I can recap my RootsTech 2013 experience into two words - I cried. This conference has touched my heart in a way no other genealogy conference has, and I thought I had the Spirit of Elijah.
My attitude might not have been the best coming into RootsTech this year. With the theme of Photos & Stories I thought, yeah the FamilySearch Family Tree is adding that. Got the picture, great, been there done that. I looked at the classes and thought where's the meat. Beginner classes are great but I want substance. I want deep classes that take my genealogy to a new level. I envisioned being more professional in my research. I walked away with a totally different attitude and a changed heart.
When Thursday morning arrived I was up bright an early so I could take FrontRunner from American Fork to Salt Lake. FrontRunner was a new experience for me and I was a little nervous about it. It was dark and I wasn't sure where to go after getting off at Salt Lake Central and hopefully hopping on the right Trax for the final destination. The Lord sent a little angel to me that morning and her name was Linda. She saw my decorated RootsMagic bag loaded with genealogy pins and asked if I was on my way to RootsTech. I told her I was and also a little nervous and unsure about my connections. She knew the way and would guide me. Linda was young and I am old but together we shared a common interest. I found out Linda had just returned from a 3 week trip to Progue finding her ancestors. As she told me about her family I just wanted to cry. The spirits of her ancestors were just surrounding us to the point that FrontRunner car became very crowded. I knew she might have gone to her ancestors homeland to find them, but they had stayed with her and followed her back to RootsTech.
Before the Keynote address I attended a media tour of the Expo Hall conducted by Paul Nauta, Manager of Public Affairs for FamilySearch. He told us the goal of RootsTech was to "Put the family back in family history." That comment made me think not about the generations that have gone but those that are still living. That was a shift.
During the keynote address by Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch, I started to cry again. The spirit testified to me how the Lord's hand is involved in this work. The CEO of FamilySearch is not just a job, it's a calling in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). These callings are extended by inspiration given to those in authority. Individuals are called for specific times and for specific purposes to do the will of the Lord.
The previous CEO of FamilySearch, Jay Verkler had a profound influence in getting the technologies in place making genealogy accessible to more people around the world. RootsTech would have never started unless Verkler was the CEO of FamilySearch at that time. Brimhall had a background I was not aware of. He previously served a LDS Humanitarian Mission to Nepal, working in hospitals. He saw first hand how people were born and died with no record of their life. He knows people have a right to exist and if there is no records of their life then it's as if they never existed. He told how much new mother's valued getting a piece of paper that recorded the birth of their child. They existed and were important then.
Brimhall told us as the new CEO of FamilySearch he though he would be focusing on negotiating the past. Finding records and making them available. He though he would be involved in history. Instead it turned out to his surprise that almost all of his thinking has been about the future. He discussed how someday we will be the great-great-grandparents of a future generation that want to know us as passionately as we wish to know our great-great-grandparents. He had us ask ourselves "What would our great-great-grandchildren wish we would have done?" They would want us to record the fabric and embroidery of our lives. They want our stories.
I just saw a flip in focus and thinking. Genealogy just increased its momentum and the number of people that will become involved. The goal is to raise a new generation of family historians. Start when they are young and get them interested as teenagers. When he mentioned the 2,000 youth coming on Saturday I just cried. When he mentioned bringing the best of RootsTech to local family history fairs around the world I cried. This year there are 16 location with about 4,000 in attendance. With over 8,600 attendees at RootsTech that brings the combined total of over 12,600 participants. Next year the goal is 600 locations with a combined total of 120,000 participants.
The Lord's hand is in this. The LDS Church, the umbrella that FamilySearch and RootsTech sits under, already has in place in every LDS Stake Centers around the world satellite dishes that receive live broadcast feeds of LDS General Conference and other events. In my narrow little mind I had never envisioned using them to bring the RootsTech to potentially everyone in the world. Wow, is this amazing or what!
One day when my posterity looks back at my genealogy efforts they will see me as a pioneer.
Attending classes at RootsTech was tough. It was crowded and rooms filled up fast, many were turned away from their first choice classes. Yes, everyone can not possible be physically at RootsTech. It just wouldn't work.
For my first class I was one of the lucky ones to squeeze into Don Snow and Linda Snow Westover's class on "Organizing and Presenting Your Photos: Picasa and Other Freeware". Don opened his class telling everyone that the original plans were to teach that class with his wife Diane, who suddenly passed away four months ago. The class was being held on what would have been their 55th wedding anniversary. I cried! When his daughter Linda demonstrated Photo Filmstrip that makes "Ken Burns-type" slideshows of selected photos and audio, she showed us the project her mother made three months before she died. It is a family treasure. I didn't cry I wept.
I did have moments I didn't cry at RootsTech. The environment is electric and fun. The Expo Hall is lively and fully of people with a common passion in life. I had classes that helped me make a decision on a type of technology I want to use in my research. I will write future articles about them.
When Saturday came I walked into Hall 2 were the Family History Consultant tracks were being held. My experience was the same as last year. The moment I walked through the doors of that hall the whole atmosphere and feeling changed. The pace slowed, peace surrounded you. You felt reverent and holy. I know I wasn't in the temple but it was very similar to the feeling I have when I walk through those doors and leave the world behind me.
Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy spoke at the Special Family History Devotional. Here are a few notes of things mentioned that touched me.
Stories of our ancestors places in our minds and hearts our heritage and potential.
It guides how we live and make decisions in the future.
Preserving our stories will help our children in the future.
Study shows that children that are best able to handle stress were those that knew about their family history.
The more children know about their family history the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem.
The year 2012 is a historic year because of the emphasis the First Presidency made to family history work. There were two letters from the First Presidency read over the pulpit regarding family history work.
He emphasized twice "the new Family History Center is the home". The intent is we would take advantage and be able to do things at home. We will never be able to keep Family History Centers as current in technology as the family, in this part of the world, are able to do.
He spoke of the youth and the recommendation is that youth take their own names to the temple for baptisms. If they can't find their own then have them take the names of ward and stake members. If they do that, have the youth learn about that ancestor from the member supplying that name. After the experience of going to the temple, have them go back and report what they felt when they were at the temple.
He spoke to those that felt their genealogy work was already done. He gave some interesting stats.
If a person went back 10 generations they have 2,047 ancestors.
If you took one 10th generation couple and came forward, estimating they had 4 children each, and then excluded everyone within the 110 year mark, you would have a potential of 16,394 needing their temple work done.
This is only 1 of 1024 people/512 couples
Combine all of your 10th generations descendants = 8,388,608
With all the people to find you see this work can never be done. You also see how important it is to work together. My heart was very full thinking of the youth and what opportunities and blessing learning of their family history will mean in their lives.
Elder Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy spoke at the next session on the "Role of Family History in Work of Salvation". Some of the comments that struck me.
Finding the stories of our ancestors will bind our hearts forever.
Every day 156,000 people leave this earthly existence We call that death.
Every day 384,000 people new arrivals are welcomed. We call that birth.
Estimated by 2015 there will be 9 billion people on the earth.
The Lord has prepared technology to make it available and possible for us to begin to bind and connect all those families together.
As we discover who they are that becomes our family history.
See genealogy tends to pull us apart when we withdraw to our own private personal computers. Family history brings us together as we share stories and work together.
Therefore, genealogy changes our chart. Family history changes our hearts.
When children no longer felt connected to family, and the elderly members of the family were no longer needed, traditions begin to change concerning them. A loss of respect had begin to creep in. This is the first generation were some people feel like it is acceptable to call their parents by their first names.
He told a folk tale about the importance of the wisdom of our elders. We have to be careful to never bury the wisdom of our ancestors with them. We need to teach our children the stories and wisdom of our lives. Ability to pass on is part of the Lord's plan. The celestial world will be governed by patriarchal order. Our work including here on earth is to prepare them for heaven. All the training can begin in the home.
Discovering stories about our ancestors is a great way to get started. He spoke about the new book "My Family Book" that directs them to FamilySearch.org. As families discover stories, photos, and eventually temple opportunities, these stories will have a unifying effect.
He showed part of Elder Bednar's talk in general conference focusing on the youth. Then a video on the Elijah Project, where the youth are called as family history consultants. It told the story of a young women named Cheyenne called to do family history. She had just lost her grandmother two weeks prior. She decided to talked to her grandfather, and he in turn worked with her for the next 6 weeks recording their family history. Then he died, it had only been 8 weeks after his wife passed away. What a legacy he left his posterity. This just made me cry.
Elder Foster said that "family history is the greatest safe guard against Satan and his forces for our children." He shared a video of the Joseph Millet story and what a treasure that journal entry is for his posterity. I cried. He gave us an assignment to write at least a three sentence journal entry for our future great-grandchild.
After attending these two session in the Family History Consultant track I went back into the Expo Hall. I saw hundreds of youth walking around with friends and family members, learning that genealogy and family history work can be cool.
I could see and feel and understand in a new way the importance of sharing my family history with my children and the generations to follow. I had been focusing on my fathers, nows the time to focus on the children.
My parents are converts to the LDS Church and earlier this year it was evident to us that some of the second generation were going a stray. As a family we united and held a fast, pondering on how we could touch these family members and bring them back to a remembrance of what they had been taught in their youth.
The answer that came was for us to start recording and sharing our family stories. Stories that told lessons we learned through trials in life. Stories of our blessings and miracles we have witnessed. The happiness and joy the gospel brings in our lives. The stories of us, so they will know why we are, who we are.
To go to RootsTech and see this same message really touched my heart. When I came home Saturday evening instead of my normal crashing and wanting to be left alone, following a genealogy conference, I sought out my family. My husband and I with our two sons held a family home evening. Each son had a different need and I found myself applying a principle I heard in the RootsTech's Demo area by Janet Hovorka, author of "Zap the Grandma Gap".
Janet told how her son would become frustrated over writing assignments, something that didn't come naturally for him. She would remind him of the family's rich history of writers. She would encourage him and let him know he could do this too, and he does. I in turn related family stories to my sons, that gave them hope and courage to move forward in their lives. This was family history and it changes lives.
See ya tomorrow, for tomorrow is always another genealogy day.