Using family history to strengthen youth, missionary work and connection: RootsTech Q&A with General Authority Seventies

Leaders of the Church’s Family History Department explain how family history can be a tool in strengthening ministering and missionary efforts of the Church

In a Q&A session of RootsTech, Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Family History Department, was joined by Elder Randall K. Bennett, Elder K. Brett Nattress and Elder Jorge M. Alvarado, all General Authority Seventies and assistant executive directors of the department, to discuss practical ways to use family history work to connect and bless one’s community.

Elder Hamilton led the discussion Friday, March 1, which drew from the audience’s questions and focused on using family history work in three main areas: with youth, missionary work and connection.

‘Unleash the power of family history’

The focus of Elder Alvarado’s remarks was the need for youth to be involved in family history.

“You don’t need to be a genealogist,” he encouraged. There is an increased need for youth to feel belonging, and they do belong in the work of connecting families. Youth were described as “digital natives” who can be helpful to their families, wards and communities with the technological aspects of family history work.

Elder Alvarado explained that family history is about problem solving and discovering an ancestral line, a work that can be engaging for young people of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if they are invited to participate. “The ones that will unleash the power of family history are the youth,” he said.

Building upon Elder Alvarado’s remarks, Elder Hamilton shared about a group of youth in Mexico who serve as examples for Latter-day Saints seeking to know how to involve the youth in family history.

The youth were invited to use the FamilySearch Memories app to record the life stories of their elderly family, ward and community members. From those recordings, AI technology gleaned information, including names and locations, and built new family trees.

A group of young adults receive instruction on using the Family Search app to do genealogy work for people of Puerto Rico during the RootsTech after party for young adults at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 1, 2024.
A group of young adults receive instruction on using the FamilySearch app to do genealogy work for people of Puerto Rico during the RootsTech after party for young adults, in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 1, 2024. | Brian Nicholson
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Unimaginable blessings

When asked how to utilize family history in ministering and missionary work, Elder Bennett advised reaching out to others with genuine interest in their family stories. The Church doctrine of eternal families is a powerful message that can resonate with people regardless of religious affiliations.

Elder Bennett shared the story of a district president who, when asked how he joined the Church, reflected on the use of family history in his conversion. Before he joined the Church, this district president had always turned missionaries away, until he met a senior couple who told him he could be with his family forever.

This idea shocked him and acted as the first touch point the missionaries were able to establish with him. Leading with the principles of family and ancestry in missionary discussions were what turned this man from an atheist to a Christian to a Latter-day Saint.

“Get involved. You can bless members of the Church in ways you cannot imagine,” taught Elder Bennett.

Asking individuals about their family stories can be a powerful tool in building personal bridges because not everyone may want to talk about sacrament meeting, but everyone wants to talk about their parents or grandparents. Utilizing family history in the ministering and missionary efforts of wards and stakes can be how individuals are introduced or brought back to the covenant path.

Don’t force it

Throughout the Q&A session, Elder Nattress emphasized connection as both a motivator for and a result of family history. When inviting others to get involved in family history work, it is best to not “force it” because others will feel the insincerity.

Rather than focusing too much on the “what” of genealogy work, teaching the “why” can provide the opportunity for individuals to “feel inspired and feel the love of God,” said Elder Nattress. Thus, increasing the chances of people developing a love for family history work and forming long-lasting connections on both sides of the veil.

“Use this work as a tool to increase their conversion,” he continued. For Latter-day Saints who have already been baptized, the work of finding their own family names to take to the temple can be a powerful experience and help deepen their conversion.

Providing recent converts with personal experiences where they can feel the spirit of the temple is one way family history work strengthens the connections of a ward or stake congregation, because by performing temple ordinances Latter-day Saints are connecting with Jesus Christ.

People walk through the expo room at RootsTech in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

A divine work

What drives this work is the temple, taught the General Authority Seventies. Participating in family history is participating in the work of Jesus Christ. Even people of different backgrounds and religious beliefs are building trees on FamilySearch, demonstrating that it is a “divine work,” explained Elder Hamilton.

The event concluded with each leader bearing testimony of the Savior and expressing love and gratitude for all people who faithfully participate in the work of family history.

“We love you, we thank you, we need you,” said Elder Nattress.

Echoing the words of Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Alvarado shared, “Understand this very clear, Heavenly Father and Christ love you, trust you, and He needs you.”

“Thank you for joyfully yoking yourself to the Savior,” remarked Elder Bennet, referencing Matthew 11.

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