Helping Others Get Started in Family History
by Nancy Kirkpatrick
I’ve been thinking about a few things that I believe have helped people get started in family history. I have done these things at different times through the many years I have served as a consultant (or friend) to try and help people feel inspired to do family history work.
First is bearing testimony.
When I last served as a consultant a couple of years ago for our ward family history class, the member of the bishopric who was over our Sunday School family history class, advised that we should spend time in the first lesson reviewing the doctrine behind family history and bear testimony of it. We invited the class to share memories and feelings they had about their family members who have passed on and to start looking to see if the temple work has been done.
I believe that helping people to “feel family history,” not just view it as one more thing they need to do, lights the initial flame of inspiration that helps many to get started and remain committed to doing this work.
We spent a few minutes at the beginning of each class to share the experiences class members had during the week while working on family history and encouraged them to share or testify when they could feel the spirit assisting them. This really helped our class members to get started and stay involved!
Second, tackling the technology.
So many people still feel daunted by having to learn use FamilySearch and other databases for their research and getting temple ordinances ready. Working with them one on one and going at their own pace until they become familiar enough to do it on their own, helps prevent discouragement. Initially finding some of their family members in sites like FamilySearch, RootsWeb, or Ancestry helps people to realize they are not doing this work alone. It is a group effort. Often, records have been submitted by distant cousins they didn’t even know existed, or have been submitted through Indexing programs, or just through efforts of archives and libraries making efforts to digitize and preserve their records.
I had such an experience myself when helping my husband with his genealogy. David’s grandfather, Robert Kirkpatrick, had a first wife who died shortly after childbirth. All we knew was her name was Alice Gray. We didn’t know if the baby survived, whether it was a boy or girl or have any information about Alice herself. David’s grandmother was the nurse who came and cared for Alice and her baby for the short time they lived. Later, she and Robert married, giving birth to David’s father. After taking some time to learn how to use Ancestry, I did a search for Robert and was surprised to find not only Robert but a picture of him and Alice. There was a family bible page that showed their child’s name and that he died before age 2. These items were submitted by distant cousins. From there I was able to get Alice’s information from census records and we completed the temple work for that family. Learning to use the technology is really the key to getting started in Family History and keeping people excited and interested.
Third, help solve a problem.
I found that asking if there were a particular problem or questions a class member needed help with often provided a focus for getting started. One such sister I worked with wanted to do her mother’s temple work. But the mother’s death date was not in FamilySearch yet, and even though this sister had the death record, she could not get the FamilySearch program to accept and record the information when she tried to enter it in the computer. We got her in touch with FamilySearch Support and solved the problem. With a little additional help, the family file card was prepared and she was able to do her mother’s work.
Fourth, help with a project.
By offering to help with a project a person might be working on, such as a scrapbook page, how to preserve photos, or how to start writing down some of their family stories opens the door to wanting to know more about how to do family history. Encouraging people to contact their living relatives and gather photos, stories and put them in a sharable database, whether online or in physical binders that can be shared, helps many develop an interest in family history. This can be especially helpful for young people doing school projects or parents and children working together to document the lives of their grandparents before they pass away.
Fifth, explain additional ways to do Family History.
Sometimes there are people who, for various reasons, just don’t want to start researching their families, but who can be a tremendous help in other ways. Indexing records is one example. This works especially well for students, busy parents, people who have difficulty getting out or other restrictions on time or physical abilities. Serving in a family history center, looking for other volunteer opportunities either online or in a community can provide a way for people who want to help but don’t want to work on their own families.
One such example happened in the Seattle Stake Family History Center several years ago. The nonmember children of a member who had passed on, brought in three trunks of genealogy information she had spent her life gathering. Rather than throwing it all out as some families do, they donated it to our family history center. At the time I was an assistant director. We asked for volunteers to come and help, and within a couple of years, all that information had been sorted out, organized into family groups and submitted to the church through FamilySearch.
Sixth, encouraging busy young families to pay attention and record their own living family history.
I teach them that they are living their family history now as they raise their families. Keeping track of important dates like births, marriages, ordinations, graduations, deaths and writing a little about each one as they occur is doing family history. Taking photos and labeling them as you go, planning and or attending family reunions, weddings, family birthday’s, family and community activities and organizing these events, even if just in simple folders, is doing family history. Electronic sharing is great, but if those systems formats change (and are not backward compatible-think ancient floppy discs, etc) or fail for whatever reason in the future, there still needs to be effort made to keep and preserve photos, hard copies of original documents etc. These can be digitized as you go and kept in electronic databases but originals need to be preserved in real life also.
For example, one young mother brought a beautiful hardbound book she had made for her young daughters to family history class one Sunday. She had used one of the online sites, submitted photos of her girls, their family and some of their family activities. She wrote a little about each photo and about their family, expressing her love and Heavenly Father’s love for them. She had the book printed and bound. Many sites offer services for creating books and other mementos documenting your life as you are living it. Take advantage of these things! In the future, our grandchildren and great grandchildren should not have to dig through piles of records to find us. We can leave them beautiful, bright, clear photos and brief histories, passing forward through the generations our testimonies love for them.
Nancy Kirkpatrick served as a family history consultant for several years in Seattle, Washington. Since moving to Utah in 2004, she has been working full time, but has recently retired. She and her husband David work in the temple and are considering serving a mission at some time in the future.
Note from Nicole: This is third in a series of posts about teaching and sharing family history with others. Check out the others here: Family History Consultants – Inspiring Others and Inspiring Family Members in Genealogy. Join our Facebook group “Inspiring Others in Family History” to share how you have helped others get started with genealogy and family history.