Chapter 11

Research in Family History

“Chapter 11: Research in Family History,” Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual: Religion 261 (2012), 48–51


Encouraging students to improve their research methods and persevere in searching for their distant ancestors can result in exciting achievements. President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency taught:

“We can have exciting experiences as we learn about our vibrant, dynamic ancestors. They were very real, living people with problems, hopes, and dreams like we have today. …

“It is a joy to become acquainted with our forebears who died long ago. Each of us has a fascinating family history” (“The Phenomenon That Is You,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 53).

As students realize that organizing their research efforts is a key to identifying their ancestors and providing the vicarious ordinances for them in the temples, they will be encouraged to persist when it becomes difficult to locate records. Teach them that although they can expect challenges and difficulties in this important work, there are ways to meet those challenges and work through them. Researching leads to real people and the opportunity to extend the ordinances of salvation to them and their families.

Some Doctrines, Principles, and Gospel Truths

  • Family history work becomes more challenging as you research generations further removed from your own.

  • An organized research method will help make your efforts more effective.

  • There are many types of useful records to search in family history work.

  • Have a system for tracking your progress and storing family history documents.

Suggestions for Teaching

Note to teacher: Because of the length and amount of material in this lesson, it is suggested that you take two class periods to teach this lesson.

Family History Work Becomes More Challenging as You Research Generations Further Removed from Your Own

Ask students to raise their hands if they have ever played a musical instrument. Ask what instrument they played. Then ask how many of them faced a time when it became difficult to keep practicing the instrument.

Invite two or three students to describe what they did to get through the difficult times playing their instrument and what the rewards were for persistence. Suggest to students that just as learning to play a musical instrument is a skill, they are developing a skill as they learn to do family history work.

  • When do you think it might become difficult to continue your family history research? (When you come to the end of an ancestral line; when you have incomplete or conflicting information; when you have other pressures that demand much of your time; when you’ve searched several records without finding the information you need.)

Have students open their student manuals, and ask a student to read aloud the counsel provided by President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency under the heading “Persist despite the challenges” (11.1.1). Whom did President Eyring ask us to remember when the work becomes more difficult?

  • What do you think is meant by the last sentence in his statement, “You will have more than your own strength as you choose to labor on to find them”?

Have students turn to 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Invite them to read this scripture silently and look for words, phrases, and ideas that can be applied to family history work, particularly when it becomes difficult or challenging. After students have read and pondered this verse, encourage them to share their thoughts on how specific words or phrases in the verse may be applied to family history work. Students need not give all of the following answers, but some of their answers could include:

“Without ceasing.” Family history is an activity we can be engaged in throughout our lives. We should not stop working when we encounter difficulty.

“Work of faith.” Family history requires effort and work on our part. It takes faith to engage in and continue with the work of family history research and submission of names for temple ordinances. Our faith can be increased as we continue participating in the work of the Lord.

“Labour of love.” Family history work shows our love for the Lord, for our living families, and for our ancestors. The Atonement of the Lord was a labor of love. The love we show when we do family history work can be felt on both sides of the veil—in mortal life and in the spirit world.

“Patience.” It requires patience to continue when the work becomes difficult. It may take a long time to locate records of a distant ancestor.

“Patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We hope by our diligent efforts in family history that we will be rewarded with success. Our hope is connected with our faith in the Lord’s work on the other side of the veil. Not knowing whether or not the work is accepted by our ancestors requires patience and hope on our part.

“In the sight of God and our Father.” Our family history work is pleasing to both Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven. They know and appreciate the efforts we are putting into family history.

Divide the class into five groups (or fewer if the class is small). Assign each group one of the following scripture references, and give them about five minutes to work as a group.

Explain that they will do the same thing within their groups using their assigned scriptures that they did as a class using 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Have them look for words, phrases, and ideas from their scripture references that can be applied to family history when the work becomes difficult. Students should discuss their answers within their own groups.

After the group work, have students select a spokesperson for each group to briefly summarize their scriptures and the ideas they discussed.

Read the following statement from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency to your class:

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

“Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well” (“Continue in Patience,” Ensign, May 2010, 57).

  • When in the past have you been blessed by the Lord because of your patience? How does that experience lead you to believe the Lord will do the same as you labor in patience to research your ancestors?

An Organized Research Method Will Help Make Your Efforts More Effective

Divide the class again into small groups (different groups than before). Invite students to create a list titled “Steps for successful family history research.” Ask them to determine five or six basic steps that could help family history students organize and direct their research efforts. Ask them to write down the steps they would recommend and then prioritize the list from the first step to the last.

After sufficient time, have the groups pair up and compare their lists. Follow up the group discussions by asking the class the following questions:

  • How did your steps compare with the steps from other groups?

  • What advantages do you see in writing a step-by-step process for conducting research?

Give students some time to refer to the material in the student manual under the heading “Develop a system for family history research” (11.2.1). Ask them to compare the suggestions in the student manual and make any adjustments in their own lists that they think might improve them for their individual use.

  • From our discussions today, what do you think you could do differently to make your research more effective?

Challenge students to apply this exercise to their own family history research efforts by writing specific goals for each step and using names from their own ancestry and then following through with their plans.

There Are Many Types of Useful Records to Search in Family History Work

Note to teacher: Students will benefit from your advanced preparation in this area. Try to obtain and show students as many different types of documents as you can from the list found in the student manual under the heading “There are many sources to search for family history information” (11.3.2).

The demonstration described here could take an entire class period or more, which may be appropriate to do. Adapt the time spent on the demonstration to the needs of the students according to the classroom facilities available.

Ask how many students have a copy of their birth certificate. Ask if any of them have ever requested a copy of a birth, marriage, or death certificate, and what procedure they followed. You may want to show copies of birth, marriage, or death certificates (or any other family history record) and note the information written on them.

Invite students to suggest other types of records or sources of information that can be of value in family history research, and what information those records contain. As answers are given you might have a student write answers on the board. To help the class learn about other kinds of records, you may want to refer them to the student manual under the heading “There are many sources to search for family history information” (11.3.2). This would be an appropriate time to show examples of many of these records that you gathered and prepared before class.

If you have the facilities to demonstrate on a computer, show the students how to access several types of records and let them see what they contain. You could do this on the Church’s FamilySearch website (, Brigham Young University’s family history website (, or any other family history site you are familiar with.

Have a System for Tracking Your Progress and Storing Family History Documents

  • Hold up a stack of papers and tell students, “Imagine that this is my carefully organized family history work for the past two years.” Drop the stack so that it hits the corner of a table or desk and scatters on the floor. What lessons can be learned from this demonstration that can be applied to family history work?

President Brigham Young (1801–77) once made the following statement:

President Brigham Young

“Never displace anything, but always put everything in its place” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 181).

  • How can this counsel be applied to family history work?

  • What advantages can a computer program (such as FamilySearch) add to record storage and retrieval?

Invite students to share what they are doing to keep track of their progress in family history work. Also ask them if they know someone who has a successful plan for organizing their family history work and to describe that plan.

Close by sharing President Faust’s statement in the introduction of this chapter. Testify that the work of family history research leads to personal and eternal rewards in the kingdom of heaven.

Note to teacher: In preparation for lesson 12 on “Finding and Creating Personal and Family Histories,” consider asking students to bring examples to the next class of what they or their families have done to record or preserve personal or family records. Examples might include digital recordings, picture albums or scrapbooks, tablet computer diaries, personal histories or journals, or books of remembrance.