Monday, May 1, 2017
On Members, Genealogy and Genealogy Societies
Over the past few years, I have traveled around the United States and some parts of Canada attending and presenting at various genealogy conferences. Most recently, I presented at the North Florida Genealogy Conference in Orange Park, Florida and the North San Diego County Genealogy Conference in Carlsbad, California. As has happened many times in the past, following the Saturday conferences, my wife and I have attended Church in the local area at one of the Wards or Branches we find online.
Some of these conferences have had hundreds of people in attendance. The interesting phenomena I have seen repeatedly is that when we attend Church the next day, the members of the Ward or Branch seldom have the least bit of awareness of the existence of the genealogy society or of the conference. In the recent conference in California, the conference was held only a few blocks from the chapel we found to attend Church on Sunday. In a very few cases, we might find one or two members who attended the conference or even knew about the existence of a genealogy society in their community.
One case I remember quite distinctly in Canada when we talked to the Director of the local Family History Center, she was complaining that no one was visiting the Center and we had just attended a conference with about 200 to 300 people only a short distance away. Most of the time, the local members are surprised that anyone who was not a member of The Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be interested in genealogy.
Who are these people who do genealogy because of their own interest and not out of a sense of duty or obligation? Why are the members of the Church who have a religiously based reason to have an interest in genealogy, surprised when other people have an interest in discovering their own family history? What is even more puzzling is why so few members of the Church are even aware of the larger genealogy community?
One basic reason for the lack of awareness among the members is that so few of them are actually involved in genealogical research. The numbers of members submitting names for Temple ordinances is an amazingly small percentage of the overall membership of the Church, somewhere around 5%. But even among those who submit names, very few of those members think of themselves as genealogists and seek out the larger genealogical community. When I go to these conferences, such as the one in California recently, we seldom identify one or two members out of a hundred who are attending.
Since most of the members of Church think of family history as a "Mormon thing," they are not inclined to discover people in their own contact area who share this particular interest. Now, there are a significant number of members who participate in genealogy related events such as the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, but even having a few thousand members of the Church attend a conference once a year does not really impact the members who live across the country and have no awareness of local societies and conferences.
Even where the local conference is partially sponsored by a Family History Center and held in a Church building, the majority of the attendees can still be those who are not members of the Church.
On the other hand, I have also attended quite a number of "Family Discovery Days" in various stakes and here the attendance is usually much smaller than the society conferences and in these cases almost always exclusively members.
In Utah, there are a few well-established local genealogy conferences that have been held for years. These conferences do attract some who are not members of the Church, but in these cases, there is a very high percentage of members in the entire area.
Perhaps the members of the Church should begin to realize that an interest in family history is not confined to those with a religious motivation. What is more important, perhaps those same members might benefit from the association with the wonderful, friendly and interesting people we meet across the country who are dedicated genealogists.