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A celebration of family history

Church leader, historian address national conference

President Eyring's comments were part of "A Celebration of Family History" in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City with music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square and a featured address from David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of 1776, John Adams and Truman. Presented by the Church's FamilySearch organization and the Utah Genealogical Association, it was part of a week of genealogical conferences culminating with the National Genealogical Conference held in Salt Lake City for the first time in 25 years.

Author and historian David McCullough acknowledges the audience alongside President Henry B. Eyring following Mr. McCullough's remarks at "A Celebration of Family History" in Salt Lake City.
Author and historian David McCullough acknowledges the audience alongside President Henry B. Eyring following Mr. McCullough's remarks at "A Celebration of Family History" in Salt Lake City. Photo: Keith Johnson, Deseret News

"I know from experience that there is a spirit of unity in the community we honor tonight," said President Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency. "You have felt it before, and you will feel it tonight. Time and again, I have been amazed that a total stranger would help me."

Noting that in some communities, experts have little interest in helping novices, President Eyring drew a contrast. "You have built and preserved a community in which the expert who continues to be a mentor for those less skilled is revered," he said.

He knows that from experience, he said, explaining that earlier in life he was responsible for a network of family history centers generally placed in buildings owned by the Church. "The majority of those who visit and use them are not of our faith," President Eyring said. "There are now more than 4,500 such centers in 70 countries. The miracle of them lies not in the number of them but in the people who help you when you visit there."

Speaking of the future, President Eyring said, "If we are wise we will treasure what marks this community of helpers and mentors. It is rare in history for such a community to emerge. It is rarer still for such a community to sustain itself."

Mr. McCullough struck a chord with genealogists, saying he has never known much about any of the subjects on which he has set out to write a book. "I feel that each book is a journey, an adventure, a hunt, a detective case, an experience, like setting foot in another continent in which you've never traveled. That's the joy of it. That's the compulsion of it. And you're fired by what we human beings are blessed with, called curiosity. It's what, among other things, distinguishes us from the cabbages. The more we know, the more we want to know; curiosity is accelerative."

Tabernacle Choir selections were interspersed with video segments depicting the joys of family history in the lives of individuals. One segment, for example, focused on Mailie Mossman, a Hawaiian woman beset with breast cancer, who drew strength from the history of her great-grandmother Emma Lyons Waimau, who suffered from Hansen's disease (leprosy). Forced to leave her family to live in a leper colony, she met and married a man there who was also suffering from the disease. Giving birth to six children, she was forced by law to send each away within the first year of life to ensure the child did not contract the disease.

The Tabernacle Choir's signature song "Battle Hymn of the Republic," was preceded by video focusing on reflections about the hymn's author, Julia Ward Howe, a strong opponent of slavery, by her great-great-great-grandson, himself a writer and social justice activist.

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