Julie Hales of the Midland Michigan Stake had never heard of tree building before doing a remote family history internship through BYU-Idaho. Now she sees tree building as “a great entry level into genealogy research” — and something the youth in her stake describe as fun and easy.
In an effort to “Map the Mitten” — the title of her project aptly named for the shape of the state of Michigan — Hales focused on adding records from counties within her stake, involving as many youth as she could.
A kick-off event was held at the end of June. Since then, nearly 37,000 contributions have been made (sources plus new people added to FamilySearch), with about 3,200 of those being new people. Though Hales’ internship has ended, the project is ongoing. Her goal is to make 100,000 additions to FamilySearch.
“We found it’s a really cool and valuable way to teach research skills on a much more approachable level,” Hales said of tree building. “If people in their own family have all these big, brick walls, and they just don’t know where to start, this is a way to start and to learn those research skills and practice them many, many times.”
How to ‘Map the Mitten’
With support from stake leaders, Hales recruited and trained about 20 adult and youth mentors to use the research and linking tools. They helped members in the stake learn how to add records from the 1910-1940 censuses to FamilySearch, document existing individuals and add new individuals.
Classes on how to “Map the Mitten” were held at Young Women camp during the summer. Temple and family history leaders and consultants throughout the stake have also helped with the project.
To maintain communication and share inspiration with participants, Hales created an Instagram account and sent out a weekly newsletter. The newsletter included a graph of overall progress to date, a volunteer spotlight, a section on expanding skills, goals for the upcoming week, and a “What’s Wrong With This Record” challenge — the first person to submit the correct answer earned an ice cream gift card.
Kayla Deibel, a 14-year-old in Hales’ stake, was one of the many youth participants. She used Goldie May — a family history research app — to attach census records to the shared family tree in FamilySearch. She wrote down all the FamilySearch IDs for people she is related to and found several that she can reserve and perform baptisms for.
“I’ve started to realize that these people are more than just names on paper,” Kayla told the Church News.
She was thrilled when she found one person who has three siblings like her and another with a birthdate near her birthday. “There are a whole bunch of different things I have been able to connect to, rather than just being like ‘Oh, hey, it’s a random person from a random date,’” she said.
The ‘why’ behind ‘Map the Mitten’
Kayla’s excitement for and testimony of family history is what Hales hopes for all the youth in her stake.
“I look at the youth in my stake, and I think of all the blessings of really engaging in this work … and I want those for them,” Hales said. “I want them to realize that they have a place in the world.
“I feel like there are so many forces of disunity in the world, and I think family history is one of those things that has the potential to unify everybody, because you start realizing ‘I’m a member of a family. I’m a member of a bigger family. I’m a member of a community.’”
Hales, too, has made personal discoveries with “Map the Mitten.” With pioneer heritage tracing back to Europe, Hales didn’t think she had any connection to Michigan.
“As I started looking, I started finding all these eighth, ninth and tenth cousins that actually live in the little community I live in in Michigan,” Hales said. The most fun, she added, was to find out that a young woman in her ward is a cousin, whose family roots go back in their town for generations.
“If you look hard enough, you have connections,” she learned.
For those looking to start a family history project in their community, Hales said: “Just jump in and do it. … There are tools and options out there. So find those and go do it, and invite other people to do it with you.”
To learn more about the “Map the Mitten” project, visit the BYU Recording Linking Lab’s Facebook page.