Discover BYU’s genealogical gold mine

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 29 2010 7:30 a.m. MST

Think the Family History Library in Salt Lake City is the only place to do serious genealogical research? Think again! Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Kathryn Daynes, director of BYU's Center for Family History and Genealogy. One hour later as I left her office in the Joseph F. Smith Building, I felt as though I had just discovered a genealogical gold mine.

One nugget shared by Kathryn is how essential BYU's program has become to the work of the LDS Family History Department. "Increasingly, our graduates are the ones who fill the positions there," noted Kathryn.

That fact is underscored by former BYU student-employee Jennifer Kerns, who now works as a project manager with the Family History Department.

"While at BYU," wrote Jennifer, "I received an education, but the Center for Family History gave me experience. Immediately after graduation, I felt so much more prepared for employment. Applying the information was easy — I had already practiced the information I had learned in the classroom."

Not only is the LDS Church a key employer of the center's students, other organizations are quick to hire BYU graduates with genealogical experience as well. Case in point? One graduate, Brandie Hansen, now works as a genealogist with the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington, D.C.

"The Center for Family History and Genealogy taught me leadership, research, and customer service skills," said Brandie. "The expertise I gained there has made me a valuable employee in the workplace."

That the center has become such a productive pipeline shouldn't have surprised me, especially after learning that BYU is the only university in the world that offers an accredited degree program in family history.

Internships are uniquely BYU as well. "No other university offers real-world laboratory experiences in family history," Kathryn said. "Our students visit some of the best archives and societies in the country.

"For example, the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind., is one of the five largest family history libraries in America. When looking for new employees, they automatically interview BYU interns. While a job isn't guaranteed, of course, they like to do the interviews because they have a good impression of our program."

Doors also open regularly for center students as they work to link multiple generations of families.

"It's true," Kathryn said. "Because our students represent a university, we can gain access to small archives that don't always welcome everyone."

After the genealogical records are copied and catalogued, they are put online. Interested individuals or groups searching for their ancestors can access the records for free.

"Anyone in the church can be a savior upon Mount Zion," concluded Kathryn. "At the center, we train students to be the next generation of family history leaders. While they're here, we want them to produce research and tools that are useful to other people."

A discovery this golden calls for a "Eureka!"

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