Sitting in a family’s home in the Dominican Republic, a FamilySearch researcher asked a young boy named Dominic a question: “How are you doing family history?”
Dominic’s answer echoed what other children and youth had been telling researchers in similar settings.
So the researcher asked his question in a different way. “Do you have anything around your home that helps you remember somebody?”
Dominic ran back to his room and returned with a slingshot. He described how much the slingshot meant to him — how his father had given it to him before he died and taught him how to use it.
“That’s family history,” explained Merrill White, a FamilySearch manager who focuses on experiences for children and youth, as he related the experience. “But that story is only in Dominic’s head and hasn’t been preserved for anyone else to hear it.
“Those precious stories and things we learn from each other are going to become cherished memories and stories for future generations if we just take a minute to record them.”
White and other FamilySearch employees have been doing interviews around the world to find the best ways to entice youth to participate in family history. They have discovered that the activities resonating most with youth are quick and simple and “don’t feel like a homework assignment.”
The best family history ideas for youth have been consolidated and added to a new blog hub page for easy access. This online resource is called “Youth Connecting with Generations,” and is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
“We want to encourage youth to tell their own stories or record the stories of their loved ones,” said Wendy Smedley, a FamilySearch marketing manager.
“My dear extraordinary youth, you were sent to earth at this precise time, the most crucial time in the history of the world, to help gather Israel. There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that. There is nothing of greater consequence. Absolutely nothing.”
President Nelson continues, “This gathering should mean everything to you. This is the mission for which you were sent to earth. So my question to you is, ‘Are you willing to enlist in the youth battalion of the Lord to help gather Israel?'”
Family history is a key part of the gathering of Israel, Smedley explained, and it can be as easy as connecting with family past and present.
Ideas on the blog page include interviewing a sibling or parent, recording one’s own story, learning about ancestors’ occupations, using the Ordinances Ready feature, and posting on social media using the hashtag #YouthGatherersofIsrael.
The key is to build off of what youth are already doing. For example, by using social media, youth are journaling in ways they might not think as journaling, Smedley said. The FamilySearch Memories app allows users to import directly from Facebook and Instagram.
“They are fantastic with technology,” Smedley said. “We really are learning from our youth.”
As he invited the young people of the Church to “learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah” during the October 2011 general conference, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles added a promise:
“Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives.”
During the opening session of RootsTech Family Discovery Day in 2016, Elder Dale G. Renlund promised youth that as they find names to take to the temple, “You’ll find not only protection from the temptations and ills of this world, but you’ll also find personal power, power to change, power to repent, power to learn, power to be sanctified, and power to turn the hearts of your family together and heal that which needs healing.”
There are countless promised blessings for youth as they engage in family history work, White said.
“Youth probably don’t realize it now, but by preserving this particular story, whether it’s quickly recording it or whatever it may be, that’s going to create covenant belonging opportunities for their future generations,” said White, drawing upon Elder Gerrit W. Gong’s October 2019 general conference address.
Family history work also helps youth understand that they are part of a bigger family, Smedley added. “It helps them understand who they are and where they came from.”
White said these activity ideas can be an asset to youth as they set goals as part of the new Children and Youth program beginning in January.
“Everything we’re trying to create is home-centered, Church-supported, or a home-centered approach, to give resources and activities for youth and families,” he said. “If they have certain goals, spiritual or intellectual or whatever they may be, they can come here and find them.”
A lesson of gratitude
One of the ways 15-year-old Emilie Lepore participates in family history is by sharing ancestor’s stories with her family during home evening.
“My ancestors did a lot of hard things,” Lepore said. “That helps me to know that I can do hard things.”
A few summers ago while living in France, Lepore and her family traveled to Italy to learn more about the ancestors on her father’s side. A series of miracles happened to create a discovery experience she would never forget.
After struggling to find a place to stay, her family ended up at bed-and-breakfast in a small village of about 200 people called San Vito d’Arsie. It happened to be the town where their ancestors lived. The following day, they looked in a nearby cemetery for the names of ancestors but couldn’t find anyone.
“It was super hot. We were discouraged,” Lepore recalled. “So, finally we prayed.”
People in the town directed the family to a restaurant. Though the restaurant was closed when they arrived, the owner was there and invited them in for dinner. Lepore’s father asked the owner if he was familiar with the names of their ancestors.
The owner brought out two large church record books which listed the names of those who lived in that village. “We found about 40 names,” Lepore said.
The owner referred them to a man who knew more about the family. When the Lepore family talked with this man the next day, he took them to the very place where an ancestor named Vito Tonin had lived — a one-room house built in the 1600s with not even a chimney. Black marks from fire and smoke from cooking food were still visible.
This was the home where Vito and his wife Giovanna had 12 children. Lepore said it was a humbling experience for her to imagine so many people living in a small one-room house.
“Sometimes we whine and complain about how we don’t have enough, but we have way more than a lot of people had or have,” she said. “So I learned that being grateful is a big thing and it helps a lot in your daily life to be grateful.”
This idea of going back to where one’s ancestors came from can be done anywhere, Smedley said. “Or you can look on the internet and see what their circumstances were like. And then think about the sacrifices that have happened for you to have the privileges that you do today. We should all think of that.”
Lepore’s advice for a youth who might be struggling to get involved in family history? “Just start by looking at the pictures and reading the stories and just talking and asking your parents about their childhood and your grandparents. Just get involved in their lives,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Merrill White as the FamilySearch researcher in the Dominican Republic.