turn their hearts to their fathers and continue to do family history. I missed seeing you at RootsTech, but heard through Mary Platt (Mitch Platt's Wife) that you gave a great lecture.

    Regards,
    Grant

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  2. Great article James. I just shared it in our "unofficial" Ward group page on Facebook. =)

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    1. Thanks, as always for your kind comments.

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  3. I should point out that there is no one "the Family History Consultant" in a ward. Handbook 2 and the leader's guide "To Turn the Hearts" are clear that there are multiple consultants operating under the direction of the high priest group leader and that there is not a supervisory consultant.

    The second-to-last paragraph of this blog post is somewhat misleading in that it implies there is "the" (definite article) "Family History Consultant" (capitalized)—separate from the high priest group leader—that should attend ward council meetings. Though consultants can attend occasionally if invited, there is no one "the" consultant that should attend regularly.

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    1. You are most literally correct, but the actual practice in almost all cases is that one person is called as the "Family History Consultant" with one or more assistants if they are lucky. If you walk into a new to you Ward and ask to talk to the "Family History Consultant" like I do from time to time, you will immediately be directed to an individual with that calling in the Ward or not depending. You do point out another issue that the reality in many Wards differs from the Handbook.

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    2. Also, thanks for pointing out that there are new sections of training for High Priests Group Leaders and that the current instructions imply more than one consultant. The new instructions also emphasize the importance of the Ward Council in directing the Family History work in the Ward.

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    3. One more comment, I revised the last paragraph. You pointed out that I had changed from referring to the Family History Consultants to the singular. I should have followed my own advice and read the handbook more carefully.

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  4. Do you know of any wards that have presented family history in fun ways during Sunday School? I'd like to hear about some that have had success in everyone participating.

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    1. The best methods follow the Guide to Family History and Temple Work, To Turn the Hearts and use the time as a workshop where Ward members are helped one on one with their family history using laptops or computers if available.

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