Family history advice from a 16-year-old: Make it relevant and fun

Luke Morrison, a 16-year-old from Long Beach, California, doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype of a family history fanatic. But when asked what he does for fun, family history is at the top of his list.

In fact, Luke said he spends about 20-25 hours a week on family history-related activities. Over the last few years, Luke has indexed more than 5,300 records and created more than 4,400 people in FamilySearch’s Family Tree. 

Luke and his friends started a family history club at their high school, and he serves as co-president. He has spoken at numerous youth activities and conferences, helping motivate youth to get involved in family history. 

“Family history can be as simple as asking your parents what their house was like when they grew up … or asking your cousins what their life is like now compared to yours, if you live in different places,” said Luke, a member of the Long Beach 10th Ward, Long Beach California East Stake. 

“Just connecting with people and learning more about others’ pasts and their family stories — literally anything can be encompassed and considered family history. And it can be fun.”

Luke Morrison, 16, poses for a photo in front of the Family History Library van in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Oct. 14, 2020.
Luke Morrison, 16, poses for a photo in front of the Family History Library van in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Oct. 14, 2020. Credit: Jim Ericson, FamilySearch

In a recent Church News interview, Luke spoke about his love for family history and temple work and offered advice to help youth develop a similar excitement. 

From ‘weird scribbles’ to real people

His passion was sparked one summer when 11-year-old Luke was sick and went to his grandparents’ house instead of going to summer camp. 

“I was just sitting there on the couch [feeling] really lousy, didn’t really know what to do. Not even the TV was satisfying enough for me,” he remembered. “And then eventually, my grandpa called me to his office.” 

His grandpa asked if he could read well and showed him a birth record he was indexing. At first, all Luke saw was “a bunch of weird scribbles.” Then his grandpa helped him identify the cursive letters and, together, they completed the indexing form. Luke was hooked.

“It was just really intriguing to me,” Luke said. “It was kind of like you’re being an investigator or something, you got to figure out different problems and such. When I got home, I begged my dad for an indexing account.” He indexed on his father’s FamilySearch account until he was old enough to create his own.

The next year, Luke attended the temple for the first time and performed proxy baptisms for ancestors he found. “It made everything worth it,” he said, “and I just wanted more.” Doing research and using evidence and deduction to merge relationships and make discoveries became his “all-time favorite” family history activity. 

Luke Morrison, 16, organizes temple ordinance cards he has found by doing family history research.
Luke Morrison, 16, organizes temple ordinance cards he has found by doing family history research. Credit: Michael Morrison

“He’s really become an expert with it,” said Mike Morrison, Luke’s father. “He’s grown as he’s found joy in sharing it with other people.” As the oldest of three children, Luke has also “blazed the trail” for his younger siblings who have watched him do research and find names to take to the temple. 

Tina Morrison, Luke’s mother, added, “His influence and his example helps me remember the importance of this life and going to the temple.”

Advice for youth

One of Luke’s favorite ways to introduce fellow youth to family history is by playing The Oregon Trail — a game simulating the realities of pioneer life in which a player assumes the role of a wagon leader guiding a group of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon in 1848. 

“There’s that element of fear and surprise and anticipation. Yet, at the same time, it’s historically accurate, and you get to learn more about your ancestors,” he said. 

After playing the game, youth often joke about running out of supplies or someone in their camp dying of cholera, he said. He then uses it as an opportunity to share a story of a pioneer ancestor who faced similar challenges and tragedies. 

“I feel like it helps them realize that these are actually real people,” he said. 

When Luke speaks to youth about family history, he said his focus is “putting the history back in family history” — in other words, contextualizing an ancestor’s story. 

For example, Luke’s great-great-grandparents moved to the United States from Mexico with their 11 children in the 1910s. Luke understood the idea of the “American dream,” but he felt there was more to the story. 

Luke Morrison, 16, works on family history research at his home in Long Beach, California, in October 2020.
Luke Morrison, 16, works on family history research at his home in Long Beach, California, in October 2020. Credit: Michael Morrison

After some digging, “I found out that the month after that they left, Pancho Villa’s armies came in, because the Mexican Civil War was going on at the time, and they actually destroyed the town that they were living in,” Luke said. Likely prompted by the war, his ancestors went to the U.S. to live with a relative.

Putting himself in their shoes, “I was able to connect at a more personal level with my ancestors and know more than just their names, the dates and places.”

Luke has also had success as he’s worked one-on-one with youth, “trying to become friends first” and “relying on the Spirit.”

“Saying a simple prayer before you go into your research or before you meet with someone to help them will always help you — no matter what,” Luke said.