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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Is Family History a Sunday School class?


In talking to Family History Consultants during my travels across the United States and Canada and while working in the BYU Family History Library, I almost always ask them about the family history activity in their wards, In response, I usually hear a statement about the fact that "we don't have a family history class scheduled right now." The implication of this statement is that the Family History Consultant is essentially "on vacation" until someone agrees to have a "class." The answer to this comment is simple. Family History in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Sunday School Class.

Historically, the most common approach to promoting family history in the Church has been to "hold a class to teach the members how to do family history (or genealogy)." The classes usually consisted of the instructor hauling in a huge pile of family group records bound in "Books of Remembrance" and telling about how they discovered a remote ancestor in some obscure German record or whatever. Most recently, the entire process was codified in a brief manual entitled, "The Member's Guide to Temple and Family History" and a supporting DVD of lesson materials. Both the manual and the DVD have now been discontinued by the Church.

From my own experience in teaching the Sunday "classes" using the materials provided, those attending the class usually either stopped coming after a week or two or even if they stayed for the entire course, they failed to take any positive steps to begin doing research into their families for the purpose of finding ancestral names to take to the temples. I have talked to a large number of class participants who have been to more than one series of such classes and who still do not understand how to get started.

Many years ago, when I was still living in Mesa, Arizona, we abandoned the idea of having classes altogether and simply began conducting a "workshop" where the members of our ward could come and receive help with their research. After persisting with this format for a few years, we saw remarkable results in increased activity in the ward and ultimately the entire stake.

The basic concept here is that family history in the Church is not a program, but a principle of the Gospel. See "Family History: Not a Program of the Church, But a Principle of the Gospel." The basic instruction for family history consultants is now found on LDS.org in a section called "My Family History Calling." If you spend the time to work through the instructions on LDS.org, you will see a few important principles: teaching family history involves learning some basic skills about FamilySearch.org and the Family Tree, in-depth learning and teaching are supported by The Family History Guide and instruction and help is best provided in a one-on-one environment.

For the time being, the Leaders Guide to Temple and Family History Work is still available online in PDF format. See http://broadcast.lds.org/elearning/FHD/Local_Support/Priesthood/T3H/En/To_Turn_the_Hearts.pdf
Quoting from the Guide on pages 17 and 18:
Holding a temple and family history class is a good way to increase participation and interest in family history. The class can be used to help with ward activation, retention, and missionary efforts. Anyone may be invited to attend the class. The ward council may decide to invite certain ward members. The class is taught by an effective instructor, who may or may not be a family history consultant. The class may be taught during Sunday School or at another time that is more convenient for members. It is taught under the direction of the bishopric rather than the Sunday School president.
Lessons are generally conducted as workshops in which members actually complete their own family history work, either on the computer or on paper. Where feasible, class participants should have access to computers. Many meetinghouses are currently being equipped with wireless Internet connections. 
The number of class participants should be limited to the number who can be given personal help. The class can be repeated as often as necessary to accommodate all who desire to attend. 
Family history consultants can provide personal help to participants during the class as well as after the class in members’ homes or family history centers. 
The key provisions here are that the help is given in a workshop environment, one-on-one, and preferably in the person's home or a family history center.

Family History Consultants should be involved in learning the skills necessary to help others rather than waiting around for a class to be held. Training resources are now available through The Family History Guide and LDS.org. Family History Consultants should be proactive. They should be, in effect, missionaries for family history and actively seeking opportunities to help others find their ancestors using the FamilySearch.org website and the additional tools that are now available.

Family history is not a Sunday School Class.

1 comment:

  1. Our last ward had an ongoing family history class during Sunday School, but it was mostly structured as a workshop. The teacher would briefly give some tips about research or a spiritual thought, and the rest of the time was spent doing family history on the computers. The one thing that would have been nice is if they'd been able to get more beginners to attend.

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