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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Real Revolution in LDS Genealogy -- Part One

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a salesperson in a local store. Since both, my wife and I currently serve as Church Service Missionaries at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, when I interact with people I try to invite them to have a family history experience. These conversations often elicit a statement from the other person about the person's relative who has done "all the family research." Almost as a conditioned reflex, this salesperson began telling me about how a close relative had "done all of his family's genealogy."

This concept of "completion" is pervasive. It is also so completely inaccurate as to be considered a family myth. It is true, even in my own family's background, that a few members of the family may have spent a great deal of time gathering family history and subsequently, the rest of the family members left all the work up to this "self-designated family historian." The family historians role and focus on family history sometimes became a negative factor to other family members. The rest of the family members did not want to become like the family historian.

In the culture of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this compartmentalization of family history has been carried to an extreme as has the belief that all of the possible research into the family history has been done. As a result, the myth has become an excuse for disinterest and inaction. This mythic response becomes magnified with the generational separation between the family members.

Another aspect of this cultural phenomena is the relationship between two or more individuals that crosses generational lines. This transgenerational relationship is often pointed out as the origin of an individual's "interest" in genealogy or family history. The most commonly related story is how a current family historian became interested in doing genealogical research by listening to the stories told by an elderly relative, usually a grandparent. The reality today, primarily in the United States, is that many older people have little or no direct contact with their younger family members and this has been the case for almost two generations of Americans. If I examine my own family, now that I am old, my own grandparents were born in the 19th Century, but I never knew my paternal grandparents who both died before I was born and I had relatively little contact with my maternal grandparents who lived in another state. When we generalize this "oral tradition" model of acquiring an interest in genealogy, we are adding to the myth of the unique "family historian."

So, what is the real revolution in LDS genealogy?

Here it is:

There is even an app that will help you find those stories that are supposed to help you become interested in genealogy. It is called All the Stories.

Now, the collective memories of all of your relatives are being gathered in one place even if you had no chance to meet or talk to them during your lifetime.

If this were the entire revolution then it would still be significant, but there is obviously a lot more. The Family Tree along with the huge increase in the access to original sources of historical information are putting to rest the myth that anyone's family history is "all done." It only takes a few minutes to see that every family, no matter what their heritage as Church members, has an almost limitless opportunity to expand their reach and find new family members for Temple ordinances.

Stay tuned for more revolutionary insights.

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