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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How does genealogy in the Church differ from genealogy outside the Church?

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are admonished regularly to "search out their ancestors." I am sure that most of the active members of the Church are aware of this injunction and the doctrinal basis for it. But that knowledge does not seem to be motivation enough for the members to become actively engaged in genealogy. This is interesting to me, because of my total involvement in genealogy and because understand most of the reasons for the lack of interest in actually doing something about the belief. I would also observe that family history, as it is most commonly referred to, is a topic of general interested in the population as a whole. If you were to measure the interest in genealogy by the whether or not a person had uploaded ancestral information online about his or her family and nothing more, the number of people involved in genealogy in the United States, possibly including those in the Church, exceeds 10 million. In other words, there are more people interested in genealogy (family history) in the United States than there are member of the Church. The Newsroom reports the present Church population in the United States to be just over 6 million.

Where does this number of people interested in family history or genealogy come from? It comes from the 71 million members of one website; one of the very few, if not only genealogy website to publish its membership numbers in detail. If the Church were a large factor in that membership number then you would expect that a state such as Utah would have a high concentration of members. But Utah has 89,031 users, compared to 595,899 members in New York. There are 1.9 million members of the church in Utah and only 80,535 members in New York. I could see no correlation between the number of members of the Church and the number of members of a website such as whose sole function is to involve people in genealogy. In fact, there are roughly almost 5 times as many members of than the entire membership of the Church worldwide. Another interesting fact, if you were to assume that every single member of in Utah was actually a member of the Church, there would still be only 4.5% of the Church membership in Utah on Of course, given the figures for membership in other states, it is very, very unlikely that a very significant percentage of the Utah members are also members of the Church.

It is my personal experience that many members of the Church are surprised when they find out that so many people outside of the Church are interested in genealogy. Because even with the constantly reminded motivation, the members are not particularly involved, they are really surprised to find out people that they view as having a lesser motivation are more involved than they themselves.

Why is this the case? I find that a very high percentage of people overall are interested enough in their own family history to make some effort to find out about how to become involved in genealogy. On my recent trip to Canada and Alaska, I met very few people who were members of the Church, but I had many discussions about genealogy. In fact, when I mentioned that I was doing genealogy "full time" almost everyone I talked to was interested in finding out information. In many cases, I ended up giving my address card to people who were very anxious to find out more about genealogy. In one case, at a breakfast discussion, I ended up giving my card to a couple who were sitting by us and when I got up to leave another lady, who had not been in the conversation asked me for a card. I then had about a half hour discussion with her and husband who wanted to tell me all about their genealogy.

From my standpoint, I find that people outside the Church are almost uniformly interested in their family history, but strangely enough, I do not find the same interest within the Church. When I attend a Ward, other than my own, and mention that I do genealogy full-time, the members are seldom interested and change the subject. Isn't this exactly the opposite reaction you would expect? If you can explain that conundrum, you have more information than I do.

So how does genealogy in the Church differ from that outside? Simply put, there are more people interested in the subject and that is at the heart of a question that I and many other people would like to answer.

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