Family history is a joy that can and should be shared with Church members and their leaders, though it might mean surmounting a "wall of fear" that has grown up in the minds of some.
That message emerged in a three-hour training session for ward family history consultants and priesthood leaders held twice April 27 in connection with a week of family history conferences in Salt Lake City.
Brent Summerhays, Lance McIntosh and Jim Greene, three staff members with the Church's FamilySearch organization, presented the session at the Conference Center Theater.
"To me, the joy of family history is when I feel the Spirit prompting me and letting me know that I am helping those on the other side of the veil receive the ordinances of salvation," said Brother Summerhays.
He cited Doctrine and Covenants 128:22, which reads in part, "Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free."
He displayed a diagram he called "the Cycle of Joy," reflecting that as an individual shares his joy in family history work, he inspires another, who then has a positive experience with it and, in turn, shares the joy of it with still others. "It's a cycle that can be perpetuated just through having positive experiences of finding an ancestor, having that experience in the temple of doing the work for the ancestor and, perhaps, feeling that the ancestor is there with them while they are in the temple," he said.
Youth and technological tools
Brother Summerhays suggested that through family history work, one potentially fulfills all three aspects of the Church's mission: redeeming the dead, proclaiming the gospel and perfecting the saints. He explained that a family history effort increases temple work and helps members have greater love for their ancestors; it helps members make friends with others in the community and creates an interest in the Church; and it helps members learn about themselves and provides opportunities to serve others and exercise faith.
He encouraged family history consultants to meet with members individually in their homes, saying that has been shown to be effective.
Brother Summerhays said youth in particular are well-suited to the technological tools that are used today in family history work. He said that when FamilySearch introduced the worldwide, ongoing project of indexing digitized microfilm records by volunteers, at a stake in Utah Valley, youth were challenged to devote one hour a week to the indexing. As it happened, they didn't limit their work to one hour a week, but rather, spent four or five hours at the work. When asked why, they said it was because they felt something while engaged in the indexing they had not felt before, Brother Summerhays related.
The 'Help Center'
Brother McIntosh spoke of the "Help Center" on the Church's New FamilySearch website (www.new.familysearch.org) that has recently been rolled out to all stakes in the Church except for those in Asia. He said it includes a "knowledge base," a database with questions and answers that can provide family history consultants and the ward members they assist with the help they need, often precluding the need to contact the FamilySearch support by telephone.
He explained the support standard: "friendly, acccurate and timely." And he instructed conultants in the FamilySearch support process with its three components: ask, find and teach; asking clarifying questions to understand the issue and asking to see what the ward member is seeing; finding the answer in the knowledge base or from knowledgable individuals; and teaching the ward member the answer, teaching other consultants what one has learned and contributing to the Research Wiki and the forums on FamilySearch.
Resources for consultants
Brother Greene outlined new resources for consultants and gave examples of how to use them.
He said a survey had been conducted among Church members — about 96 percent of the whole — who do not do family history work. "What we found was that there was a wall of fear that had been erected piece by piece, brick by brick."
Many people are frightened by the word "research," he said. "We have to be wise and prudent, and the way to do that is for us to become familiar with the tools and then figure out a way to teach them how to do this in a way that is non-threatening to them."
Some of the tools, he said, are the Research Wiki on the New FamilySearch website and the online training.