Deaf Participate in Family History Workshop and Conference
June 28, 2006 — News from the Church
An occasional laugh from the audience broke the silence as full-time missionary Robert Powers explained different family history resources at the Church’s Family History Library.
“It’s probably the quietest conference you’ll ever go to,” remarked an observer as Elder Powers communicated through sign language to his audience.
Elder Powers’s library orientation class was one of 50 classes taught at the fourth biennial genealogical workshop for the deaf and hard of hearing June 19–23, 2006, in Salt Lake City.
“The goal of this workshop is to have the deaf community and the deaf patrons come here and take these classes as equal as hearing people,” said Dulane Woodhouse, chairperson for the workshop.
Twenty-five instructors, 17 of whom are deaf, taught genealogical classes on 40 topics to 135 registered participants in classrooms at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and one class in the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City. Workshop participants learned everything from family history basics, such as using PAF or TempleReady for members, to more advanced information such as the Napoleonic Civil Registration. Many participants practiced their newfound skills a block away at the Family History Library.
Elder Robert and Sister Virginia Powers are zone leaders and have been serving as full-time missionaries in the deaf zone of the Family History Library for more than two years. They helped organize and coordinate the event.
“I’m at a loss for words right now to describe the spirit that is here,” Sister Powers said. “It’s very touching.”
Although they left 14 grandchildren behind when they left their home in Riverside, California, to serve a mission, the Powerses have been influential in making Family History Library resources more accessible to deaf patrons.
“This is kind of a utopian place for us where there are so many spiritual leaders,” Sister Powers said.
With a force of about 14 Church service missionaries helping in the library, Sister Powers said deaf people comment that it is easier to come to the library because they know someone can communicate with them.
In addition to classes and family history work, workshop attendees participated in activities such as going on an interpreted field trip to the Humanitarian Center, watching the Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration film in an ASL-interpreted session and closed-captioned session, touring the Lion House and Church History Museum, and visiting This Is The Place Heritage Park. Some participants attended a special temple session for the deaf at the Salt Lake Temple as well.
About 50 percent of workshop attendees came from outside Utah, across the United States and Canada. Although three-fourths of the participants are Latter-day Saints, a fourth are not members of the Church, but are actively interested in genealogy.
Glenna Garner, from Gaithersburg, Maryland, who taught a class on how to organize records on the computer, became involved with genealogical research in 1985 when she worked for the federal government. She started researching on the Internet, going to libraries, national archives, and so forth. She also became the chairperson for a deaf genealogy club in the Washington, D.C., area, where about 50 people attend.
After taking an adult genealogy course, she found a cousin who lived in Missouri who gave her a lot of information about her family.
“It really made me curious and I wanted to know more,” said Garner, who is not a Latter-day Saint. “I wanted to do more and so I just got hooked on it.”
The weeklong activities and workshops culminated on June 25, 2006, when all the deaf wards and branches from Utah gathered in Conference Center Theater on Sunday morning for a family history regional conference.