SALT LAKE CITY — Natalia Lafourcade, the Mexican singer-songwriter-guitarist featured in the music video for the movie “Coco,” made an instant connection with the audience Saturday on the fourth and final day of RootsTech 2018, the world’s largest genealogy gathering.
Lafourcade and Henry Louis Gates Jr., host of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots,” appeared in turn on the stage in the main hall of the Salt Palace Convention Center, where some 15,500 family history enthusiasts have converged since Wednesday for the annual event organized by FamilySearch International, the online family history service provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the church’s First Presidency, and his wife Kristen, were the headliners in the afternoon for Family Discovery Day, a set of events directed specifically to members of the church. More than 25,000 attendees showed up for Family Discovery Day, with an estimated 300,000 watching online.
Lafourcade and the morning audience enjoyed an immediate affinity because of the plotline of “Coco,” which tells the story of a young Mexican boy who goes to the land of the dead, where he discovers his ancestors and learns the story of his great-great-grandfather. Thus, he creates a strong personal connection and finds a greater sense of purpose and belonging.
In fact, Lafourcade had been scheduled to appear at the Saturday evening RootsTech event, “My Family, Mi Herencia,” featuring Luz de Las Naciones, at the LDS Conference Center. She had to cancel that appearance to attend a rehearsal for Sunday night’s televised Academy Awards ceremony, where she will sing “Remember Me,” the movie’s popular song that she performed in the video with fellow pop singer Miguel.
But she delighted the RootsTech morning audience by singing it for the first time live, accompanying herself with her 1950s vintage acoustic guitar.
Just before performing the song, she was asked about her family roots.
“My last name, Lafourcade, is like a French name, but we still don’t know why,” she said. “My father told me it was because of pirates that went to Chile, but I think it is just a story he made up because he loves pirates.”
But after the performance of “Remember Me,” FamilySearch product manager Tamara Stansfield came on stage to enlighten Lafourcade about her family history.
“You were born in Mexico City, but that’s not where your story began,” she said. “By locating and examining the records of your ancestors, a heritage rich in courage, intellect and music was discovered.”
Her paternal roots did begin in France, where her great-great-grandfather Pierre Lafourcade was born in Bordeaux in 1842 and later immigrated to Chile.
“Maybe he spoke with a pirate accent,” Stansfield quipped.
Lafourcade was visibly excited and touched to have the information.
Gates, professor of African and African-American research at Harvard University as well as host of the genealogy road show on PBS, “Finding Your Roots,” told of his father taking him and his brother upstairs in their grandfather’s home in 1960. There, the father showed them the Jan. 6, 1888, obituary of their great-great-grandmother Jane Gates, “an estimable colored woman.”
Gates said he and his brother at the time did not know the meaning of the word “estimable,” but he looked it up. It means “worthy of great respect.”
“I thought, ‘Wow! That lady’s estimable. Maybe I’m estimable too.’”
He asked his father to buy him a composition book. That night, he interviewed his parents “about what only later I would learn is called one’s family tree or one’s genealogy. I wanted to know how I was connected to this odd-looking lady who had been a slave and a midwife.”
During the afternoon Discovery Day keynote session, President and Sister Oaks sat side-by-side to deliver their presentation.
The couple shared personal experiences from their life and family as an example of how individuals and families can discover, gather and connect with their ancestors.
Recognizing that their grandchildren would never know President Oaks’ mother, Stella Harris Oaks, who died before any of their grandchildren were born, President and Sister Oaks invited their family to a “Stella Party.” At the event, they gave out a copy of her personal history, read from it and displayed photos. All the tables were decorated in yellow — Stella’s favorite color — and attendees were encouraged to wear hats because Stella was never seen without one.
To teach the children and young parents in their family about the “great qualities” of many of their ancestors, President and Sister Oaks invited their grandchildren and Sister Oaks’ grandnieces and grandnephews to a gathering to introduce several ancestors. For the occasion, they created posters featuring photos and notable qualities of each ancestor. As children selected some of the qualities shown on the posters, they would remove a cover sheet and tell a story of how that individual demonstrated that quality in his or her life.
“Heaven came close to earth and we could feel warmth and inspiration as we participated in this activity,” Sister Oaks said.
As parents and leaders guide youths to connect their “technological expertise” to discovering ancestors on FamilySearch, “a powerful spiritual journey begins,” Sister Oaks added. “They connect with real ancestors of great consequence to them, who may have waited years to have their saving ordinances performed. It is an explosive combination. Our logging on to FamilySearch is far more rewarding than logging on to Facebook.”
President Oaks said youths participating in family history “experience almost instantaneous joy and increased confidence. They become more connected to their families. They no longer feel so alone. They begin to feel a celestial kinship. They learn what it means to feel the Spirit.
“Family history offers a healing influence and an assurance that each person is precious in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.”
Because President Oaks loves reading to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he and his wife created a compilation of family experiences, spiritual promptings and miracles called “Tell Me a Story.”
“We have learned that to be remembered, family stories need to be retold again and again,” Sister Oaks said. “We recommend that everyone create their own family history book.”
In another Family Discovery Day session, BYU religion professor Hank Smith teamed up with RootsTech emcee Jason Hewlett to demonstrate features on FamilySearch’s Family Tree app to apply the Family History Department’s new approach “discover-gather-connect.”
“This will lead us right to the temple,” Smith said of the FamilySearch tools. “Hopefully we’ll get our children involved in a way we can say ‘now, not only can we learn about our ancestors and be connected to our ancestors, but we can help them in ways they cannot help themselves.’”
Smith and emcee Jason Hewlett entertained the audience with experiences and stories while explaining ways to “make family history come alive” using app features Relatives Around Me, Compare-a-Face and Map My Ancestors. They also invited their oldest daughters to come on stage and show how to add memories with written stories and audio clips.
“It’s not too late. We can start now and start capturing everything we possibly we can," Hewlett said. "We can create our own new ways of doing (family history).”
To end their address, Smith and Hewlett showed “The Promised Blessings of Family History,” a video found on the LDS Media Library.
In a session called “Music: A Bridge Across Generations,” LDS singers Evie Clair, Kenya Clark and Alex Melecio talked about how music has connected their families across generations and performed songs with special meaning to them.
Clair, a finalist on season 12 of “America’s Got Talent,” shared the origin of her Swiss last name “Abplanalp.” The name was given to an ancestor who was found after surviving an avalanche from the Planalp mountain in Switzerland as a baby, she said. Clair sang “Army of Angels,” a song written by her cousin who is currently serving a mission for the LDS Church, about the power one can feel from the other side of veil.
“No matter how far away our ancestors may seem from us, they’ll come back and help us through things,” Clair told the families in attendance at RootsTech. “The same thing with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We can always feel them.”Comment on this story
Clark, who sings with One Voice Children’s Choir, performed “Amazing Grace” in honor of the forgiveness shown to her great-great grandfather who left his wife and family. Melecio, who was featured on the Spanish TV show “Tango Talento, Mucho Talento,” sang a tribute to his Mexican grandfather called “Eres Luz” (“You are light”). The father of four joined Clair and Clark for a performance of “How Does a Moment Last Forever” to close the music session.
Contributing: Rachel Sterzer, Sydney Jorgensen