Sydney Walker: What I learned at RootsTech Connect about the necessity of connection

I’m not a family history expert. For most of my life, I tuned out when I heard the words “family history.” It seemed boring. And I figured my grandparents had it covered. 

Last year, my perspective changed. While writing a series for the Church News on the healing blessings of family history, I discovered it is so much more than names, dates and research. 

It’s about real people with real stories. It’s about connection. 

I’ll never forget the emotion I felt as Camaron Perkins told me about her father — her “rock” and “spiritual giant” — who died by suicide after psychological reactions from ending a medication.

In that moment, she said her world “shattered into a million tiny little pieces.” The pain she felt was difficult to describe with words.

Camaron Perkins, left, is pictured with her husband Jeff in April 2020. After she lost her father to suicide, Perkins found strength and healing by preserving memories and photos of him in the FamilySearch Family Tree app.
Camaron Perkins, left, is pictured with her husband Jeff in April 2020. After she lost her father to suicide, Perkins found strength and healing by preserving memories and photos of him in the FamilySearch Family Tree app. Credit: Courtesy Camaron Perkins

A few weeks after her father’s death, as reality sank in and she continued to process her feelings, Camaron said she had a distinct impression: “Don’t let this one moment in time define your father. That’s not who he is. That’s not who he was. … You’ve got to find a way to define his life and celebrate his life.”

A thought came to start adding memories to her father’s profile in the FamilySearch Family Tree App. She added picture after picture, story after story. Memories from her childhood came flooding back. 

She described the process as “healing” — little by little, day by day.

Camaron’s story was one of many I included in the series on the healing blessings of family history — a series prompted by Elder Dale G. Renlund’s April 2018 general conference talk “Family History and Temple Work: Sealing and Healing.”

I reached out to Camaron in December 2020, shortly after I received an invitation to record a session for RootsTech Connect 2021. I knew I wanted to share her story. 

During our phone conversation, Camaron said that after her experience was published in the Church News, a woman reached out to her on social media. This woman’s father had also died by suicide after psychological reactions from ending a medication, and she was struggling to feel peace. 

She told Camaron that finding her story “was like an answer to prayer.” She was inspired to look on FamilySearch, where she found her father’s life history written in his own words — something that she didn’t know existed. She and Camaron continued to stay connected.

As Camaron told me on the phone that day about this message, she said, “The more we can open up and be vulnerable about our own struggles, it allows others to open up and we can heal together.” 

That hit me. This is why we need to share stories — not necessarily in a public article, but with our family, with our friends, in our journal, on social media, however. Someone out there needs our story.

How these Latter-day Saints found healing through family stories after suicide, abuse, other traumatic events

I have heard the words “connect” and “connection” over and over again during this three-day RootsTech Connect event. The name of the virtual event, of course, hints at its importance. But so have several of the sessions I’ve listened to. 

Connection releases a hormone called oxytocin, which is “as vital to our functioning as food, water and air,” said Amy Nielson, a clinical mental health counselor. “If we’re not getting enough, we don’t function properly.” (See “Necessity of Connection for Your Mental Health”)

Julianne Holt-Lundstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University and scientific chair of the U.S. Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness, explained that connection also impacts our physical health. 

“Social isolation carries a 29% increased risk for mortality, which exceeds the risk of obesity and several other risk factors,” according to a research study she co-authored. 

When it comes to taking care of one’s physical health, “we need to take our relationships just as seriously,” she said. (See “Necessity of Connection for Your Physical Health”)

During RootsTech Connect Family Discovery Day on Feb. 27, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized the “most important connection of all” — connection to our Father in Heaven. 

“Any of you who engage in family history and temple work are in essence showing our Father in Heaven that you care about Him, about His family and His purposes,” Elder Holland said. “As you forge a bond with your Father in Heaven, He will forge a bond with you.”

As humans, we crave connection. And connection to the past, present and future — and to God — is essential to our mental, physical and spiritual well-being. This is what I know now.