At 100, Utah Genealogical Society beckons: 'Come and join with us'

Birthday wishes are in order this year as the Genealogical Society of Utah - also known these days as the Church's Family History Department - observes its centennial anniversary.

But don't expect party hats or cake and ice cream, and don't expect the observance to focus on the past."This is really a very different kind of celebration," noted Dorothy Gardner, centennial committee chairwoman. "Maybe even celebration is the wrong word, because it's not firecrackers and balloons. Rather, we're trying to get a message out to the whole world - members and non-LDS as well - of what we're about and invite them to come and participate with us."

That is reflected in the purpose statement for the centennial: "To strengthen and expand the partnership between the Genealogical Society of Utah and others worldwide in compiling the record of families and in preserving, automating and sharing genealogical information for the benefit of all mankind."

"You see," Sister Gardner explained, "we've made these resources available to people free of charge around the world, and we want to continue to do that. But we would like them to then share with us their findings and help build the collection of records so that it becomes even a greater tool for everybody. We want Heavenly Father's children everywhere to get involved so that they can participate and then enjoy the fruits of the labors and share them so more people can do more things."

"When you think about it," Sister Gardner said, "everything we do, our friends in the genealogical community can help us with, with the exception of one thing: temple ordinances. Everything else - the gathering of records, preserving records, research, technology, building Ancestral File - they can help us with, and we want to invite them to help us. Of course, the same message will go out to the members of the Church, but we will also encourage them to finish the task - to do the temple work and participate in that manner."

Committee member Thomas E. Daniels, public affairs liaison for the department, encapsulated the aim of the observance succinctly: "The focus really is on the future."

The founding of the society is told in similar exhibits in the Family History Library and the FamilySearch Center in the new Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. The exhibit in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building includes the original minute book. It is open to the proceedings of the founding on Nov. 13, 1894. A meeting to incorporate the society was held one week later, on Nov. 20.

"Strengthening Our Worldwide Partnership" is the title on the exhibits. That theme is bolstered with four photos illustrating the following:

The first library, opened in a small room within days of the society's founding. The Family History Library today has grown to become the largest of its kind in the world, with more than 2,000 smaller satellite family history centers operating worldwide.

Preservation of records on microfilm. In 1938, the society became one of the pioneers in this effort. In cooperation with governments and record-keeping organizations, the society's collection of microfilmed records from many countries now numbers in the millions. Microfilm is the means through which these records are distributed to the family history centers.

Computer research. The powerful tool, FamilySearch, introduced in 1990, gives users computer access to a number of genealogical databases. In response to a name typed at the keyboard, FamilySearch races through millions of records and displays names, dates and places on the screen.

Future endeavors. The society is working with others to find better ways to preserve and share records of the past. Those viewing the exhibits are invited to fill out a postcard on the table giving name, address and indication of a desire for further information or to give volunteer assistance.

In addition to the exhibits, activities in connection with the centennial are designed to foster such cooperation. The following are among planned events:

Articles on the centennial and the family history effort appearing in Church publications.

Presentations and exhibits at conferences of major genealogical and historic organizations. Representatives of the Family History Department will make the presentations. They are planned currently for 13 conferences in the United States and in Hamilton, New Zealand; North Bay, Ontario; and Brisbane, Australia. The presentations include a seven-minute video program, "Discovering the Past," produced expressly for that purpose.

A "Homefront" public service announcement produced by Church Public Affairs with a family history message.

The Centennial Lecture Series. Lecturers so far have been Dr. Igor Sakharov, leading Russian genealogist (See Nov. 27 Church News.), and Dr. Robert W. Fogel, 1993 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics (See accompanying article on this page.) Other lectures will be announced.

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