I have been trying to reach out to folks over the last year. As the Stake High Counselor over Family History and Temple Work I have been trying to train members of the priesthood on their duties pertaining to family history. Additionally, I have been working on getting the public involved in their family history through my work as a Family History Consultant and directing the North Florida Regional Genealogy Conference. Some of these are easier than others.
First of all, it is often difficult to get priesthood leaders excited about family history. I am really not sure how to get the fire lit. I have been meeting with them and inviting them to visit the local Family History Center and work with their Ward Family History Consultants. This hasn't been as successful as I would want, but I will continue. Any ideas you may have are greatly appreciated.
Second, the Family History Center use has been picking up over the last year. Part of this is due to my work in reaching out to specific groups. I have been having periodic Genealogy Merit Badge events for the local Boy Scout troops. We have been bringing the Scouts and their parents into the FHC and helping them work on their merit badge requirements. Many of these young men have been excited about what they are finding and that excitement has rubbed off on some of their parents. The biggest tip I can give if you decide to hold a merit badge event is to require the boys to bring their parents. It is difficult to find ancestors for many of these boys since their grandparents may have been born in the 40's or 50's or possibly more recently and the typical records, such as censuses, aren't available yet. The parents should be able to provide information back to the great-grandparents so we can help them find various records more easily. Another idea we have implemented is bringing in the Young Women. This has been a joy and we now have some of them regularly visiting us to do research. One of the girls brought very little information with her to the FHC. She said it was all her dad could tell her. She was feeling very frustrated since the other girls around her were finding information and she was not able to find anything. One of our consultants asked if there was someone else in her family that might know some of the necessary information. She said her grandmother in Massachusetts would know it. Our problem is that we are in Florida and she did not know her grandmother's phone number. We did a quick search in the online phone book and found her number. We then called her grandmother on the cell phone. Her grandmother appreciated being able to help her fill out her family group sheets and pedigree charts. With this information we were able to find more information on the family. The important thing to remember with the youth is to make sure they have some early successes.
Our third idea was to have a family history conference. We had attended a few small local conferences and set up tables in the past. We had also had open houses on an almost annual basis for a little while, but we had never had an actual conference before. We started planning a year ago (about the same time I wrote my last blog). I like to plan big so the event quickly expanded into a regional conference with various sponsors, a number of vendors, and speakers from around the country. We had to find a conference facility large enough to accommodate what we expected to happen. We made a goal of 300-400 patrons and at least a dozen talks. We started to contact local speakers to see if they were interested in participating and gradually moved out to invite a few national speakers. By the time we were ready to have the conference we had nearly 30 talks or demonstrations scheduled for the day with 16 speakers. A week before the conference we had almost 300 registrations. The conference was held last Saturday, March 12, and we filled the conference facility. During registration we had another 70 walk-ins register, pushing our total attendees to approximately 370. We also had over a dozen vendors and genealogy societies with displays in the hallway. So who did we have speaking? I am happy to say that Darius Gray and Margaret Blaire Young from BYU were both there and did a wonderful job during their 5 talks on African American genealogy and writing family histories. Gaylon Findlay from Ancestral Quest was there. He gave three talks on using the AQ program. Denise Mortoff, from California, spoke on DNA and researching various types of records. Our local speakers, such as Ann Staley, Karen Rhodes, and Nephi Watt, also presented top caliber talks.
So, what is the result of all this work? Have we spread the genealogy bug a little further? Will it result in increased numbers of visitors in our FHC? I don't know the answer to these questions. However, the people I have talked to over the last year have been excited to begin their research and have been telling me stories about what they have found.
Here is the moral to the story - Unless you are willing to reach out, take risks, and go beyond your comfort zone, you will not be able to accomplish what is possible! Take the opportunity to speak to more people about your family history, let them see that it is more than just dead people, cemeteries, and stacks of records. Family History should be a living thing. These are our ancestors and they have given us much. Respect their lives and challenge others to learn more about their history.
Good luck and happy hunting!