England Ward Invites Community to Discover Family History
Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events
Earlier this month, the Congleton Ward of the Newcastle-Under-Lyme England Stake hosted a four-day event, “Discover Family History,” at their meetinghouse to introduce community members to family history, family history tools, and the Church in general.
Involving the Community
The event, held from June 13 to 16, incorporated the expertise of several community and Church member contributors, said Valerie Moss, one of the event’s organizers. Some are listed here.
- Four members of the Cheshire Family History Society, along with two FamilySearch missionaries and three members of the Church who serve at Church family history libraries in the area, agreed to form a panel that provided one-on-one advice sessions for people who were at an impasse in their family history. Patrons could book appointments in advance or simply come to the meetinghouse at their convenience.
- Sister Moss and stake family history library coordinator Ian Mayson prepared a presentation for beginners.
- Stake patriarch Chris Harmsworth, whom Sister Moss described as being “very keen on family history,” trained approximately 15 ward members to oversee “taster” sessions that introduced people to major family history websites. Computers with access to key sites were brought in from the Distribution Services store in Solihull, England, for patron use during the conference.
- A live webinar originating from the Church’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City occurred on Friday evening. The event focused on how to get the most from new.familysearch.org and featured a questions-and-answers segment.
- Elizabeth Moss-Hawley, Sister Moss’s mother-in-law, who is 86, spends her days doing FamilySearch indexing. Sister Moss-Hawley offered her services for the event; she continued her indexing work from the meetinghouse just as she would have at home and, during quieter times of the event when patron traffic was slower, guided the other volunteers in indexing. That way, Sister Moss said, “no time was wasted in this great work.”
Several of these activities, pointed out Nigel Poulton, bishop of the Congleton Ward, were made possible by the Church’s recent installation of high-speed Internet in meetinghouses around the world.
Tapping into the Community
The event, which began as an idea at a ward council meeting, was many months in the works. Each year since a new meetinghouse was built in Congleton three years ago, the ward has held some kind of activity or event to help the local community get to know the Church and what it’s about, said Bishop Poulton.
“We have done standard open houses in the past, but now that the chapel is not so much of a local talking point, the family history event seemed like a great idea,” he said. “As Church members, we obviously have a special interest and unique slant on [family history] as well as a lot of people with skills who are happy to share them.”
Sister Moss and Catherine Barnsley, who were appointed to organize the event, knew that family history societies, college classes about family history, and television programs focusing on genealogy were extremely popular among local members of the community. The two met once a week to plan and coordinate the event, praying for direction along the way.
“We have … felt the Spirit guiding us,” said Sister Moss. “We traveled to Wales to a similar event organized by Church members there. We went to Birkenhead to watch a webinar to see what it was like. And we went to local and national family history exhibitions to get the ‘feel’ of them.”
It was at one of these community events that the women met members of the Congleton branch of the Family History Society of Cheshire, who agreed to participate in a joint family history event.
“We were surprised and pleased by the positive responses we got from these people,” Sister Moss said. “FamilySearch.org is a very popular tool amongst genealogists. One lady, when she discovered that we are LDS, said, ‘I just want to thank you for FamilySearch!’
“There is huge interest in family history in this country,” Sister Moss continued. “It’s the spirit of Eljiah!”
Many ideas developed from visiting other genealogy events. For instance, because Sister Barnsley and Sister Moss enjoyed lectures by professional genealogists, they invited a FamilySearch expert to speak at the event. And although they had never heard of a webinar, they decided that the real-time online broadcast was a perfect channel for their conference.
Inviting the Community
With community support and good ideas in place, members of the ward set about promoting the event in their town of 25,000.
“We put adverts [ads] in the local paper, printed 50 posters to put up around the shops and noticeboards around the town, and printed postcard-sized handouts for the missionaries give to people,” Sister Moss explained. “We also had a large banner [about the conference] outside the chapel three weeks prior to the event.”
Bishop Poulton is quick to acknowledge that once the idea was discussed and approved by priesthood leadership, “members of the congregation had their own drive and enthusiasm to plan and carry out this event.”
He added, “We have a lot of great people in our congregation with faith and enthusiasm.”
The group also worked with local press in advertising the event. One article focused on the FamilySearch webinar; a second covered ward members giving local Member of Parliament Fiona Bruce a copy of her family history on May 26.
“She was very touched by the work we had put into her family history and explained that her father, who is terminally ill, would be delighted to read it,” reported Sister Moss. “I showed her the census record of her ancestor who was a pitboy (coal mine worker) at age 10 and coal miner at age 13. I told her of the terrible mining accident that happened in the small village where her ancestors lived where 26 children between [the ages of] 7 and 17 were killed. We looked at pictures of the tiny two-up, two-down cottages where lived a family of 11, or, even more amazingly, a family of five and three lodgers! These were real people, and they are [her] family.
“She had lots of amusing stories to tell about her ancestors,” Sister Moss added. “She obviously looked on them with great pride.”
It’s that experience that organizers hoped to replicate with those who attended the conference.
“Those that came in stayed for an hour at least, so they were able to experience the chapel and the people in it and the beautiful pictures and posters. I felt we made a lasting impression on them, especially those who came to help,” Sister Moss said.
Connecting the Community
“Family history is something I can easily talk to people about,” said Sister Moss. “It is my genuine passion.”
She added that because most people are interested in knowing who they are and where they came from, family history provides a “common ground” between Latter-day Saints and people of other faiths or of no faith in particular.
In that regard, family history work connects not only one generation with preceding ones but also contemporary community members with one another.
“The most important thing from my own point of view is the way we have opened up a new circle of friends,” Sister Moss said.