Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
RootsTech attendees visit the many vendors at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017.

Family history and genealogy work offers immeasurable support to those who search the depths of their family narrative. For those tentative about plunging into the fastest-growing hobby around the world, or if a simple lack of motivation is enough to keep them from learning family stories, the RootsTech 2018 conference in Salt Lake City this week is a good place to start.

Utah is a state known for its great year-round outdoor recreation opportunities, burgeoning high-tech corridor, rapid job growth and thriving economy. But few things are more uniquely a product of the Beehive State than grass-roots family history and genealogy engagement. What began as a sleepy little activity for those with time on their hands has now expanded into a multibillion-dollar growth industry that boasts some of the most advanced research tools, from high-tech websites to human genome-mapped DNA analysis.

From Thursday through Saturday, tens of thousands of family history enthusiasts will descend on the Salt Palace Convention Center to learn more about ways they can feed their insatiable appetite for insights into family relationships. Never before have there been more easily accessible tools for doing just that. Whether one’s family came from an obscure eastern European town or were descendants of slaves who were freed after the American Civil War, new records are flooding online archives with personal stories that bring these all-but-forgotten family members to life.

The annual RootsTech conference is considered by many to be the largest genealogy and family history conference in the world. Its anchor sponsor is Family Search, a nonprofit sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which also owns this paper. Not only does the conference cater to the thousands who attend in person, but much of the content is now digitally archived and distributed electronically through online channels to audiences around the world.

As a hobby, the numbers of people engaged in genealogy are a compelling statement about the interest people have in their family relationships. But a growing body of research suggests that knowing one’s historical family narrative has benefits that go well beyond merely satisfying curiosity. Researchers have found that, particularly among young people, emotional resilience — the ability to more quickly recover from the trauma of catastrophic events — is significantly enhanced by a knowledge of one’s personal family narrative. Knowing how family members have dealt with life’s challenges provides a form of aid that seems difficult to reproduce through other means.

And the stories don’t all have to be positive to be beneficial. As psychologist Marshall Duke related in a January 2017 article in The Guardian regarding a natural hesitancy to share unpleasant stories with children, “Families often shield children from the truth, but negative stories can be even more important than positive ones for fostering emotional resilience.”

1 comment on this story

It’s heartening that one of the faster-growing subgroups of family history enthusiasts is youths of high school age — especially in Utah where many family narratives are well-documented and often familiar. Heightened engagement in one’s family history might prove a source of strength for teenagers in a time of increasingly toxic social media interactions and record-high cases of mental health disorders.

Whether one’s interest is mere curiosity or a deep-seated desire for self-discovery through learning about one’s own roots, family history and genealogy work offers all a greater sense of understanding and confidence in the world — qualities we hope will be passed on to the next generation.