During General Conference in October, Elder Nelson mentioned repeatedly in his talk: Ask the missionaries. They can help you. I was watching conference at my Church building and the missionaries for my general area sat a few rows ahead of me. While watching them, they were okay with the things that Elder Nelson was asking them to help with, excepting family history.
Although it is a commandment that people in my Church work on knowing who their ancestors are, the vast majority of Church members that I have come across know almost nothing about the topic. There is not a lot of training on the topic beyond essentials, at least in the U.S. Outside of the Church, genealogy is a hot topic, and receives much attention. It was not a surprise to watch the sisters look at each other in a mild amount of fear when Elder Nelson asked the missionaries to help with people finding their ancestors. Sister missionaries can range in age but until recently, they were typically in their early twenties. Few people in their twenties are very concerned about their ancestors unless there is a direct need to be so interested such as the death of a loved one.
I became interested in family history (genealogy) when I was a child, and work with the field both inside and outside of the Church with friends and colleagues. It was my Bachelors degree major.
So, I gave the sisters my number to train them in basics. For our first meeting, the computers at the family history center were down. While a little frustrating, that did not stop things very long. We re-scheduled for today, and we ended up meeting at a McDonald’s with wifi near my neighborhood although in their area, and started looking up their family information.
Neither of the sisters knew what to expect. The first sister was pretty shocked when she saw that her ancestors enmeshed with our Church’s historical movements. Some family members were active members, while others went back and forth. However, by the end she knew that the stories she heard were real. She saw what information the Church had on her ancestors in live-time, and saw where the history and her family worked with each other. I gave her explanations as we went to help her see the context of what was happening around the dates in her family’s life. The dates and places were enough to see that there were multiple stories happening that tied her directly into historical events with which she was familiar but were not real until she saw them on the page.
She took a lot of notes and her eyes bugged out regularly.
For the second sister, she had more questions about modern issues and had other effects where it was unclear what was happening and how things came together but there were still complicated twists and turns in her family’s history. She knew more about her family’s background to start, and in her case it was less of a dramatic unfolding.
Going back to the first sister, I wanted to make sure that she knew that her background was epic. While the first place where we left off was not exactly the happiest, by the end of it she was able to see people who made it through, people who were obviously determined, down to children who made it through when both parents were dead by the age of six. They found their way to being great people. She knew very little about her family’s background coming into our meeting but left with an intense amount of knowledge about herself and her family’s efforts going step by step through Church history starting (in her case) in 1839. Watching the knowledge and paradigms shift was fun.
For me, it was just fun to work with these sisters. I could see that the information whelmed the first sister, but when they were all done, they knew that they could be asked by Church members or others and either help them themselves or knew where the resources were. They also learned that there was a lot more to family history than that they previously understood, including seeing their roles in it. It was a grand afternoon.
I appreciated being able to help, and felt that this was important. One of the sisters will soon be transferred, but they both know more about themselves and their history now. I hope that it made a positive impact and didn’t rock their worldviews out of creation. After a bad week, this was a great thing to be able to help. Now I hope that they can pass it along.