Even in an Ordinary Ward


With a little dedication the extraordinary can be accomplished.

The building is impressive. Sitting across the street from Temple Square, it seems to belong—a natural link to the heritage that established it, and a part of the Church’s continuing work of redeeming the dead. It seems big inside. Huge. Different floors hold row after row of books, files, card catalogs, and machines for viewing microfilm.

This is the Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. People do not sit idly and glance through magazines or paperbacks here. They take notes, scan microfilm, and move about with purpose. It is the largest library of its kind in the world, and it can be overwhelming.

Unless, of course, you happen to be a young member of the Butler 30th Ward, Salt Lake Wasatch Stake. For them, the library is still big. There is still an incredible amount of information to sort through. But it is no longer intimidating.

During the past year, these young people made regular visits to what was formerly called the Genealogical Library. Under the watchful eye of Dr. Roger Williams, the ward genealogy (now family history) consultant, a program was established to teach youth to use research equipment and to organize and work on their family history and genealogy. Because leaders and many parents were taking similar classes, everyone was able to work together.

The project, which culminated with trips to the temple to do baptisms for the dead, was a lot more than a simple afternoon activity. In fact, most of those who participated say that it was downright hard work, and it is far from finished. Why did they spend so many hours pouring over microfilm, digging through old records, and questioning relatives?

If you ask Christi Ann Gibson, 12, the answer is simple. “It’s fun! You learn a lot more about your ancestors,” she says. “I learned that I got my name from two great-grandmothers on my dad’s side. I could have stayed home and watched television if I’d wanted to, but I’d go to the library because I thought it was fun.”

For some of the youth, the mere mention of the word genealogy used to conjure up images of endlessly searching through dusty manuscripts that led nowhere.

“I wasn’t too excited at first,” says Tyson Thacker, 15. The term family history seems more inviting, but still there are challenges.

“I just wondered how I would find names,” adds Tyson’s sister Miriam, a Laurel. “I knew a lot of work had already been done in our family.”

But with four young people in the program and lots of help from their mother, they had plenty of support. And support was needed when they didn’t find any names from February until July, despite lots of looking.

Things were getting pretty discouraging until one night when three of the Thacker youth and their mother ventured down to the library again.

“We were all looking on different films and would say to each other, ‘Go look here and go look over there,’” says Sister Thacker. “Everyone was running around getting names and checking them. We accomplished much more than one person could have done alone, and that was the night we finally found someone! It’s hard to describe how exciting that was. After that it seemed like everything opened up and we just kept finding names.”

The same spirit of excitement the Thackers felt seems to have caught hold of everyone involved in the ward project.

On activity nights in between passing off Scouting merit badges and before heading in for basketball practice, the deacons may pause to talk about family history. They’re a busy, constantly moving group, and a current of energy seems to surround everything they do. With all of that energy channeled into family research, it’s not surprising that a lot was accomplished.

“I found two names,” says Ryan Rasmusson. “And I was able to be baptized (vicariously) for about 20 other people. It was a neat experience.”

Brian Blackham also enjoyed this introduction to family history. “I’ll be doing more in the future,” he says.

Along with the Beehive class, the deacons showed nearly 100 percent participation in the project. When asked why they became so involved, the young men were unanimous in mentioning their adviser, Fred Allred. “He was funny,” says Ryan Thacker, 12. “He’d say, ‘What are you doing tonight? We’re meeting at my house at 5:30 to go to the library. Be there.’” When 5:30 rolled around, off they’d all go.

After the project was over, Brother Allred was offered nickels from many of the deacons. Payment for a job well done? Not exactly. The deacons were merely trying to replenish the supply of coins generously doled out for photocopies of records and documents found during visits to the library.

Among the youth in the ward, terms like TIB (Temple Index Bureau) and IGI (International Genealogical Index) are now tossed out casually in conversation. If the teenagers sound like they know what they’re talking about, it’s because they do.

Together with their parents and leaders, they submitted records containing 322 names of people needing baptismal and endowment work.

That’s a lot of names. And yet, as each one was carefully researched and processed for baptism, it became more than just another name tied to meaningless dates. The name came to represent a real person. The youth and their leaders weren’t just doing research, they were helping individuals progress toward eternal salvation.

Relatives took on identity, and, in turn, the youth learned a great deal about themselves. “I found a paper submitted by President Benson and learned I was related to him,” said Kristin Williams, 12.

“I’m related to King Henry VIII,” said Melanie Packard, second counselor in her Beehive class. “I hadn’t known that before.”

“It was interesting,” said Kyle Deans, first counselor in his deacons quorum. “When I was looking up one name I found another name that led to a whole new group. I found names from England and then Switzerland that I hadn’t known about.”

There were many “favorite parts” to the year-long project. For some it was working together with family and leaders, and for others it was getting to know the members of their class or quorum better. Some enjoyed visiting the library and using the research equipment there, while others enjoyed the challenge of hunting for a name and learning about their relatives.

High on the list of good experiences was finding a name after hours of diligent research and then having it cleared for ordinance work.

But the unanimous highlight of the project was performing vicarious baptisms in the temple for the names that were found. It was during the baptisms that the real meaning of the work and effort put forth was felt.

“After doing the research, the reward is being baptized and knowing you’re helping that person. It is extra special when you can be baptized for someone you’ve found,” said Paula Deans, 16.

The large number of names found during the project, along with the interesting facts that turned up, may seem out of the ordinary, but according to Dr. Williams they are available to almost anyone who takes family history seriously.

“This program was carried out in an ordinary ward, by ordinary kids and ordinary teachers. Anyone can do it,” he encourages.

Personal Ancestral File

It is getting late and Hap Putnam is still on the phone. Well, sort of. Although he dialed the number, the family’s personal computer is doing all the “talking.”

Using a computer program of the Personal Ancestral File (PAF), Hap is transmitting family history data from the family’s personal computer in Salt Lake City across the country to his grandfather’s computer in New Hampshire.

It may sound a little complex, but for Hap, 16, and his brother Frank, 17, family history and computers go hand in hand. PAF is a family history program package for personal computers that is available from the Family History Department of the Church. With the use of a personal computer and PAF, the Putnams are finding family history a little easier.

And so are a lot of other youth. Christy Gray, 14, says she enjoys using PAF because “if you goof, you can redo it” without having to retype or rework a whole pedigree chart or family group sheet.

The PAF system does not do research, but it can organize material and print out pedigree charts, family group sheets, and submission forms for temple ordinances. It’s also able to transmit this information to other computer users of the PAF system.

“A lot of kids think, ‘Oh genealogy, how boring,’” says Christy. “But I don’t think family history is boring. One Saturday I just sat at the computer and did it for hours and hours.”

Computers have always held a fascination for Frank, who learned the PAF system quickly. He’s also an old hand at family history. “My dad is a genealogist and for the last four summers I’ve worked for my grandparents and other people doing family history.”

“It’s interesting,” he says. One year while looking through land records, Frank came across deeds that belonged to George Washington. Another year he found a name his father had searched 15 years for. “I traced that line way back to about 1160,” says Frank.

After finding names and submitting them for ordinance work, there is often the opportunity to perform vicarious baptisms for the dead. “I got to go to the temple for baptisms, and it felt really great,” says Hap.

Knowing that you can help someone progress eternally is a great blessing. It is the kind of reward many young people are finding through doing their family history. And whether the research involves using a personal computer, working out of the Family History Library, or working at home, the rewards are the same.

Personal Ancestral File (release 2.0) is available in versions for MS-DOS computers, Apple computers, and CP/M computers. Inquiries into system requirements of these and other versions should be addressed to: Ancestral File Operations Unit, Family History Department, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150, telephone (801) 531-2584.

Order blanks and a brochure (stock number PBGS1121) can be ordered at no charge from the Ancestral File Operations Unit or from the Church Distribution Center, 1999 W. 1700 South, Salt Lake City, Utah 84104. The PAF package sells for $35.00.

Editor’s note: In August 1987, the name of the Church’s Genealogical Department was changed to the Family History Department, and the name of the Genealogical Library was changed to the Family History Library.

[photos] Photography by Jed Clark

[photos] The youth of the Butler 30th Ward learned how to use the resources in the Family History Library, and how to organize and work on their own genealogy. Once they’d learned basic skills, the search for their ancestors became a fascinating adventure.

[photos] As the youth searched through archives for names and dates relating to their ancestors, the information helped them get to know their relatives and themselves. They also came to realize that they weren’t just doing research. They were helping individuals progress toward eternal salvation.