2013 Was a Banner Year for Family History
By Paul G. Nauta, FamilySearch marketing manager
“In 2014, we will continue to focus on increasing the number of members submitting ancestral names for temple ordinances by helping them capture family memories through photos and stories."
—Elder Dennis C. Brimhall of the Seventy and FamilySearch CEO
This has been an exceptional year for family history. The Church introduced a suite of new online services and resources to help members in their divinely appointed responsibilities to identify their ancestors and link them to their families. Ultimately, all of these enhancements are designed to help increase the number of members submitting ancestral names for temple ordinances. And the enhancements seem to be working. The number of members submitting family names for temple ordinances increased 11 percent in 2013.
In February 2013, the third annual RootsTech Conference (rootstech.org) was held in Salt Lake City. Many of the sessions were broadcast live over the Internet reaching an expanded audience of more than 20,000. This budding, vibrant conference attracted youth and adults and family enthusiasts of all types. It has become the largest family history conference in North America. Speakers focused on strengthening the family and connecting generations through treasured family stories, photos, and genealogy.
RootsTech 2014 will be held February 6–8 in Salt Lake City and is anticipated to reach more than 100,000 attendees. Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will be a devotional speaker for youth and youth leaders, and 460 stakes in 30 countries will offer elements of the event throughout the year as part of a local family history fair. Members need to register for the full event or the free Discovery Day online at RootsTech.org.
Family Tree, Photos and Stories
In April of 2013, the FamilySearch Family Tree at FamilySearch.org was released to the public. It allows families to collaborate on their genealogies, see and print their family tree in a fun fan chart, easily add sources, upload supporting documents, as well as digitally preserve and share precious family photos, and write the life stories and favorite memories of their ancestors for future generations.
“The Family Tree, fan chart, and photos and stories features have been very popular,” said Elder Dennis C. Brimhall, chief executive officer of FamilySearch and an Area Seventy of the Church. “Nothing turns your heart to your ancestors more than seeing photos of them or discovering more about them through fun or inspiring stories about their lives.”
Since April 2013, 12 million names have been linked to the family tree, and 1.8 million family photos and hundreds of thousands of family stories have already been posted online by patrons. And thousands more continue to be added daily as people learn about the tools. The FamilySearch Family Tree online now boasts more than 1 billion searchable names linked to family trees.
My Family: Stories that Bring Us Together
For those without broadband Internet access, the My Family: Stories that Bring Us Together booklet was introduced by the Family History Department and is available through Church Distribution (item # 10974000). It encourages members to get to know ancestors better by talking to living relatives about family stories from the past. Users can also hand write their personal and family stories, and capture other fond memories and photos that can then be uploaded by a helper to FamilySearch.org through the Family Booklet feature.
More Online Records
The Church made great progress in its effervescent objective to digitally preserve and provide access to the world’s historic records. In 2013, it added 170 million digital images of historic records and 476 million indexed records to FamilySearch.org. It also entered into major agreements with the top three commercial family history websites, which will provide unprecedented access to billions of additional historic records and user-contributed records starting some time in 2014.
Youth Hearts Turning to Their Ancestors
In the October 2011 general conference, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles challenged the youth of the Church to become more engaged in family history efforts (see “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn”). In a similar address in the October 2012 general conference, Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles promised the youth special protection as they turn their hearts to their ancestors to provide temple ordinances (See “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead”).
An unprecedented number of youth responded by building online family trees from information provided by their families, printing generational fan charts, and using the vast growing databases of online records to seek out their kindred dead. The results are astounding as youth are beginning to lead the way, making historic records more searchable online through indexing, attending the temple in growing numbers to do the baptismal work for their ancestors, and providing the needed information for adult family members to perform other saving ordinances.
Record numbers of youth are also being called and serving as family history consultants. They are working under the direction of high priests group leaders to teach family history classes, help plan and conduct temple and family history activities in their wards and stakes, volunteer in family history centers and provide much-needed assistance to members in preparing ancestral names for temple ordinances, digitally preserving family photos and writing family memories online.
“In 2014, we will continue to focus on increasing the number of members submitting ancestral names for temple ordinances by helping them capture family memories through photos and stories,” said Elder Brimhall. “We will also keep improving patron experiences on our websites, with indexing and volunteering, family history centers, consultants and international patrons.”
Elder Brimhall cited Church Handbook 2, which indicates that the Church helps members fulfill four divinely appointed responsibilities, one of them being to enable the salvation of the dead.
“The Church helps members by building temples and then by having the members turn their own hearts to their ancestors and prepare names to take to the temple and do vicarious ordinances,” he said.
“We have really focused this year on understanding that in family history, we are here to help members fulfill their divinely appointed responsibilities.”
Some might be inclined to think of the work of salvation as being just for the living, he observed. “But, of course, Heavenly Father doesn’t view it that way. He views it as being for our ancestors and for the dead as well.
“So we are anxious to help the work along for those who have passed on, but also recognize because it’s a divinely appointed responsibility for all of us who are alive, if we can do the work for the dead, we are helping and blessing ourselves as well.”