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A man helps a young girl learn about her family tree.
I came to the realization that these are real people. It’s fun. I love the stories. Parts of my family history are blank and still need to be discovered. I really want to get my family into it. —Rachel Bybee

PROVO — Rachel Bybee first became interested in family history when she researched her ancestors in preparation for a pioneer trek. The 16-year-old from Spanish Fork, Utah, then participated in an indexing project at a mutual activity. That led her to organize an indexing class for a Young Women personal progress project. An opportunity came for her to assist a friend as he arranged an indexing event for his Eagle Scout service project. That was followed by another family history personal progress project. When Bybee learned that BYU was hosting its 45th annual Family History and Genealogy Conference July 30-Aug. 2, she was thrilled to register and attend with some friends.

“I came to the realization that these are real people. It’s fun. I love the stories,” Bybee said. “Parts of my family history are blank and still need to be discovered. I really want to get my family into it. This conference has helped me learn ways where I could involve people and record my history for the future.”

Bybee’s is one example of many Latter-day Saint youths who are engaging in family history work and having fun, meaningful experiences.

The invitation

In the October 2011 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of Twelve, invited “the young people of the church to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah.”

“I encourage you to study, to search out your ancestors, and to prepare yourselves to perform proxy baptisms in the house of the Lord for your kindred dead. And I urge you to help other people identify their family histories,” the apostle said in his 2011 remarks. “As you respond in faith to his invitation … your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives.”

In the October 2012 conference, Elder Richard G. Scott, also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said Russian teens were invited to each index 2,000 names and then qualify at least one name of their own family for temple ordinances. Those who accomplished the goal were invited to travel to the new Kyiv Ukraine Temple. Elder Scott related the story of one young man who found family history to be more fun than computer games.

“When I started indexing, I didn’t have time to play games. … When the project was over, I even lost interest in gaming,” the young man said. “Genealogy work is something that we can do here on earth, and it will remain in heaven.”

Following Elder Scott’s remarks, the First Presidency sent a letter to priesthood leaders in the church that encouraged “youth and young single adults to use for temple work their own family names or the names of ancestors of their ward or stake members.”

The response

The overall response from young people since Elder Bednar’s invitation has been terrific, said Dennis Brimhall, the managing director of the LDS Family History Department and familysearch.org.

“What we've discovered is that almost spontaneously the youth have found an interest in family history because they have matched their technology skills with something they perceive as having real value," Brimhall said. “This is a bit of a sweet spot for our youth."

Last March, nearly 2,000 teenagers participated in a special youth-oriented program held in conjunction with the RootsTech 2013 Family History and Technology Conference in Salt Lake City. During the event, six young men and women participated in a panel discussion and described their experiences regarding family history and temple work.

Jordan Hintze, a member of the panel, went to a family history center with his father and learned the simple process of indexing. As a result he organized his Eagle Scout project that taught 150 young people how to index. He also helped to organize an event where young men and women from his ward did family history indexing and ate pizza.

“We found out that pizza and genealogy go well together,” Hintze said.

At BYU’s 45th annual Family History and Genealogy Conference last week, free classes were offered to the youths. More than 100 teenagers attended the conference.

Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy spoke at the conference and cited research which shows children who are best able to handle stress were those who knew the most about their family’s history.

“The more children that know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem,” Elder Packer said. “Our children, grandchildren and descendants need that stability.”

A recent article in the New York Times related similar findings.

Nevertheless, if the youths will give family history an honest chance, they might find it to be fascinating, Brimhall said.

"We hope youth will find that family history is fun, that it is interesting and fulfilling, as opposed to, 'Grandma will do it,' or, 'I'll do it when I'm older.' We want them to say, 'This is fun, fulfilling and I can do it now,' " Brimhall said. "We have found once they are involved, they like it. We want to bridge that gap between the perception and their actual experience."

Activities that bind

Marlo E. Schuldt, the president of a family history software company, taught one of the youth classes at the BYU conference. His presentation was titled, “Helping Grandma and Grandpa Preserve Interesting Stories and History.”

Among many ideas, he suggested that young people film their grandparents talking about pictures found in a family album; make a video of your parents telling their love story; document family activities and traditions, involving everyone and sharing it with those who couldn't come; create a family history calendar.

“You younger people can help us old people do this,” Schuldt said.

Anna Arts, a 15-year-old from Provo, wants to do just that. She found it interesting to learn that social media could be used as a family history resource and tool.

“One lady had 20 photos of people she couldn’t identify so she posted them on Facebook. Within 24 hours, her friends had helped her to identify all of them,” Arts said. “I never thought of using social media that way. I thought it was cool.”

Paul Oldroyd, a 17-year-old from Provo, absorbed all he could at the conference.

“Family history is not just for old people,” he said. “It’s cool to get to know your ancestors. They are real people to me, not just names that existed a long time ago. Someday my descendants will want to get to know me.”

Hannah Allan, a reference assistant for the Oregon Historical Society, gave another class on “Building Living Relationships Through Genealogy.” Her main message was a formula for building family unity: “If you communicate, share stories and work together on a project, big or small, your family bonds will become so much stronger.”

“Some teens said they were there because their mothers work across the street, but they were still excited. One girl told me she doesn’t have a tight-knit family, and that’s why she came. She wanted to use genealogy to bring her family together,” Allan said. “I was impressed that she came for that reason.”

A career?

If young people love family history, it’s possible to make it into a career, Allan said.

BYU's Center for Family History and Genealogy offers a bachelor of arts degree in family history and genealogy.

Jill Crandell, the center’s director, said her email is full of companies looking for family history-trained employees.

“We don’t have enough trained students and graduates to fill all the positions and requests that come into the center,” Crandell said. “The demand is high.”

Everyone has a family, so professional opportunities are available around the world, and it’s fun, Allan said.

Allan's advice is to start small by finding something you are already passionate about, like making videos or writing stories, then use that talent and build on it.

“Once you go into the field you can make a difference right away. People keep telling me, ‘You picked the best field.’ It’s so rewarding, worthwhile and fulfilling,” Allan said. “If you are going to create a hobby, why not do something that’s going to make such a difference in the world? Genealogy is a way to bring families together, both living and dead. It binds us all together; it’s our heritage.”

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