Family History Conference Attracts Community and Youth
By Penny Freeman, Houston Public Affairs, and Ryan McDonald, Church News staff writer
Attendance by nearly 1,000 enthusiasts at the Friendswood Texas Stake Center for the Houston FamilySearch Genealogy Conference April 26–27 could be viewed as a partial fulfillment of the prophecy made by the prophet Malachi, said Jonathan S. Schmitt, stake president.
“We are here today because our hearts have turned to our fathers—those wonderful men and women without whom we would not be here today. When we begin to find and learn about them, we better understand ourselves. The beauty of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is possible for us to enjoy our cherished family relationships not just in this life, but throughout eternity.”
Don R. Anderson and Albert Haines were keynote speakers on Friday evening, and 37 presenters taught 55 separate classes during the six-hour Saturday session. A live streaming broadcast of select classes appeared in 17 other LDS chapels in southeast Texas and Louisiana over the two-day period.
Brother Anderson, senior vice president of FamilySearch, discussed the organization’s mission of forging partnerships with both commercial organizations and communities to digitize, index, and preserve precious papers, mementos, and other items in order to make this information available to researchers worldwide.
A respected community and Church leader, Brother Haines earned national recognition for his efforts to utilize newly available Freedmen’s Bank records to assist African-Americans in the greater Houston area in discovering their own family histories. This initiative has since spread city-wide and is used as a model for programs in other population centers.
“The value of getting outside of our comfort zone, our ward buildings, has always been something that I have felt is very important to introduce the Church to the neighbors,” Brother Haines said in an interview. “Family history is such a positive thing because … it touches the hearts of people to the point that they really do want to find out about their ancestors.”
More than 200 of the conference’s attendees were not members of the Church.
One of the highlights of the conference was the extent to which youth were involved, as many of the Saturday classes were taught by teenagers. A wide range of subjects was discussed, including how to research family stories, create pedigree charts, and document local headstones.
One of the highlights of the conference was the involvement of the youth, as nearly 250 young people participated in a variety of ways, from teaching classes to providing logistical support. Photo by Ernest Chan
Kristin Cunningham, 15, instructed a standing-room-only audience on the FamilySearch indexing program. Connor Murphy, also 15, explained the functionality of billiongraves.com, a mobile application that allows users to upload digital images of gravestones from their mobile devices, complete with GPS coordinates, into a central data pool. Many other youth provided logistical support to event cochairmen Adam and Judie Rawlin.
“[The youth] are certainly an underutilized resource in the Church when it comes to family history work,” President Schmitt said in an interview, referencing comments from Elder Richard G. Scott and Elder David A. Bednar of the Twelve in recent general conferences about the importance of involving youth in genealogy work. “We’re trying to do a better job of fully utilizing their capacity and their talents.”
Several classes at the conference focused on the use of both free and fee-based software applications available on the Internet, and attendees were encouraged to use social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to further their family history work.
Led by Don Goehring, the conference featured two separate “discovery zone” rooms in which 30 stations were available to visitors for hands-on experimentation with FamilySearch.org and other useful Internet tools and applications. Hardware was loaned by local area businesses free of charge.
“There is a strong interest in family history here in the Gulf Coast, and the Church has continued to grow,” President Schmitt said. “As we turn our hearts to the fathers, it builds bonds not just within our families, but certainly with our neighbors and our communities, and it provides a lot of joy along the way.”