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

Monday, November 9, 2015

Struggling With Technology

During the 2014 BYU Education Week, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
We are blessed to live, learn, and serve in this most remarkable dispensation. An important aspect of the fulness that is available to us in this special season is a miraculous progression of innovations and inventions that have enabled and accelerated the work of salvation: from trains to telegraphs to radios to automobiles to airplanes to telephones to transistors to televisions to computers to satellite transmissions to the Internet—and to an almost endless list of technologies and tools that bless our lives. All of these advancements are part of the Lord hastening His work in the latter days.
However, it is evident that many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints struggle with that same "blessing." Here is a quote from the late Elder Richard G. Scott in the April 2013 General Conference.
You live in a world where technological advances occur at an astounding pace. It is difficult for many of my generation to keep up with the possibilities. Depending on how technology is used, these advances can be a blessing or a deterrent. Technology, when understood and used for righteous purposes, need not be a threat but rather an enhancement to spiritual communication.
The reality today is that the work for the dead, that is doing our family history, cannot be accomplished without using the present technology. The Family Tree is the only method now provided to qualify ancestors for Temple work except in extremely limited circumstances. Even if all of the preliminary work is done on paper, the final work of printing the Family Ordinance Request forms is done through the Family Tree program thus necessitating the entry of the family information into the program before the names of family members can be taken to the temple. If the person cannot do this, then they will need the assistance of someone who can.

In some areas of the Church, especially among those who are somewhat older, there is an attitude that their family history work is "all done" and that there is no need for them to become involved. I have even seen this attitude transformed into antagonism at any suggestion of being involved in "genealogy." Fortunately this attitude is rare, but it is extremely common that members acknowledge that they "should be doing their genealogy" but have absolutely no interest in actually doing anything in furtherance of that acknowledgement. Even more common is an almost complete lack of awareness of what is going on with the Church and family history.

I recently taught a group of older, male members of the Church. There were about twenty people in the class and when I asked if someone could log in to, only two men out of the class acknowledged that they knew how to log in. Subsequent questions asked in the class indicated that few of the members were aware of the FamilySearch Partner Programs and fewer still of the Family Tree.

This issue is usually considered to be generational. It is "common knowledge" that older people struggle with technology while the "youth" who grew up with the technology are comfortable with it. Guess what? Family history is not technology, it is research and most young people today have no idea about how or why to do family history research. Many of the now older generation have been using computers for up to thirty years or more. It is true that some struggle with the newer technology, but it also clear that the older members of the Church are still the ones primarily submitting names for Temple work.

So here we have a conundrum. On one hand, we have a group of older members who will not or cannot become involved in their family history and use the excuse that they do not "do" the technology involved. On the other hand, we have a group of technologically savvy youth who supposedly know how to operate the technology but rarely have any formal understanding of what is involved in actually doing family history research.

Very recently, I had another class of university level youth who were very computer literate. However, they kept asking the same questions: "What do we do now? How do we find our family members? It seems to me that if we want to involve the youth in family history we need to do more than arouse their interest. We need to give them a way to acquire the research tools to find and evaluate information about their ancestors. When they are challenged to find and take a name to the Temple, they need a strong dose of methodology concerning how to accomplish their goal. Simply clicking around on the Family Tree looking for green icons is not doing family history.

Perhaps we are to the point where we need "forty years in the wilderness" to clear out the older generation and their attitudes and lack of technological knowledge. But we also need that same forty years to teach the younger generation how to properly and accurately do the work without duplication.

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