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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Hands-on Approach to Genealogy or Family History

My experience over the past few years in teaching and interacting with people starting out with researching their ancestors leads me to a strong conviction that the only way to get people involved with genealogy or family history is to work with them directly, on a computer, searching for and entering information about their family. This most effectively takes place on a one-on-one basis with the more experienced researcher sitting down next to the aspiring family historian and helping to answer very specific questions about what to do and how to do it.

Holding a general motivational-type class where the benefits of family history research are extolled, yet once again, has almost no effect on the individuals attending. It is true that every once and while, someone will "catch the vision" and decide to become involved. But if they lack the basic skills necessary to get started, the inspired potential researcher will soon lose interest and get bogged down in what to do next.

One of the biggest challenges in implementing this mentoring process is found in the Bible in Matthew 15:14 which says in part, "And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." This whole idea presupposes that experienced genealogical researchers are willing to become involved and help on a very frequent and regular basis. From my own personal experience in attending and visiting dozens of Wards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) , what usually happens is that a person with little or no experience and no interest in genealogical research is called to the position of Ward Family History Consultant. I usually talk to one or two newly minted Consultants every week at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. They often come into the Library seeking help with getting started in their new calling but have no previous interest or experience.

It is very rare, that I find that a newly called Family History Consultant has been asked to do anything more than teach an occasional class about "Family History." It is even more rare to find one who has been shown the resources for Family History Consultants that are easily available on What is even less common than the two proceeding steps is to find a new Family History Consultant that has gone through the online training. There are notable exceptions, but the long range goal of having an active Family History effort on a Ward level takes more than just calling someone to fill a slot on an organizational chart.

Every so often there is a highly qualified person called as a Family History Consultant, but then the next step needs to be taken; that is, involving the Ward members on a one-on-one basis rather than simply holding a class during Sunday School whenever there is a classroom available and there are not competing classes being held. Focusing on Family History as something done in a Sunday School Class with eight or ten people is like talking to a group of people about learning to swim while they sit in bleachers on the side of a pool. You have to get into the water and start doing something.

The closest similar activity in the context of the Wards I visit is the Scoutmaster and the activity of the Ward's Scout Troop. Over the years as my boys grew up in the Church, it was apparent that the skill and attitude of the Scoutmaster was the decisive factor in the activity of the Troop in the Ward. If the Scoutmaster had a good background in Scouting, had the time and interest to help the boys, then the boys advanced in Scouting. If the Scoutmaster did not attend Roundtable meetings, had little interest or knowledge about Scouting and did not spend time with the boys structuring activities that led to advancement, very few boys advanced in rank.

The same conditions occur with Family History. Being called as a Family History Consultant is very similar to being called as a Scoutmaster. It is a complex calling with a lot of training and skills needed to be successful. If the Bishops viewed the need for a good Family History Consultant with the same degree of concern they give in calling a new Scoutmaster, I would guess that Family History would start to move in the Wards and the members would become more involved. It is interesting that Stakes very frequently hold Merit Badge Rallies but how many Family History Rallies have you attended in your life?

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