At youth conferences, you always expect a crowd, but more than 200 million people attended the Knoxville Tennessee Stake youth conference on family history.
The workshops would have been very crowded if all of them had needed a seat; however, all but about 150 of those millions of people were actually on computer disk—a copy of the computerized ancestral file that the Church has compiled of people and their ancestral lines.
The 150 living, breathing attendees were young people and their leaders from the Knoxville Stake who decided on a rather unusual theme for their youth conference—family history. They wanted to follow the spirit of Elijah as they learned to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6).
How do you keep genealogy from being a dead subject? This group found a way. Each participant rotated through four workshop sessions, conducted by entertaining speakers who talked about doing genealogical work to prepare names for temple work, learning how to keep personal records, writing in journals, and understanding pedigree charts.
Before the conference, each young person was asked to bring a page of his or her family’s pedigree chart. Laura Lyons of the Oakridge Ward asked her grandparents for one. When they explained it to her, Laura said, “It was so interesting. I was amazed at how easy it was for me to get excited.” She hoped that the youth conference would help her keep that excitement about genealogy.
As part of the youth conference, a miniature family history library was set up in one room complete with microfiche and microfilm readers plus the best part—a computer with a small cabinet full of disks that could be used to call up an amazing amount of information. Some of the young people were just itching to get their hands on that computer and the disks to see if they could find some of their family names. They got their chance. During free time, a small crowd gathered to put the computer through its paces.
As the youth learned, family history is a lot more than just looking at pedigree charts. They found out that part of genealogy is keeping journals and working on personal histories. Mandy Smith, of the Cumberland Gap Branch, is just 15, but she was the expert invited to speak about keeping scrapbooks for a personal history. As she puts clippings, certificates, and snapshots in her book, she also writes captions under each item, explaining a little about what she was feeling. Mandy pointed out, “Personal history is not just for your children someday. It can also be good for you. Lots of times when I’m feeling down or in a bad mood, I look back at the good times I have had. It helps me remember the things that are important to me.”
At least for a little while, genealogy came to life in Knoxville. These youth already knew that they loved their families at home, and they discovered that their hearts were turned and the love extended back in time to include thousands of relatives. Now they were interested in finding out more about relatives who may not yet be included in the Church’s records.
If they all continued with their interest in family history, as one girl mentioned in testimony meeting, “There are going to be a lot of happy spirits.”
You don’t have to be grown-up to start writing an interesting personal history. Amazing things have been happening in the world during the past year or two. Write a little about what you were doing or thinking when you heard about some event of historical importance. Here are a few examples from the Knoxville Tennessee youth.
Fall of the Berlin Wall
Tony Hopkins, 17, Rockwood Ward
I was flipping through the television channels. I saw people throwing rocks. I stopped, and I watched. They were people in Germany. It took a while for them to get around to knocking down the wall, but I was sitting in my house rooting for them. Someone else was getting their freedom.
San Francisco Earthquake
Steve Gudmundson, 15, Rockwood Ward
I was trying to watch baseball, the World Series. I saw the cameras moving, and then it went black. When the television came back on the air, I remember the sportscasters were trying to announce what was happening. They started talking about the earthquake. I thought they would be able to play the rest of the game, but it was postponed. During the next day, we found out how bad it was.
War in the Persian Gulf
Maureen Clark, 14, Farragut Ward
I was at church on Wednesday night for Mutual. I remember someone came in and yelled, “The war’s started.” A bunch of people started crowding into a room where there was a television. I was shocked and scared. My friends and I went into the meetinghouse library and started looking up the signs of the last days in the scriptures and what would happen before Christ comes. We read about the wars that would happen. We started getting a little shaky, but time calmed us down.
Sometimes the world-shaking events you write about are just the ones that shake your own world. Be sure to write about what is happening to you even it if doesn’t seem that important. These stories make the personal histories of these Knoxville Stake youth interesting.
Learning to Be a Southerner
Lana Gabrylczyk, 18, Sevierville Branch
When I first moved here, I didn’t think I would ever pick up the accent. Now I live with my mom in a true Tennessee holler. I really picked up the accent. When I went back to Idaho to visit, my friends there all laughed. I would say, “Hey, what ya’ll doing tonight?” They would answer, “We all aren’t doing anything tonight.” They teased me about saying “ya’ll.”
I’ve learned to make biscuits and gravy. There is an old lady that lives at the end of Mom’s holler. I called her one day and said, “Cora, how do you make biscuits?”
She said, “Take about a cup of milk.” Then she kept telling me a pinch of this and a scoop of that.
I asked her, “How much is that?”
She said, “As much as you want.” I just threw up my hands. I finally had to go visit and watch her, but mine still don’t turn out as good as hers.
Living at a Historic Place
Aaron Leishman, 16, Cumberland Gap Branch
My dad is in charge of the visitors’ center and tours at Cumberland Gap National Park. Cumberland Gap was the place where Daniel Boone crossed the mountains because it’s the easiest spot. He brought 30 men with axes, and they cleared the trail for the settlers who would follow. They were the real trailblazers. Hundreds and thousands of people who settled the frontier in those days used this trail. Right now the trail is a highway, but a tunnel is being built. When that is finished, the park will tear out the road and make it a wilderness trail again and let people walk along it.
At the Pinnacle Overlook, there is a spot where you can stand and be in three states at the same time. My brother, Clark, and I and our friends used to take our bikes to the top of the Pinnacle and coast down the road from the top. It got pretty wild on some of the tight curves.
When spiritual experiences happen to you, be sure to write them down. Just going back and reading about those experiences can bring back the strong feelings you had. Here are a few from the Knoxville Stake.
Gaining a Testimony
Brad Barber, 14, Farragut Ward
It was about two years ago, and our family was driving home from Utah. I was talking to my mom. I had heard a bunch of people say that they had this burning feeling and they knew the Church was true. I told her that I had never felt anything like that. I asked her if I was too young to have something like that happen. She said I wasn’t too young. That night at the motel, when I was getting ready for bed, I prayed real hard about it. I asked the Lord if the Church was really true and if it was the right place for me to be. As soon as I was done, I felt that feeling that I had always heard about in sacrament meeting. I felt a warmness and happiness that said, “Everything’s okay.” It was peacefulness. I’ve heard it called a burning inside your chest. I guess that’s what it feels like. It makes you feel at ease with everything.
Dealing with Divorce
Bret Bryce, 15, Farragut Ward
My parents got divorced about five years ago. We were in the living room on a Saturday morning. My parents came in and told us they were going to be separated for a while. I always thought we had the perfect family. I remember that everybody cried. We were really sad and scared. I felt like the world was about to end, a terrible sick feeling. I was praying and hoping that they would get back together. But it never happened. They each got married to other people, really good people.
I would tell kids going through the same thing that it’s not their fault. Just because your parents get divorced doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
Deciding to Be Baptized
Kerry Johnson, 16, Farragut Ward
I remember when I was deciding whether or not to be baptized. One day, I got up really early. It was a Saturday. I went out into this field we lived by. The sun was just coming up. I was lying down, really praying a lot about if the Church was true or not. I lay there awhile just thinking. I didn’t know whether to ask for a sign or what, but I started getting a good feeling. When I opened my eyes, all these little butterflies were flying up from the grass. It seemed to fit how I felt. I knew in that moment that the Church was true.