by Kathryn Grant
Have you seen someone’s eyes light up when they add an ancestor to Family Tree? Have you felt the power of someone’s testimony about doing temple work for a loved one beyond the veil? These are some of the sweetest experiences of helping others with temple and family history work.
On the other hand, most of us have probably had the opposite experience: we mention family history and see people’s eyes glaze over, or we watch them make a hasty retreat.
How can we help bridge the gap between these two attitudes? How do we help others move from disinterest or even resistance to enthusiasm and joy? Here are five ideas:
1. Remember that family history is a spiritual work.
Prayer plays a key role. As you seek people to help, ask the Lord to lead you to those who are prepared. (In this respect, teaching others to do family history is much like sharing the gospel.) You can also pray for hearts to be softened so people will want to do their family history.
The Spirit also plays a key role. Pray for the Spirit to guide you as you prepare a personalized lesson plan and as you meet with those you help. Follow the Spirit and encourage those you help to do the same. Focusing on the Spirit makes doubts and fears fade away. It also makes relying on our own wisdom less likely. The Spirit makes all the difference in family history.
2. Personalize the experience.
Before you meet with people, learn their goals. You may be surprised! Tailor your lesson plan to meet their goals. Teach people at their level and in a way that is interesting to them. Keep lessons short so people don’t feel overwhelmed.
John, an accomplished Dutch researcher, carefully prepared a lesson plan for his upcoming meeting with Jason. He then asked another helper to review it. Her insightful feedback prompted John to alter his original plan, which focused mostly on research skills and translation. The new plan focused on helping Jason understand the context of his ancestors’ lives. It also included stories to help Jason connect with his ancestors.
When John and Jason met, they both felt the Spirit as they talked about Jason’s family. Hearing stories of his ancestors touched Jason’s heart and increased his desire to do their temple work. Before their meeting was over, he had added names to Family Tree and printed temple cards for them.
3. Focus on discovery experiences.
Making a family history discovery can connect people powerfully with their ancestors. It also helps them feel joy in doing their ancestors’ temple work.
Jill was serving as a family history center director when she was contacted by a member of her stake, Brother Westwood. He felt impressed to ask for help finding a name for an upcoming pioneer trek. At the same time, he was doubtful Jill would find anything because his tree was full.
Before Jill started searching, she said a sincere prayer, asking to be led to someone who wanted temple blessings. Not long afterward, she was led to a family who was missing a child in Family Tree. Searching online, she located the headstone of the missing child—a girl named Winnie. Then she searched the local newspaper and found a beautiful memorial poem written by Winnie’s grieving father.
When Jill met with Brother Westwood, she guided him through the same discovery experience she’d had finding this missing daughter, and then her headstone and poem. Brother Westwood was deeply moved. Together they were able to add Winnie to Family Tree so she could be sealed to her parents.
Brother Westwood later shared his feelings about this discovery experience: “What is indelibly impressed upon my heart is the memory of the spirit that I felt the day we met in the family history library so [Jill] could show me how she found Winnie and show me how to print a card so she could be sealed to her parents. As we looked through various web sites and resources, I felt I was getting to know my ancestors and my heart was being turned to them.” (See the RootsTech presentation “Family at the Center: Making the FHC a Sacred Place.”)
4. Guide, but don’t take over.
When we help others with family history, sometimes we’re tempted to do too much for them. For instance, we might add names and sources to Family Tree instead of letting others learn by doing the work themselves. Or if they don’t do something quickly enough on the computer, we might grab the mouse and do it for them.
Lola asked for help from a consultant, only to have him take over and do everything. He moved rapidly from screen to screen and she couldn’t tell what he was doing or why. Afterward she realized she hadn’t learned anything that would help her progress in doing her family history work.
We teach most effectively when we help others gain experience and confidence so they can find their own family names. It may take time and patience. But people are more likely to feel joy in family history work when they are participants and not just spectators.
5. Emphasize both halves of the blessing.
In an April 2017 general conference address, President Henry B. Eyring taught, “As you follow the promptings to learn about your family history, you may discover that a distant relative shares some of your facial features or your interest in books or your talent for singing. This could be very interesting and even insightful. But if your work stops there, you will sense that something is missing. This is because to gather and unite God’s family requires more than just warm feelings. It requires sacred covenants made in connection with priesthood ordinances” (“Gathering the Family of God,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2017, 21).
Just as baptism is not complete without confirmation, family history work is not complete without temple ordinances. The greatest joy comes to us and our families through the sacred covenants available in the temple.
As people experience the joy of temple and family history work, their testimonies will be strengthened. They will feel a greater desire to make temple and family history work a priority in their lives. In doing so, they will help gather the family of God and bring untold blessings to their families on both sides of the veil.