The World Conference on Records: Writing the History of the Heart
“In all of us,” wrote author Alex Haley, “there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage—to know who we are and where we have come from.”
His remarks reflect the vision behind what happened one warm week in August as thousands of individuals met to learn how to preserve the histories of their families for the benefit of generations to come.
The World Conference on Records, held August 12–15 in Salt Lake City, served as a meeting ground for the old and the young, the experienced researcher and the eager beginner, the highly technical and the deeply inspirational. It was a friendly gathering of some 11,500 people from every state in America and fifty nations worldwide. Most of the participants were LDS, but the presence of many nonmembers suggests that interest in family history is by no means exclusive to the Latter-day Saints. Indeed, since Alex Haley’s Roots it has become fashionable to look backward in a very personal way.
President Spencer W. Kimball, addressing the first conference general assembly on August 12, warmly welcomed the “impressive international audience.” His brief remarks included observations that “Whether we recognize it or not, we are connected with our past,” and that “People who care nothing for the past usually have no thought for the future and are selfish in the way they use the present.” He emphasized the need for keeping personal journals, citing his own deep commitment to the practice:
“By now, in my own personal history, I have managed to fill seventy-eight large volumes which are my personal journal. There have been times when I have been so tired at the end of a day that the effort could hardly be managed, but I am so grateful that I have not let slip away from me and my posterity those things which needed to be recorded. I pray, therefore, that you will have both the commitment and the energy to follow through on what you learn as you participate in this World Conference.”
While the nuts-and-bolts business of historical research was covered in detail (sessions dealt with North American, British, Continental European, Scandinavian, Latin American, Australian, Polynesian, Asian, and African family and local history), much of the conference was concerned with the preparing and preservation of personal and individual family histories.
Speakers stressed the significance of journal keeping, books of remembrance, the recording of family history, as well as the emotional and spiritual benefits of preserving the past and recording the present.
Alex Haley, addressing a general assembly on the second day, described the writing of Roots as “a spiritual experience.” Reminiscing about his childhood, he recalled hearing stories of his family’s history related by great-aunts who had gathered to comfort his widowed grandmother. Years later, he uncovered by chance some sketchy information about his great-grandfather. “That,” he said, “was when I received the bite of the genealogical bug—a bite for which there is no cure.”
Enlisting the aid of “cousin Georgia,” who was by then the only surviving relative who could retell the family story, Haley began a long and exhaustive search that finally ended in a tiny African village. “I had to go to Africa,” he said. “I couldn’t afford to go, but I had to. Then, when I knew the story, how could I tell it? How could I contain it?” When Roots was published, he recalled, “all of a sudden my mail began to come in grey canvas sacks. Everyone was writing about family. The greatest common denominator is family; it’s also the greatest humanizer.”
Haley referred to the family as a “basic building block of society,” and suggested that both families and society can be strengthened by collecting oral histories from the elderly and by holding regular family reunions. “Every time a family meets,” he reflected, “there is another tightening of that building block. It is exciting what worldwide family reunions could contribute to worldwide peace.”
Similar sentiments were echoed throughout the conference. George D. Durrant, director of the Church Priesthood Genealogy Division, observed that “The most exceptional stories are those written about ordinary people. Simple folks have the most interesting histories of all.” And he expressed what was perhaps the overriding message of the four-day gathering: “This conference was called because now is the time to write the history of the heart.”
There are perhaps as many ways to go about writing a personal and/or family history as there are people who might begin such a project. Clearly, methods will never be identical, although guidelines can be valuable. Dr. Edward L. Hart, professor of English at Brigham Young University, recommended an uncomplicated approach which begins with one’s parents, then extends to self, brothers and sisters, and other relatives. “Begin,” he said, “with what you already have—documents, letters, photographs, journals, statements of bills, etc.”
Intimating that perseverance is the key to successful research, he added that “you may need to write letters and make visits. Tell family members what your goal is and ask for their help. Ask for specific facts; if you can’t get them all at once, write many times.” The written history itself should be simple, straightforward, easy to understand—and scrupulously honest and accurate. “Facts,” noted Dr. Hart, “should never be accepted on the basis of hearsay. Be sure to verify all those stories.” And never be afraid to rewrite; after all, “nothing on earth is absolutely perfect.”
Indeed, neither is anyone on earth absolutely perfect—a point discussed at some length during a session conducted by Dr. Davis Bitton, professor of history at the University of Utah and Assistant Director of the Church History Division (Historical Department). Titled “Family History: Therapy or Scholarship,” his presentation explored some of the possible tensions a researcher may feel when it becomes evident that “in various forms, nuts can fall out of the family tree.” We need to be prepared, he explained, to cope with unpleasant discoveries in our family background, for they will likely emerge as we search the past. In fact, this “wonderful experience” of recreating history might take some unanticipated—and not always welcome—turns. Suicides, crime, drug addiction, divorce, mental illness, and other circumstances are not uncommon in family backgrounds. Taken in long-term perspective, said Dr. Bitton, “these make our families more human.” But we must somehow become reconciled to the reality that “in everyone’s past lie pockets of sorrow and rage.”
Tangible benefits of personal and family history-keeping were cited throughout the conference. Elder John H. Groberg, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and chairman of the event’s executive committee, said:
“So often we think of our responsibility to do something for those who have gone before. We need to understand that probably one of the most important benefits of preserving our heritage is what it does for us today. If we want our problems to be solved, one of the surest ways of doing that is to search for our past, for therein we receive strength, guidance, and understanding. All of you here today are giving an added eternal dimension to your lives as you learn and study the past. We can receive strength and help from those who have gone on before. To raise our families today, we need to do family research and genealogy.”
Elder Groberg then read the prepared remarks of Elder G. Homer Durham of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who was unable to attend because of illness. Elder Durham addressed the conference theme directly:
“How do we preserve our heritage? We begin at home, in the family. We talk to each other. We keep records. We write our personal history, however brief. We take pictures. The activity may be self-serving, in part. So be it. An individual needs some egocentric activity to maintain his emotional health. But it goes beyond that. If this World Conference on Records produces no other effect than to encourage families to build and extend their traditions, it will do much to preserve our heritage.”
Dr. David L. Weitzman, an educator who has worked extensively with young children and family history, expressed his conviction that involving youngsters in family history contributes to a sense of “wholeness” in their lives. “Perhaps we haven’t thought about getting first and second graders involved,” he said, “but it is a good thing to start even before they come to school.” Weitzman and his young students explore the concepts of generations and kinship; they even draw up family history maps tracing family moves through the years. “I’m not so much interested in the physical products (charts, maps, etc.), but in the kind of talking and thinking that goes on while children are doing these things. One thing they do is bring photographs in—and that’s just magic.”
Making the “magic” last through difficult teenage years can be an interesting challenge, according to Dr. Alvin H. Price, professor of child development and family relations at Brigham Young University. His solution is to help youth understand the purposes and rewards of keeping a personal history by explaining what it is, giving reasons for keeping it, and instructing them in the mechanics. “Young people,” he emphasized, “often don’t do something because they don’t know what exactly is expected.” The best teacher, he noted, is example: “Let’s do it ourselves. After all, it’s a commandment.”
Many of the conference sessions dealt with the physical, social, and economic conditions of the world in which our ancestors lived, loved, worked, and died. Patterns of migration, employment, courtship, infant mortality, and cultural tradition in virtually every area of the world were examined, and participants were given guidelines for tracing their ancestors from such places as Africa to other places like Salt Lake City. Lecturers described life in the cities of Denmark and Sweden, childhood in rural North America, British family life during the period of industrialization, growing up among the Indians of the American Southwest, a Scandinavian soldier’s life, family life in the Western Reserve of Ohio, life on board a Latter-day Saint emigrant ship, family life in Transylvania, Latter-day Saint family life in nineteenth-century Western America, family life of the American homemaker in the nineteenth century, and many others.
Particularly stressed was oral history. “Every year when the elderly die,” reflected Alex Haley, “another chunk of our family’s and one’s national history dies with them.” Counseled Elaine Cannon, general president of the Young Women: “As quickly as you can, go to the oldest members of your family and ask them to tell you everything their memories hold about their families.” At least nine hour-long sessions of the conference were devoted to exploring the traditions, techniques, and rewards of oral history. Apart from classroom instruction, the Salt Palace Exhibit Hall displayed helps from computer research to book publishing; individual family, ward, and stake booths illustrating innovative and attractive ways to preserve history; and “show-me-how” demonstrations from butter churning to restoring old photographs. No area of family history, it seemed, was overlooked.
According to Thomas E. Daniels, a member of the executive committee, response to the conference was “overwhelmingly enthusiastic. There was a great spirit of love and unity.”
Printed proceedings of the World Conference on Records will be available as a complete set ($80.00), by individual volume (thirteen volumes at $7.00 each), or by single lecture paper ($1.00 each). Selected cassette recordings will also be available for purchase. An order form listing these items may be obtained by writing to World Conference on Records, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150. The deadline for ordering is October 31.
Two New Church Headquarters Buildings Announced
As part of the opening ceremonies of the World Conference on Records August 12, President Spencer W. Kimball announced plans to build a new Genealogical Library and a Museum of Church History and Art. Construction will begin in 1981 on West Temple Street, directly west of Temple Square. Both buildings have been designed by Church architect Emil B. Fetzer.
President Kimball said that the five-story Genealogical Library, containing approximately 136,000 square feet of floor space, will replace the present library in the Church Office Building.
The four-story L-shaped museum will contain approximately 65,000 square feet and “will house the extensive collections of art and artifacts which depict the 150-year growth and development of the Church,” said President Kimball.
Both buildings will have frontages along West Temple Street and will face each other across a landscaped plaza. Entrance to the two buildings will be across the street from the west entrance to Temple Square. Construction is planned to take two years.
The Genealogical Library currently houses records from thirty-nine countries, with more being added regularly. More than 1,024,000 one-hundred foot rolls of microfilm, equivalent to 4,927,000 printed volumes of 300 pages each, and 157,000 genealogical volumes are available for researchers.
During the summer, between 3,500 and 4,000 individuals use the library facilities. In addition, library personnel process some 4,000 letters monthly on genealogical questions.
The new library will have a basement and mezzanine below ground and three stories above. The building will contain 545 microfilm readers and 300 work spaces. The main floor will house LDS collections, archives and indexes, classrooms, a nursery, copying machines, and a typing room. An exhibit room will permit tours to see the facilities without disturbing the researchers.
On the second floor will be U.S. and Canada materials, as well as classrooms. Offices, a cataloguing area, a mail room, a book repair room, and an employee lounge and lunchroom will occupy the third floor. In the basement and on the mezzanine will be records from Europe, Great Britain, and other areas; a computer room; and mechanical facilities to ensure proper temperature, humidity, and lighting control.
The Museum of Church History and Art will feature art and artifacts from around the world and from the earliest days of the Church. The new museum’s director will be Dr. Glen M. Leonard, historian with the Arts and Sites Division.
Preliminary plans call for five principal galleries displaying artifacts, documents, and sculpture. Art by contemporary Latter-day Saint artists will be exhibited as well as works by earlier artists.
In some exhibits, visitors will be able to use the tools of the past and touch the artifacts; in other exhibits, recordings of Church leaders’ voices and sounds from pioneer band instruments will help visitors hear the past. In a small auditorium, people can see special presentations, hear introductory lectures, and participate in other educational activities.
Rotating and traveling exhibits and the loan of objects to other museums will expand the new museum’s ability to show its entire collection, which includes items formerly housed in the Bureau of Information on Temple Square.
Swiss Temple—Prophecy Fulfilled
On 11 September, the Saints in Europe celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Swiss Temple which is, as President Georg J. Birsfelder, a counselor in the temple presidency, points out, “the first temple in the old world since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.”
In the first year of its existence, endowments were performed for 425 living persons and 368 dead. By 1979, these figures had risen dramatically, with 1,148 people receiving their own endowments and a breathtaking 81,713 proxy endowments being performed annually. An average of a hundred Saints participate in each of the 800 endowment sessions held each year. Of the nineteen languages into which the temple text is translated, the Swiss Temple has capability for eleven.
The existence of the temple fulfills a long-cherished prophecy. When President Joseph F. Smith toured Europe in 1906, he met with the Saints of Bern on 19 August, and said, “I believe that among those who have held this office I am the first to visit our foreign missions. But the time will yet come when the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will have more time to visit the branches of the Church in the different countries where the Gospel is being taught; the time will come … when temples of God dedicated to the holy ordinances of the Gospel … will be built in different countries of the earth.” The Saints remembered that prophecy, not fulfilled for nearly half a century.
It was during President David O. McKay’s administration that the prophecy began to be fulfilled. In July 1952, he assigned Samuel E. Bringhurst responsibility for acquiring, if possible, a piece of land President McKay had previously seen. A former Swiss missionary, President Bringhurst was then president of the Swiss-Austrian mission and would later serve as the Swiss Temple’s first president.
The problem was a complex one since the piece of property was in the possession of five groups of heirs, a total of thirty in all. Furthermore, real estate is so valuable in Switzerland that it is hard to purchase land outright. Usually it can only be exchanged for another piece of income-producing property.
After much effort, all of the heirs agreed to sell, but then, in October, negotiations suddenly stalled. As tension and frustration mounted, President Bringhurst recalls, he felt inspired one sleepless night to stop praying that the Lord would remove the obstacles and to start praying that the Lord’s will be done. The next morning, he had all the district presidents ask the missionaries to fast and pray for a decision. Within twenty-four hours, they had received word that the principal heir had decided not to sell.
By the end of the month, President Bringhurst was considering two alternative temple sites. After praying earnestly for guidance, he and his wife gave the two sites a final inspection. At first, one seemed more desirable, but after inspecting the second choice and leaving, “we turned around, drove back to the site, and as we walked over it, all doubt seemed to leave and we felt certain we were on the site the Lord wished for the first European temple.” President McKay authorized this choice and it was purchased. Some time later, President Bringhurst learned that the first choice site was sliced up for a highway, which would have required them to move the temple from the brow of the hill to a low spot which turned out to be boggy.
President McKay saw the temple in vision and described it in great detail to Church architect Edward O. Anderson, also the architect for the temples in Los Angeles, London, and New Zealand as well as serving on the board of architects that designed the Idaho Falls Temple. Brother Anderson recalls that President McKay’s description “fixed a picture so firmly in my mind that I could draw it.” The finished temple represents the fulfillment of President McKay’s vision.
The temple was dedicated on 11 September 1955. Services were conducted in nine sessions and translated into the different languages of the European Saints. President McKay attended and addressed each session, offering the dedicatory prayer for each.
In the afternoon session on 11 September, held for members from Great Britain, missionaries, and servicemen, President Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said that he had encouraged the Saints as he travelled throughout Europe to prepare their lives and to find the way to the temple. He had told them he knew of their poverty and that some of them would have difficulty going to the temple. “And then I said to them, as they had a look of questioning in their faces, ‘You could walk to the holy temple.’ There was a little laughter.” And then he said, “I am not facetious. You could all walk to the holy temple and it wouldn’t be nearly as far as many of our ancestors walked to go to a place where there was not a temple, but where there was a barren, desert ground on which a temple could be built, and then they worked forty years to build the temple so they might enjoy all these privileges.”
For President McKay, fulfilling President Smith’s prophecy and his own vision, the dedication of the temple seemed especially meaningful. He later remarked that “the veil between those who participated in those exercises and loved ones who had gone before seemed very thin” and called the dedication “a most significant … event in the history of the Church.”
Sources for historical materials include Anna Mae Robison, “The Swiss Temple,” Historic Sites File, Church Hist. Dept.; Dale Z. Kirby, “History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Switzerland” (M.A. thesis, BYU 1971); Georg J. Birsfelder, “25 Years Swiss Temple,” German typescript and English translation, Church Hist. Dept.; and “Dedicatory Addresses at Dedication of Swiss Temple, Zollikofen, Switzerland, September 11, 1955—September 15, 1955,” typescript, Church Hist. Dept.
Northridge—Where the Deaf Join the Mainstream
It’s the only university of its kind in the world—a school where hearing students, deaf students, and even deaf-blind students all study together. And the Institute of Religion at California State University at Northridge is unique, too.
There classes are taught for deaf students; there deaf students mingle and learn with hearing students. And there missionary work is an important aspect of the institute program—particularly missionary work among the hearing-impaired.
“Having deaf and hearing students mainstreamed together in education and having us participating in the hearing world, we learn much better,” says deaf student Diane Russo of Palo Alto, California.
That mainstreaming at the institute began in 1972, when a class for deaf students was offered. The class has now been expanded to three classes. Many deaf adults from the community attend one of the classes held in the evening. In addition, a seminary class for the deaf has been started at Riverside School for the Deaf. And the Fullerton Branch has begun a home-study seminary for the hearing-impaired.
David Perkins, a deaf graduate student who has considerable vision impairment, says the institute “has greatly helped my spiritual growth, because it has given me peace of mind and a positive outlook.” He explains, “I have gained the wisdom I need to manage my life from the teachings of the gospel.” Those teachings have “inspired me to do better in my studies at CSUN.”
His bishop and institute teacher, Samuel H. Judd, is bishop of the San Fernando Valley Ward for the Deaf. Bishop Judd—one of several Latter-day Saints who have worked in establishing and running programs for the deaf in the area—has been instrumental in the conversion of some 150 deaf persons in about twenty years.
The deaf program at the institute “helped me prepare for my mission four years ago, and it helps me to maintain my testimony,” says deaf student David Neuman, a returned missionary who graduates from the university this spring and who plans to attend graduate school at Northridge.
Students at the institute—both deaf and hearing—are active in missionary work. Missionaries often plan firesides, to which hearing and deaf students invite friends from the campus. Captioned films are often shown at the firesides. Also, students from the institute frequently take visitors to the Los Angeles Temple Visitors Center, invite them to home evening groups, or bring them to the institute for luncheons.
It’s part of our responsibility as students to do our missionary work and to share the gospel,” says Brother Norman Shipley, a deaf student. “Also, it’s important to bring nonmembers to institute classes.”
The students themselves are the best missionary tool, says Jack Rose, one of their teachers. “They are all fantastic examples of what Mormons believe in. You can feel the spirit that’s among them. It’s very obvious.”
They credit their deafness with helping them accept the gospel. Many of the Northridge Institute deaf students are converts, and they recognize the blessings that can come through the challenge of deafness.
“Maybe deafness is a blessing in this earth life that helps us accept the gospel,” says Patty Carmel of Northridge. “Maybe without my deafness I could never have accepted it.”
“Being deaf has really helped me to grow,” says Heidi Schaetze of Long Island, New York. “It’s helped me to overcome many problems—and to perfect ourselves is a desire all of us have. God has given everybody different problems. We just have to learn through our experiences, and these handicaps are part of ours.”
Sister Cannel adds, “If God hadn’t given us the challenge of being handicapped, maybe we wouldn’t be happy like we are now.
And happy they are. As the deaf and hearing students intermingle in playing ping-pong, in studying, in missionary work, they share their happiness. They seem unafraid to give abundant love—through smiles and conversation—to newcomers as well as old friends.
To further develop that sharing, many hearing students at the institute learn sign language. The institute has offered classes in sign language, but some students study it at the university.
“They just open up and really share with us,” says Sister Russo of her hearing friends at the institute.
Together they work toward individual goals. Brother Neuman, for example, would like to become an institute of religion teacher. Brother Shipley has considered becoming a lawyer. Sister Russo hopes to become a counselor for the deaf and their families and friends. And—with a blush—Sister Schaetze explains that she hopes to become “a housewife.”
They make plans for even longer-range goals, too. Brother Neuman not only accepts the permanency of his deafness, but he appreciates it. “I myself prefer just to stay deaf the rest of this life and enjoy the unique experience of associating with these people,” he says.
And Sister Russo openly acknowledges the role the institute experience has in her future:
“It helps me know all of the things I need to prepare for,” she says.
Is This the Help You’re Looking For?
No one escapes all the perils of living in today’s world.
Troubling challenges face everyone—family members old and young, students away from home, relatives near and far, cherished nonmember friends.
But help is available. And Church magazines are part of the answer.
For example, here’s a sampling of what your loved ones could experience this month if you gave them the gift of Church magazines:
Timely Ideas for Frustrated Marriages
Love means learning how to solve problems—and stop worrying about who is winning the argument. So says “Winning the Argument or Solving the Problem: Which Do You Want?” an October Ensign article that helps couples remove roadblocks to understanding in marriage.
For Teens: Overcoming Self-image Fears
The basement stairs were tall and narrow, and the furnace grumbled and moaned. Below was a maze of dark, musty corners where two-headed green monsters thronged, just waiting for someone to turn on the light. “Monsters” in the October New Era tells the good news of what happened when the young woman went down and met her fears—and herself—face to face.
A Young Boy’s Understanding of Death
“Autumn Messengers” (October Friend) unfolds the sensitive story about Michael, who comes to understand that his grandfather’s death is as inevitable as the onward journey of the geese that the two of them watch, spellbound, during their last outing together.
Church magazines—the perfect gift for people who want to live happily in a troubled world.
“The Gift,” a BYU motion picture of a son’s Christmas gift to his father, has won two awards in international competition. The awards were the Grand Prize at the Childfilm Festival of the Canadian Association for Young Children and the Golden Eagle Award of the Council on International Nontheatrical Events. The Golden Eagle award means that “The Gift,” will officially represent the United States in international film festivals.
Two other BYU motion pictures have also won top awards at national film festivals. “The Trophy Case,” a movie dealing with father-son relationships, won the coveted Gold Camera Award at the U.S. International Industrial Film Festival. “The Emmett Smith Story,” portraying an Arizona teacher-coach who inspired high performance by his students, received the Family Life Film Award in its category at the 10th annual festival sponsored by the National Council on Family Relations. The Smith film also won first place in the business, career, and guidance category at the National Educational Film Festival in Oakland, California.
Three BYU students are recuperating from injuries suffered August 2 when a bomb exploded in a Bologna, Italy, train station. The explosion killed some eighty people and injured 200 others. Two were brothers on a Semester Abroad program—Jeff, 19, and Bill, 22, sons of Drs. Garold and Norma Davis, both BYU professors. The third student, Peter Bergstrom, 22, had been traveling with his mother, Gerd Bergstrom; both are from Sweden.
The twelve full-time elders and sister missionaries in Bologna were assigned to help clean up and assist the injured until after the mass funeral on August 5.
A new intercultural communications major at Brigham Young University will combine courses in anthropology, communications, and linguistics. The interdisciplinary major is aimed at preparing students to function effectively within a variety of cultures. The program is designed to help multi-national corporations, government agencies, service agencies, military services, and the Church deal with multiple cultures.
Five General Authorities and 2,600 LDS scouts participated in the Florida Deseret Encampment, August 5–11. Drawing Scouts from 29 stakes in 9 southern states, the event was held on the Church’s Deseret Ranches of Florida property near Melbourne. Featured Church leaders were President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the First Quorum of the Seventy; and the presidency of the Young Men—Elders Robert L. Backman, Vaughn J. Featherstone, and Rex D. Pinegar, each of whom is also a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
Vernice Pere has won first place for her poetry entry in the South Pacific Festival of Arts in Papua, New Guinea. The festival, held every four years, is open to artists of Polynesian, Micronesian, or Melanesian heritage; competition is conducted in the areas of cultural dance, music, drama, art, and writing. Sister Pere, a researcher and writer for the Polynesian Cultural Center, won the prize for her poem, “Walking on Water.” Born in New Zealand of Maori, English, and French descent, she is a member of the Ngati-Toa Tribe of the Tainui Canoe. She and her husband, Baden Pere, are the parents of seven children.
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