For youths in the Santa Margarita California Stake, it started at a youth conference in 2012.
Young men and women from the LDS stake’s wards met to index 4,000 names in one hour — part of a larger, community effort to make the entire 1940 U.S. census available online for family history work.
Now, two years after the conference that got the genealogy ball rolling, youths in the stake’s Lake Forest Ward near completion of a challenge to each index 40 names in 40 days.
The Lake Forest Ward youths, who number around 45, were split into four groups. Each group, which included less-active church members, was led by a young man or woman called to be a youth family history consultant. The group with the most indexed names at the end of the 40 days would win an ice cream party at their Mormon bishop’s house.
In addition to the 40 indexed names, youths were also asked to complete a four-generation fan chart and to prepare one name to bring to the ward’s April temple trip.
While these steps may be simple, Lake Forest Ward leaders believe that by giving youths a taste of family history, the youths will become excited and want to continue the work.
Youths have been counseled to search out the names and records of ancestors, being repeatedly assured that through their diligent efforts they would be blessed.
In his 2012 general conference address, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declared that searching for ancestors and completing their temple ordinances was, for young people, a “sure way to eliminate the influence of the adversary in your life.”
While speaking during the February 2014 RootsTech conference, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Twelve challenged youths — both the 4,000 present at RootsTech and the entire young LDS population — to prepare as many names for the temple as they perform proxy baptisms in the temple.
More than 300 youths from the Lehi Utah South Stake attended that RootsTech Conference, several of them presenting and sharing their experiences with other conference guests.
Lehi South Stake youths have been working diligently over the past several years to do more indexing and improve the family history initiative in their wards. The youths have participated in a 21-day indexing challenge and several 40-day challenges, and they have an ongoing goal to keep taking family names to the temple during ward trips.
Jacob Mattson of the Chappel Valley 1st Ward was called in December 2011 at the age of 14 to be a stake youth indexing specialist. He was one of two youths originally called and trained for this position.
“It was kind of a shock at first,” Mattson said. “I had done indexing before, but not to the point where I thought I could teach other people.”
Since Mattson’s original calling, many of the approximately 450 youths within the stake have served in a variety of family history-related positions.
“They’ve all kind of banded together,” Mattson said. “There’s unity within the youth groups and unity within the wards.”
There is, undoubtedly, a need for more family history work participants worldwide. And there are, undoubtedly, many youths similar to those in the Lehi South Stake who have already stepped up to the task.
Although members in different geographic regions have approached the topic of family history differently, there have also been consistencies among different youth groups: steadily using technology, working together in teams, holding indexing contests, recording personal stories and achieving a greater sense of unity throughout wards.
In response to Elder David A. Bednar’s October 2011 invitation in his "Simple Steps to Find Powerful Spiritual Protection" for young people to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah firsthand, the young men and young women in the Ranch Creek Ward in the Tulsa Oklahoma East Stake readied themselves to participate.
The youths were placed in groups and trained to use FamilySearch.com — and then proceeded to visit 178 households within the ward, teaching families how to navigate the websites, enter generations online and find names for temple work.
“It was so powerful for the youth that seven other wards in the stake copied the idea as part of their mutual activities,” Emily Christensen, who helped lead and plan the project, wrote in an email to the Deseret News. “The youth have learned their own stories, taught even non-member friends how to do genealogical research, and we have seen family relationships in crisis healed through family history work and temple work as adults took time to engage in a focused activity with the youth.”
In this same 2011 conference talk, Elder Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said: “Your fingers have been trained to text and tweet to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord — not just to communicate quickly with your friends. The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation.”
As technology continues to advance, more ways to work on family history continue to emerge. With this rise in capability comes a decline in excuses of why family history should be limited to one age group or demographic. The modern reality is more and more young people are joining in the work.
Just as the youths in the Ranch Creek Ward were inspired by Elder Bednar’s words, youths in the Imperial Oaks Ward in the Spring Texas Stake have focused on using technology to teach others about family history and working together to “advance the work of the Lord.”
Using legacystories.org as a springboard for the project, teams made up of youth and adult consultants visit ward members in their homes and help them digitally record several stories about themselves.
Kathy Larsen, who serves as the ward family history consultant for the Imperial Oaks Ward, said the project has helped strengthen relationships as well as testimonies.
“I have seen people who didn’t want to touch family history have a total change of heart once they realize the bigger picture and how they fit into a family,” Larsen said. “It all starts with a story.”
As youths all across the church learn to love their ancestors and share their stories, the family history work continues to move forward.
As Elder Andersen expressed to those 4,000 youths at RootsTech:
“These are your days. You were born in a time of temples and technology. These are your days to more fully turn your hearts to your fathers and bring these saving ordinances to millions within our families. These are your days to prepare for the Second Coming of the Savior.”
Attacking the 1940 census
In 2012, youths in the Santa Margarita Stake in Southern California gathered together to index more than 4,000 names from the 1940 census.