Family History Now Focuses More on Heart, Not Charts
Contributed By By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer
Changes to how family history work is done will help more individuals get involved, said Dennis Brimhall, managing director of the LDS Family History Department and the FamilySearch website, during the 45th annual Family History and Genealogy Conference held at Brigham Young University on July 31.
“[FamilySearch] has a worldwide reach,” he said. “It’s a magnificent effort, unprecedented by any other organization. And yet, we have not been as successful at getting the turning of the hearts into as many people as it needs to be.”
Changes to the current way of doing things are occurring because there is a need to help more people get excited and involved in family history work, Brother Brimhall said. One of the biggest changes is focusing on the heart rather than the charts.
“The heart is what motivates people,” he said. “It’s how people feel about things. … People’s hearts get engaged when they think about their ancestors. The more we can get people to think about the person—not about the name, but who the person is—the more successful we are going to be. … They’ll get to the chart later on.”
With more than 2.9 billion names available to search in the FamilySearch database and millions more added each week, there is still a lot of work to be done. But even with all of the resources made available, only 25 percent of Church members have at least registered, and studies show that in a year-long span, only 8 percent of Church members have logged on and used FamilySearch.
“And so the question we ask ourselves is ‘What changes must we make to get more people engaged and involved in this work?’ ” Brother Brimhall said. “What are the changes we need to make? Because if we keep doing the same thing … and expect more people to benefit from all the investment and everything we have done, it isn’t going to work.”
Brother Brimhall said that too often individuals think they must start their family history work with charts and in-depth research. But family history work goes beyond that—family history work is personal and full of stories.
He shared specific changes the Church and FamilySearch are making over time to help in family history efforts.
“The first thing we recognize is we have been notoriously technology centric,” he said. “We have laptops and iPads and iPhones and computers and Internet access, but a significant portion of the world and a significant number of Church members don’t have access to it, and we kind of forget about them.”
Looking at the LDS membership outside of the United States, only 27 percent of members have both parents in their family tree, and only 12 percent have grandparents in that tree. Less than five percent have great-grandparents recorded in the tree.
“Now where is this information? It is not generally in a computer. For many of them it is not in records that they can get. It’s up here,” he said as he pointed to his head.
“We call that living memory, and we need to get that into the family tree, this marvelous, wonderful, worldwide family tree in which people can … link up as families and keep it forever.”
Because many people do not have a computer, Brother Brimhall said, a new booklet has been developed to help in beginning the story-gathering process through questions and ideas to create a living history.
“It will [soon] be available in 22 languages and distributed throughout the world,” he said. “This is a simple way for anybody to … start with the stories. It doesn’t start with names, dates, and places; it simply asks someone to call [or talk] to Grandma and ask her to tell you about this or that.”
It is through story collecting that individuals can be engaged in recording their family history and living memory—even without a computer. The idea is to then, with the help of a consultant or helper, put the records online so the memory will be preserved forever. This makes it possible for people of all ages to participate.
Changes to family history libraries throughout the world will also help encourage others to get involved in research.
“We have been very proud of the way these are, but they have been missing the point,” he said. “The point has been that they are a place to do research but not a place to discover the first person you want to learn about—yourself.”
By taking libraries away from being computer labs and turning them into discovery centers, researchers will be able to have a discovery experience with their entire families.
“One of the things we need to do is make them family friendly,” he said. “There is nothing for the kids to do, and sometimes the patrons on the computers don’t like the kids there because they are disrupting. Isn’t it amazing that we have taken away from our family history center our families? There is no opportunity for them to come as a family and have a family experience. And so we want to get families back into that.”
In addition to changes to the family history centers, individuals need to rethink the role of consultants. Brother Brimhall said that family history consultants are not there just to help people fill in the charts.
“We want to suggest that the consultant of the future may be different than the consultant of the past,” Brother Brimhall said. “A consultant of the future needs to be not just concerned about helping people do research, but about having more people get engaged in the work we do. …
“As we move forward in our work in the next several months or years, we will begin to retrain ourselves as family history consultants and how we get people excited about their ancestors by turning their hearts to their ancestors, in addition to all other things [pertaining to] research.”