Family History—One-on-One


With individual help from ward family history consultants, members are discovering the joy of doing temple work for their own ancestors.

Bill Drake remembers the unusual way Florence Goodson introduced him to family history in the Orem, Utah, Fifty-sixth Ward’s Sunday School family history class: she invited him to stand on a chair. “She took me by the hand,” he says, “and I jumped onto the floor, simulating jumping into a swimming pool. You learn to swim by jumping into the pool, not by standing at the side and talking about swimming. The same is true of doing family history.”

Sister Goodson and her husband, Dale, are ward family history consultants. They—and others like them in other wards and stakes—teach Church members to “jump in and swim,” not only in the family history class but by meeting with them individually at their homes or at a local family history center. And they are having great success!

The Fifty-sixth Ward’s program is not the first of its kind. Nor is the calling of ward family history consultant new. But the way the Goodsons work with ward members is new: the program centers on consultants’ visits with members in their homes.

Three years ago, ward genealogical consultants in the Butler Thirtieth Ward, Salt Lake Wasatch Stake, developed a successful family history program, centered on ward consultants’ visits to members’ homes to help them with their genealogy. (See Church News, 10 Jan. 1987, pp. 1, 6.) Based partly on the Butler Thirtieth Ward’s success, the Church Family History Department developed a similar program in the Wasatch stake and the Kearns Utah West Stake. Stake specialists now train ward consultants, who in turn work with members individually. Though it is still in its infancy, the program has been successful, and other ward family history consultants throughout the Church are now adopting its principles and practices.

While all of this was developing, Florence Goodson was called to teach the Sunday School family history class in the Orem Fifty-sixth Ward. But she began to feel that class members weren’t involved enough in actually doing family history. So she began meeting with them in their homes or at the local family history center. The approach worked. Her first class had six students; her second had more than twenty.

Florence realized that in order to be successful in family history, members needed personal attention. “People really get ‘turned on’ about family history when they have some one-on-one coaching,” she says. But to help more ward members, Florence needed help. “I felt that we needed a whole committee for our ward.”

Around that time, William Cox, president of the Orem Utah South Central Stake, where the Goodsons lived, received instructions about how to develop a ward family history program involving consultants who work with members in their homes—a result of the earlier pilot program. He heard about the Fifty-sixth Ward’s program, saw the similarities between the two, and invited Florence to speak at a priesthood leadership session of their stake conference. Soon, Florence’s bishop, Henry Savage, called her husband, Dale, to be chairman of the ward family history committee. Two other couples and one sister were called to serve with the Goodsons.

Not all ward family history programs are structured like the Fifty-sixth Ward’s. In some wards, only one couple serve as consultants; in others, a couple and a sister have been called. Some couples serve both as stake family history specialists (who train the stake’s ward consultants) and as consultants in their own ward. In some wards, where the program is just getting started, bishoprics have decided to hold a family history class, taught by one or more consultants. In others, consultants hold workshops where ward members can bring their family records and receive individual help.

In all cases, the ultimate goal is for consultants to help ward members attend the temple for their ancestors. To do this, they meet individually with ward members, and are “on call” whenever members have a question. Consultants can arrange to meet in members’ homes, in a meetinghouse, or at a local family history center (formerly branch genealogical library).

Steven and Lynett Snyder, consultants in the Herriman First Ward, Riverton Utah North Stake, found that a combination of “open house” workshops and individual visits worked well. During their Tuesday evening workshops at the chapel, a steady stream of ward members dropped by to ask for help.

Consultants not only help members with their family history, they can also provide encouragement and support. “A lot of people say, ‘I want to do family history research. Someday, I’m going to do it,’” says Lynett. “But they tend to let other things interfere. It’s good to have ward consultants who are there saying, ‘How can I help?’”

The consultants’ enthusiasm about family history research is contagious. It was Sister Goodson’s friendship with Becky Farnsworth that sparked Becky’s interest in family history. Becky had taken a genealogy class as a student at BYU and had found the work tedious and unenjoyable. Florence encouraged Becky, and Becky began again—this time with the goal of receiving temple ordinances for her own grandparents.

A free-lance journalist who is accustomed to deadlines, Becky has asked Florence for family history “assignments” and “deadlines”—and has found that, this time around, family history seems more enjoyable and worthwhile.

Family history isn’t always easy, and that’s where consultants can help. Most are not experienced genealogists, but they can rapidly build the expertise needed to help members identify which ordinances need to be done for their own ancestors. Often, it is the less-experienced consultants who prove most helpful to members—they remember what it’s like to be a beginner. Ormond James, another consultant in the Fifty-sixth Ward, puts fledgling family history researchers at ease by telling humorous stories about his own inexperience. Once, he recalls, he put a roll of film on a microfilm reader and began to turn the handle—a little too fast. “I got so dizzy that I fell right off the chair!” he says.

The work of family history consultants begins as they help members identify a “target ancestor” whose work needs to be done. “You start with yourself,” says Lynett Snyder. She gives suggestions over the phone and then sets up appointments to meet with ward members in their homes. “I encourage them to get all their family records together before we come, and then we sit down and help them start organizing,” she says. She encourages members to set up a “family history corner” in their homes, where they can work whenever they have a spare minute.

The consultants can help ward members “jump into” family history by motivating them to begin and helping them to get started. Once members take the initial “jump,” the feeling of kinship and love for departed loved ones helps most members to “swim.” Florence recalls that one ward member told her, “If you can get me going, you’ll really have done something.”

She recalls, “I told him, ‘I’m not going to get you going. You’re going to have the experience of taking one of your ancestors’ names to the temple, and it’s going to be such a sweet experience that you’ll want to do more.’”

Doing temple work for one’s own ancestors or relatives can be an uplifting experience. “People have often said that it’s so nice to go to the temple for your own ancestors,” says Paul Cutler, a former stake specialist in the Riverton Utah North Stake who is now serving a mission in Texas with his wife, Joan. “My feeling was that it didn’t matter who did it as long as the work was done.” But doing temple work for his own ancestors changed his mind. “There is a different feeling about it,” he says. “It’s much more meaningful.”

Duane B. Williams, president of the Riverton North stake, also discovered the joy of doing temple work for his own family members when he did the work for a cousin whom he had been close to as a young boy. “During that time, I felt closer to my cousin than I had since we were little boys,” he says. While he was in the temple, President Williams says, “I felt like he was there.”

Eldon and Dorothy Walker, stake family history specialists in the Jordan North Fourth Ward, Salt Lake Jordan North Stake, have also felt the joy that comes from doing family history and temple work for their ancestors. Eldon had worked on one particular line for twenty-five years without much success. He knew about an ancestor’s child who had died in Winter Quarters, but he didn’t have enough information to complete the person’s temple work.

However, after several insistent promptings from the Spirit, Eldon again began gathering information on that particular name—and this time found enough for the temple work to be done. “Descendants who are in tune with the Spirit will receive help,” Eldon says. “And you can be in tune with the Spirit if you pull your family records down off the shelves and work with them.”

Helping people pull their records off the shelves is the consultants’ goal. The best place for them to meet with members, say Eldon and Dorothy, is in the members’ homes, where they have access to all of their records.

Many members feel more comfortable in one-on-one visits with consultants than in a class, says Glen Smith, who with his wife, Lois, serves as a consultant in the Kearns Fourth Ward, Kearns Utah North Stake. “They work at their own pace,” he adds. “That’s the beauty of the program,” adds Joan Cutler, “removing it from the mass education format and putting it on the same level as our missionary system. I don’t see how it can fail!”

Many ward consultants work with entire families. Often, parents get involved in family history as their sons and daughters work on Scouting merit badges or Young Women program goals. They can also involve their children in family history through inviting consultants to teach them the “basics” at a special family home evening.

In addition to family night presentations, family history consultants can introduce ward members to the program through cottage meetings, firesides, or special sacrament meeting presentations. Some wards have also held Young Women activity nights, Primary Sharing Times, and Relief Society mini-classes focused on family history. In many wards, the bishopric or high priests group leader suggests names of individuals or families with whom consultants might work. But, says Annette Brown, a consultant and stake specialist in the Taylorsville Thirty-fifth Ward, Taylorsville Utah West Stake, “I haven’t had to ask the bishop for any names at all. Everybody has been interested.”

Many Church members think that the temple work for their ancestors is “all done.” They’re often mistaken, says Orval Fotheringham, a consultant in the Spencer Third Ward, Magna Utah Central Stake. “I started marking the little blocks on the new pedigree charts where the temple work had been done, and I found a whole section that wasn’t marked!” he says. “You may find out that your relatives weren’t able to do all the work,” adds Glen Smith. Information from sources that weren’t available before may now be easy to obtain. It’s also worthwhile to double-check names, dates, and sources.

There are new, simplified forms and new rules for submitting names for temple ordinances. Joan Cutler inherited boxes of genealogical research from her grandfather when he died in 1961. At that time, the information he had collected was not sufficient for temple work to be done. So it sat in Joan’s basement until one night when she woke up and felt impressed to go downstairs and get some of it. “I found that, with the new, relaxed rules, it could now be done,” she says. She has since submitted about 250 sheets from her grandfather’s research and 150 from papers her cousin inherited from him.

Ancestors aren’t the only ones who benefit from family history service. Those who do the work are also blessed. One day, as Lynett Snyder worked with an unemployed ward member, she felt prompted to tell her that if she did the family history work necessary for a particular group of ancestors’ temple work to be done, she would be blessed. “I said, ‘If you turn these names in, you’ll get the help you need, and things will go better in your life,’” recalls Lynett. The sister kept at her family history, and two days later, she got a telephone call about a job interview.

Often, an interest in family history can also kindle or rekindle an interest in the Church. Several of Lynett’s nonmember co-workers have asked questions about her “hobby,” and several have begun to learn more about their own family trees. Though Lynett’s brother hasn’t always been active in the Church, he has dutifully paid family history “dues” to help her with the costs of photocopying and other expenses. Recently, his wife gave an embroidered picture of the Arizona Temple to her inlaws. “She’s not even a member of the Church,” says Lynett, “but she was impressed with family history, and she has since sent me her records on her family.”

One day Florence Goodson was resting at home when she awoke with a single, urgent thought: “Frankie needs help.”

She tried to shrug off the impression, but it came again—this time more strongly. So she telephoned Frankie Jensen, a sister in the ward whom she had been assisting with family history. Frankie’s son answered the phone and told her that his mother was at the family history center. “I figured that she wasn’t getting the help she needed,” says Florence. So she drove there and found Frankie who, frustrated in her research, had been about to give up. Knowing that a particular specialist knew a lot about Scandinavian research, Florence introduced Frankie to him and told him what she needed. “He was able almost immediately to find what I needed,” says Frankie. That experience helped Frankie extend her pedigree chart by several generations.

Such promptings are one aspect of the “spirit of Elijah” that seems to descend on a person who becomes involved in family history. Lynett Snyder has had similar experiences. Once, she turned away from a microfilm reader for a few seconds, only to turn back and find that the handle had been flipped and she couldn’t find the page she had been looking at. But at the top of the page that was on the reader, she found the name of a great-aunt about whom she had been given some wrong information—and was able to get the correct information from that page. Another time, she felt drawn to a book about Mississippi—a place she thought she had no connection with. After several insistent promptings, she took the book off the shelf, and found information in it about her great-great-grandfather, about whom she had known nothing until then.

As members become involved in doing family history, they will also face opposition. “You’re walking into grounds where Satan doesn’t want you,” says Lynett. “A lot of times when I have been headed for the family history library, all sorts of things have gone wrong. You just have to make up your mind that you’re going to get past the obstacles. Even if you’re an hour later getting there than you had planned, you still go. But then, you get a lot of blessings, too!”

Those blessings are what make the “jump” into family history—and the learning to “swim” once you’ve made the jump—worthwhile. “It’s like going on a mission or being in a bishopric or serving as a Relief Society or Young Women president,” Florence Goodson says. “Anything that you put a lot of work into, you will get a lot of joy out of.”

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson