When I started working at FamilySearch four years ago I was a real family history novice. Words like “sources,” “conclusions,” and “reason statements” were just plain over my head and did more to make me feel alienated than draw me in. I am happy to report that that feeling did not last—I have since become much more comfortable with family history. You know what made the difference? Stories. More specifically family stories. To grow family history in your ward or stake you may need to create a similar paradigm shift for those with whom you work, especially the leaders.
Help Them Discover Impactful Stories
Whenever I speak with someone about family history I try to share with them a meaningful family story and how I came to know it—and you can do the same! This can be either from your own family history or one or two you have researched from their line.
One example of a personal story is the story of my father, who, during World War II, survived a 20,000-foot parachute drop when the bomber he was piloting was shot out of the sky. Talk about an attention grabber for younger family members at a family reunion! Now, not all stories need to be that dramatic to make an impact. Stories can be discovered in old journals, boxes of photographs, or in other family memorabilia. A good first step is FamilySearch Family Tree. Tens of thousands of stories have already been uploaded and preserved there. I have found that all you need to do is ask, “What memory do you have of your grandmother?” Soon you will be flooded with stories.
Don’t forget about “Living Memory”
As referenced above, a great source of family stories are the older, living members of your family. Help your ward and stake members identify those in their family who might know family stories and encourage them to capture as many stories as they can before it is too late. I did this recently when I was with my aunt at a family gathering. She was telling the story of when my mother got the news that my father was missing in action. I grabbed my cell phone, opened the FamilySearch Family Tree app, and recorded her words. Now, that moment in time will be available for generations to come. If I can do it, those you work with can as well. For many in your ward, especially the youth, they can record these stories in the booklet My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together. These stories can also be entered into FamilySearch.org/myfamily where they can be shared with those in the same family tree.
A Virtuous Cycle
Once those your work with have felt a connection to their ancestors through stories, they will be more open and interested in learning some of the more technical methods for discovering the names, dates, and places that flesh out their overall family story. This will lead to more branches filled in on the family tree, which will undoubtedly lead to more stories. And, all of this will lead to more opportunities to find ancestors that are awaiting temple blessings.
As you work with your ward and stake members, don’t forget the value of family stories. I know from personal experience how heart-turning a good family story can be. As you provide opportunities for your members to feel that connection, you will begin to see progress in other areas, including names prepared for temple work, names taken to the temple, and members teaching others how to do the same. And that is the ultimate happy ending to any story.