“Family history work is about stories, it is more than dates and facts,” Steve Rockwood, president and CEO of FamilySearch, said during the 48th annual conference on Family History and Genealogy held at Brigham Young University on July 27.
Every year thousands of participants gather on the BYU campus to learn more about updates and specifics of family history and genealogy. Over the four-day conference participants may choose from more than 150 classes on a variety of topics.
Brother Rockwood shared some of the elements of the “business plan” for the future of FamilySearch.
“We will continue to do the wonderful things the organization has done for over 110 years, but we are going to be concentrating more and more on not just the tasks at hand, but much more importantly what you become,” he said. “And even more important than what you become — how do you help others — primarily being your family — become that same thing?”
Drawing from the scriptures, Brother Rockwood spoke of a few elements important to the future of FamilySearch. Recognizing the strong feelings that come from doing family history work, Brother Rockwood spoke of the “emotion,” or “spirit” that both members of the Church and those of other faiths feel as they take part in genealogy.
“We believe that this is primarily a highly emotional effort,” he said. “And the emotions that one feels when one does this — and these emotions are universal — are feelings of love, joy, peace, goodness, righteousness, truth. We want everyone to feel those strong positive emotions, and we know that when we engage in this wonderful thing called family history it is very, very easy for them to feel those emotions.”
No matter a person’s age, faith or locale, all are able to draw upon the “emotion” that comes from family history work.
“We view that as the very serious stewardship, and our job is to simply help you with that wonderful — we believe divinely appointed — responsibility that you have.”
For members of the Church, family history work is an eternal work that binds families together.
“We are here to save families,” he said. “And we are here to save the family — the institution of family.”
Recognizing the “opposition of all things” that surrounds families today, Brother Rockwood spoke of the powerful manifestation of the Holy Ghost that comes through participating in family history work.
Just as technology and ways of doing things has changed over the years, so has the way people think about and do family history. What used to be filled with charts, records, dates and facts has become a much more personal work.
“We start with stories. We start with memories, photos, and audio recordings,” he said. “We start with those things that everyone can participate in and as we start with what everyone can participate in, it now makes it [exciting]. We have found that now, more and more people no matter what their life stage, are getting involved in this wonderful thing called family history. And they are feeling the emotion, and they are coming in unprecedented numbers.”
By starting with the stories of people, participants are able to feel the “emotion” of family history work. “Believe me, there will be plenty of time to get to the names, dates, places, charts and pedigrees.”
Posing the question, “How do we get young adults interested?” Brother Rockwood answered with “start with things they are interested in. Learning about a real life story of a real life family.”
An important part of family history work is learning how to adapt, he said.
Tools and updates are opportunities to improve the process of family history work and get more people involved, Brother Rockwood taught. One example he shared was scriptures now available on phones and tablets.
“We have the same thing going on now,” he said. “You hear it all the time — how can you read the scriptures with your phone?”
Brother Rockwood encouraged listeners to look at scriptures on a phone — as well as changes to family history — as an opportunity. For youth, scriptures available on their phones is a chance for them to carry their scriptures at all times.
“Family history is the next phase, so let’s all figure out how to do it — it is going to be an enjoyable ride,” he said.
A key part of building up the resources and excitement for family history work is helping others find information about their family. Looking to Lehi leaving Jerusalem, Brother Rockwood spoke of the experience some people have as they leave their homeland.
“Where is your Jerusalem?” he asked. “You will have different experiences depending on where you are from.”
Not only does a person need to have access to “their Jerusalem” or the land that they or their forefathers came from, but the records also need to be searchable. That is why it is so important for all to get involved. Indexing is one way people are helping to make records around the world searchable.
“So we’re amping it up a little bit,” he said. “Not taking away from the sacred nature of it, but finding a way to take that unbelievable emotion, that spirit, and make it something that everyone will want to enjoy.”
[email protected] @marianne_holman