Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International, welcomed attendees to RootsTech’s Thursday session by telling a family story. “When I was growing up, my mom and dad made sure Christmas was magical for their five boys,” he said. Steve wanted a BB gun and, surprisingly. he got it. Steve knew the rules — “Never ever shoot inside the house,” and “Only shoot at the provided targets.” While Steve was reading, his dad asked if he could look at the gun. Steve recounted, “[h]e took the gun, held it up and looked down the sights, spanned the living room until he locked on one of the Christmas ornaments hanging in a doorway, and “poof” the ornament shattered. It was so cool. We couldn’t believe it. My dad just quickly handed the gun back to me and said, “Don’t tell your mother.” His name was Trulan Van Rockwood or Tru for short. ”
Steve then shared another story that took place with his dad years later. This time it was a sacred event. His father shared his true feelings about Christmas and his love for his children. Unexpectedly 6 months later, Tru Rockwood died on Father’s Day.
Although Steve’s four sons have never met their Grandpa Tru, they know him. He lives through photos, stories, and the lessons gleaned that these sons have heard throughout their lives. He then asked, “who is one of the Grandpa Tru’s in your life?” As attendees shared their one-minute stories with the one next to them, he made his point: to keep the attention of the non-genealogists in our lives, we need to keep it short and meaningful. “If we’re going to reach our family members, we need to reach their hearts.”
He has asked many people to describe their feelings when they share their stories and when they are involved in other forms of family history. They consistently respond that they feel love, joy, peace, happiness, inspiration, connectedness, and belonging. He remarked that, “[t]hese feelings are powerful. And I have found that they are universal. They are core and profound. Even if our family situations are less than ideal, once we talk about past family members, we often feel a sense of belonging and love.”
“You know these feelings. You have felt something that has inspired you to make the effort to come to RootsTech. I believe you are inspired and can be inspiring to your family members—especially your children, who so desperately need to feel what you have felt and be blessed by what you know. Your family needs what you have.”
He then discussed the goals of FamilySearch to improve five experiences to help family members engage in family history: discovery, FamilyTrees, searchable records, memories, and contextual help.
He described family historians as “heart specialists” in their respective families. RootsTech is a training experience to help those in attendance learn skills that can connect their family’s heart to their ancestors and maybe even provide healing within the family. This analogy continued with comparisons to diet and exercise to sustain a healthy heart. He suggested to start small and integrate family history into daily life like diet and exercise can help sustain a healthy heart. It does’t have to take a lot of time. Keep it fun. It doesn’t need to be heart surgery.
He asked everyone to think about someone in their family who needs a stronger sense of love, joy, peace, or whatever feelings the attendees felt as they shared their story with their neighbor. He asked everyone to share a story with the person who came to mind and enrich their life with family history. “And try to do it in less than a minute!”
You can view Steve Rockwood’s Thursday morning keynote address by viewing the video below.
Lynn Broderick (https://thesingleleaf.wordpress.com/) is a writer by birth, a teacher by profession, and a researcher by passion. She enjoys researching individuals of the past in the context of family, community, and social history. Known as the Single Leaf, she combined her childhood memories of football and genealogy to create genealogy football and works with her team to win their family history bowl each year. She loves to coach people on how to enjoy pursuing their family history and has done so for over 25 years.