FamilySearch Eye-Opening for Texas Community Members
By Linda Talbot, Church News contributor
“The website is very exciting. [It] opens up a whole new horizon.” —Shirley Lindquist, resident of Clear Lake, Texas
CLEAR LAKE, TEXAS
Before she learned how to use FamilySearch.org, Oletia Teas would do family history research with a pencil and a notebook. Over years as a member of the Bay Area Genealogical Society, she would come over and over again to what she called a “brick wall”—a point at which she couldn’t find out any more information about her ancestors.
“It is very slow,” she said. “The brick wall had been there for many, many years. … Now all my brick walls are gone. This is much easier than anything that I have run into.”
Experienced genealogists, as well as newcomers to the family tree quest, packed the computer lab on the second floor of the Freeman Branch Library in Clear Lake for the third class of a free six-week class on navigating FamilySearch.org.
The room was abuzz as elders and sisters in the Texas Houston South Mission and local members provided one-on-one computer assistance for participants. Craig Norman, first counselor in the League City Texas Stake, an instructor and behind-the-scenes organizer of the classes, said, “We’ve found that the Church’s software and database is so robust now, a high percentage of participants tap into pedigree work already recorded by third and fourth cousins they do not even know. The participants are stunned and many feel the Spirit and shed tears when they see this happen on their screen—and our elders and sisters are sitting right next to them to explain what they are feeling.”
The classes were the idea of the League City stake’s public affairs committee as a way to involve the full-time missionaries in community service. After President Ashton of the Texas Houston South Mission and President Weldon Joseph Reeves of the League City Texas Stake approved the proposal, a PowerPoint presentation was made to the community center and library, with both agreeing to host the six-week class. A brief lesson chosen from the 21 short videos in the series “5-Minute Genealogist” within FamilySearch.org primes the participants, but the real draw is the hands-on help provided by the missionaries.
“The website is very exciting. [It] opens up a whole new horizon,” said Clear Lake resident Shirley Lindquist, who has spent 12 years seeking her ancestors. “I want to continue doing research through this website. We’ll learn with the help of the elders and sisters. It would be much slower without their help.”
The missionaries likewise expressed gratitude for the opportunity to provide community service.
Laura Smith, reference librarian at Freeman, was instrumental in working with the Church to make the class a reality and provided the publicity. “This is a good, free cooperative program, and everybody is really excited. In fact, it was totally booked before the class began,” she said. “It is wonderful to have all the elders and sisters so they can give the one-on-one help. We are hoping to be able to do it again.”
Local participants have had nothing but praise so far. Ted Kell paused to report, “I always wondered who I was and where I came from. I’ve been doing this off and on for about 15 years, and I have found all kinds of information about myself that I didn’t know about. Now I am trying to fill in some of the recent holes.”
“This is my first venture full throttle into [genealogy],” said Marc Bowers of Webster, Texas. “I think everyone should give this a shot. You enter basic information into the database and things just come popping up. You never know what you might find out.”
The successful first program held at the League City Community Center saw nearly one-third of the participants visit the Church’s local family history center after completing the course. Full-time missionaries check with the center on Saturday mornings to see whether any of their “students” have come that morning and then stay to work with them. Missionaries have also been invited to participants’ homes to continue to give FamilySearch assistance.