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LDS Church News

Plan and host a stake family history fair

By Sonja Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, March 29 2014 12:15 p.m. MDT

Arlington Texas Stake Family History Fair attendees view displays and receive one-on-one instructions on March 1.

Judy Ramos

Stakes all around the world have the opportunity to host their own family history fairs with material from RootsTech, an annual genealogy conference held in Salt Lake City.

Interested stakes are invited by the Church’s Family History Department to sign up through lds.org. The Family History Department and lds.org also provide organizational tools such as a step-by-step guide on how to host a successful fair, downloadable class content, a registration web sign-up tool for participants and communication materials that can be used to market the event to Church members and the community.

Judy Reitze’s “ears perked up” when she heard Elder Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International and an Area Seventy for the Church, say at last year’s RootsTech that sessions would be available for stakes’ local use in family history fairs.

Sister Reitze is a member of the Lincoln Branch in the Bangor Maine Stake. She co-directs the Bangor Maine Stake Family History Center with her husband and has been working there since 1986 when she was the youngest worker there, she told the Church News.

She said she has been following along with RootsTech ever since 2011 by watching online streams of the conference.

When she heard how to sign her stake up at this year’s conference she hesitated, knowing that her calling in her stake’s Relief Society presidency required a lot of responsibility.

“I kind of hesitated, dragged my feet a little bit because of my other responsibilities, but the stake president had a note sent to me that came from the area family history director inviting stakes to participate and when that was forwarded to me I said, ‘I’m not going to hold my fire now, I’m going for it,’” Sister Reitze said.

The Bangor Maine Stake’s free family history fair is scheduled for April 12, and the stake’s family history center has been offering free monthly classes with RootsTech videos to get the word out.

Sister Reitze hopes the fair will bring “a little more enthusiasm for family history within the stake,” she said.

She also hopes it increases the usage of the stake’s family history center and exposes the community to missionary work more.

So far, half of those registered for the fair are people of other faiths, Sister Reitze said.

The Camarillo California Stake had a family history fair on March 22.

Phil Wager, the Camarillo California Stake family history director and member of the Oxnard 2nd ward, said 170 people attended the fair — 50 more than was expected, and that each one of the sessions offered was “very well attended,” with some of the rooms overloaded. They also offered some sessions in Spanish, which were also well attended.

The stake complemented the fair with a mini-expo hall of sorts in the stake center gym with booths offering high-quality photo scanning and one-on-one indexing instructions. Free one-hour consultations for people wishing to learn more about their personal family lines were also offered in the family history center, which was very popular, Brother Wager said.

Brother Wager said he is trying to raise awareness among members that family history is easier to do than ever before.

“We’re trying to build a little bit of a fire in the hearts of people to … have them bring family history work in as an option of something they can spend their time on,” Brother Wager said. “A lot of people don’t put a lot of emphasis on that even though inside they feel it’s important. So my goal is to raise the awareness of that and also to let people know that it’s not as hard as it used to be. It’s getting a lot easier to do and you don’t have to have large blocks of time or go on expensive travel to some of these sites or wait for weeks or months to order records; a lot of the stuff can be found within a matter of minutes online.”

He said he was really encouraged by the outcome of the fair and wants to do it again next year.

The Arlington Texas Stake holds a family history fair each March, and at this year’s Fourth Annual fair on March 1, RootsTech sessions were used which were very well accepted by the attendees, said Merry Shaw, director of the Arlington Stake Family History Center.

Sister Shaw hopes fair attendees gained “a love for family history and the desire to do their research.”

“The more we share, the more we learn about ourselves and our ancestors,” she said. “And the more we learn about our ancestors, the more we appreciate the really good qualities within ourselves.”

Sister Shaw said she thinks they will use RootsTech content again next year.

“It was very positive. The classes we chose were excellent and it adds another dimension to our fair,” she said.

Representatives in interested stakes can go to www.lds.org/topics/family-history/host-a-family-history-fair to sign up and learn more about hosting their own fair. Questions can also be directed to familyhistoryfair@familysearch.org.

scarlson@deseretnews.com