Again we are very fortunate to have an article written by Ralph and Linda Miller, Area FH Advisers in New England. We thank them for sharing
Family history is one of the most popular hobbies there is, and the church’s contributions toward family history research are well known. However, we are not using family history to create missionary opportunities as much as we could. What could we do better? Here are some of our thoughts.
When the members of the public are engaged in family history, it is a win-win-win. As they learn more about their ancestors, they feel the Spirit of Elijah, which is the Holy Ghost. As they gather identifying information, it becomes available for potential submission for temple ordinances. As they learn more about their ancestors characters and accomplishments, important lessons are gathered which help them better face life’s challenges. As they learn more about the church’s interest in building eternal families, they may wish to find out more about the church and its doctrines.
Too often, we miss some of the most important opportunities associated with family history. Or in an effort to save time for our nonmember friends, we deny them the excitement of discovery.
Why family history? We often begin presentations about LDS resources by reading Malachi 4:5-6 as a basis for LDS interest in family history. We explain that turning “the heart of the children to their fathers” is tracing your ancestors, and “the heart of the fathers to the children” is recording our own personal history and keeping journals. Besides explaining the importance of family history, this reaffirms our belief in the Bible as scripture.
People are interested in stories and interesting facts. Sometimes we think more is better, so we rush to gather names, dates and places, without bothering to learn much about the individuals. If you’ve watched some of ancestry.com’s commercials lately, you’ve seen that what they think is most exciting are seemingly minor facts like occupation or address. People were more interested in knowing that an aunt lived in a building just a couple blocks away, or that their grandfather was the first doctor in town.
Help people discover facts – perhaps their occupation, where they lived, or interesting stories. These bring the people to life – much more than a chart full of names, dates and places. Working from those facts, see what more you can help them discover. This may be a different approach than the LDS name-identifying, but it appeals to those who really want to understand their ancestors.
People feel the Holy Ghost when they research their families, and it is a good feeling. In our efforts to interest people in family history, we may offer to do research for them – saving time but stealing the thrill. Rather than doing the work for them, sit down together and show them some actual documents, such as census record or birth, marriage and death certificate. Show them the additional clues the document provides. Let them be the explorer.
As they discover clues about an ancestor’s identify, their hearts turn and they feel the Holy Ghost confirm the eternal nature of families – that this person is truly part of them. Don’t skip this important step.
Methodology is less interesting than people. If you plan a family-history-oriented event for the general public, emphasize families, individuals and relationships more than research methodology. Experts find research strategies or resources interesting, but most people do not. They don’t want to become experts – they just want to learn more about their family. Save technical topics for classes for advanced researchers.
One of the opportunities many LDS researchers miss is talking with relatives. While genealogists are more comfortable in quiet archives, the real heart-turning comes when you are face-to-face with someone who can tell you about his or her life and relatives. Spend time in meaningful conversation rather than just gathering facts in quiet solitude.
Listen, listen, listen. As Steve Covey says, seek first to understand than to be understood. People aren’t going to listen if they don’t think you understand what they are interested in. When talking with someone about family history, ask questions to discover what they are really interested in. Don’t have your explanations planned in advance. What do they want? Do they want to know about their heritage, or are there certain family members they really feel drawn to? Do they miss someone who has passed on and want to preserve their memory somehow? Would the idea of eternal marriage or eternal family relationships be something they are interested in right now?