FamilySearch regional research seminars feature ‘all you can eat buffet’ of resources

Pam Sprouse is on a journey to learn as much as she can about her ancestors from both sides of her family.

She attended most of the 16 classes of the United States Research Seminar held Sept. 10-13 at the Family History Library because the localized research is helping her “find their whole story,” she said.

Sprouse, from Murray, Utah, also plans to attend the other regional research seminars available in the upcoming months because of her ancestral lines from Europe and Scandinavia. 

“I am learning new technology and new avenues. There are people who are willing to help and go beyond when you’re stuck on something,” she said of her experience attending the seminars so far.

Each fall, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City holds five different week-long seminars based on regions of research. The research seminars teach methodology and principles specific to an area of the world and are free to the public.

The remaining week-long seminars for 2019 include: British Isles Research (Sept. 23-27), European Research (Oct. 21-25), Latin American Research (Oct 29-Nov 2) and Scandinavian Research (Nov. 11-15). Handouts and recordings from the previously held United States Research Seminar (Sept. 10-13) can be found at FamilySearch.org.

Darris Williams teaches about Welsh research during the 2017 British Isles Research Seminar. The 2019 British Isles Research Seminar will be held Sept. 23-27, 2019.
Darris Williams teaches about Welsh research during the 2017 British Isles Research Seminar. The 2019 British Isles Research Seminar will be held Sept. 23-27, 2019. Credit: Brandon Baird, FamilySearch

Lynn Turner is the manager of the Family History Library and will be presenting at the Latin American Research Seminar. The seminars are a great way for people to receive training in a specific area and learn about online resources, he said. 

“It’s teaching people how to do family history research in a specific locality and making them aware of research specialists at the Family History Library or people they can talk to to get assistance from,” Turner said. 

“So, it’s kind of like an ‘all you can eat buffet’ packed into one week of genealogy goodness,” he added.

Most of the seminars are recorded and available online as webinars. Turner said more people participate outside of the library than attend in person. “Depending on the class and the seminar, we can have upwards of 150 to 200 people online. We’ll probably only have 25 to 50 in person in the library,” he said. 

While Sprouse most often attends the seminars in person at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, there was a day when she was sick, so she participated in the webinar from home.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Sprouse said of participating online. “It gives the opportunity if you can’t make it, or you’re homebound because of illness, or if you have kids and you can’t come. That’s another avenue you can go to. You just get on the schedule and they tell you all the classes and everything.”

Dan Poffenberger, manager of the British Isles Research Team, said those participating online can submit questions to be answered during the seminar. 

“It’s kind of like an ‘all you can eat buffet’ packed into one week of genealogy goodness.”

“It’s a way to create a connection and bond with them,” Poffenberger said. “It’s a little more personal than just sitting there and listening to us.”

The series of week-long seminars, Poffenberger explained, began about three years ago. Prior to the annual week-long seminar format, each research area would try to teach one class a month. They altered the format to allow participation online, which simplified their work and enabled technological advances in FamilySearch.

“Now the Church member can be at home in their pajamas in Brazil and be able to find their ancestors,” Poffenberger said as he recounted the changes that have occurred since he started working in Family History 30 years ago. 

In addition to the five research teams, there is also a full-time Asian research specialist — a position that Poffenberger said five years ago, he never would have thought possible. There currently is not a week-long Asian research seminar, but those interested in Asian research can meet with the specialist at the Family History Library. 

Sprouse said she is excited about all the resources FamilySearch is making available. “I’ve just learned so much about my ancestors on both sides,” she said. “What it comes down to is that I need to know the story of who I am and the people before me.”

Each week-long regional research seminar includes 16-20 total classes held on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. MDT. Classes last approximately one hour and cover a variety of topics.

More information about the regional research seminars can be found on the FamilySearch.org wiki pages and in the Facebook events.