Why Latter-day Saints across Georgia hosted FamilySearch booths at 20 Juneteenth events

Idea for state-wide family history booths began with a desire to do something with the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, says Elder M. Andrew Galt

ATLANTA, Georgia — While Shad Vick was volunteering at a FamilySearch booth at a community Juneteenth event in Fayetteville, Georgia, on June 19, two sisters sat down at a computer to learn more about their family history.

One sister created an account, and Vick helped them put in their parents’ names. Then they found a record hint — the grave marker of their father. When the sisters clicked on it, an image of his grave in the cemetery appeared. 

“They both oohed and aahed when they saw that grave marker. He was from a place that was not close by, and for them to be able to see it without having to travel, you could tell they were excited,” Vick said.

“I said, ‘Your family members are so glad you are searching for them.’ They both looked at me and said, ‘Yes, we know.’ I said, ‘You feel that?’ And they both said yes. I said, ‘I feel it too. Isn’t that a great feeling?’ And they agreed.”

Vick’s tender experience with these sisters was one of many family history discoveries across Georgia as 20 stakes were involved in hosting FamilySearch booths at community Juneteenth events June 17-19. There were 20 booths in 20 cities, with the help of more than 225 volunteers like Vick.

A volunteer helps a visitor learn about their family history at a FamilySearch booth at a Juneteenth celebration in Fayetteville, Georgia
Volunteer Shad Vick helps a visitor learn about their family history at a FamilySearch booth at a Juneteenth celebration in Fayetteville, Georgia, on June 19, 2023. | Laurie Stoker

How the idea for state-wide booths began

Elder M. Andrew Galt, Area Seventy in Georgia, said the idea for the state-wide FamilySearch booths at Juneteenth events began with a desire to do something with the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. 

During a meeting earlier this year with state Rep. Mesha Mainor — whom Elder Galt had met at the Giving Machine in Atlanta in December 2022 — he noticed a black-and-white picture on the wall and asked who it was. It was her grandfather. 

“She said, ‘That’s as far back as we go. That’s as far back as we know.’ It immediately clicked — we need to talk about family history,” Elder Galt said.

Local genealogists did research on Rep. Mainor’s family. When Elder Galt and other Church representatives met with the Black Caucus two weeks later, they brought a fan chart of her family, which went back seven generations. “Every person that came into the Black Caucus meeting, she ran up to them and put that in front of them and said ‘Look what they did for me.’ 

“In our discussions that day with a variety of political leaders, we said, ‘We want to do family history booths at Juneteenth events,’” Elder Galt said.

Related Story
Church representatives strengthen relationships with Georgia leaders

Explaining why it was important to sponsor these events around the state, he continued: “If you are a descendant of Europeans, there are many records available that are easily searchable; but if you are a descendant of African Americans, it’s hard to find information. But we are getting better at it. And the tools we have in FamilySearch and the information we have with the Freedmen’s Bureau records and other records that are now being digitized, it’s much easier for African Americans to find their families.”

Elder Galt cited the last verses in the Old Testament about Elijah turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers (Malachi 4:5-6). “We believe family history is a manifestation of that — it’s something that helps prepare families to be eternal.”

Local congregations who planned and hosted the booths worked with several organizations in the community, including Cherokee County Georgia NAACP, NAACP Cobb County Branch, Black Women’s Association of Sugar Hill, Gainesville-Hall County Black History Society, Historic Oakland Foundation, Pierce Chapel African Cemetery, Cultureshock of Dublin, Minority Business and Nonprofit Association, United Ebony Society, Forsyth County YMCA, Fayette County Historical Society, and Chosen For The Arts (Savannah).

The Rev. Lawrence Edward Carter Sr., founding dean of the Martin Luther King Jr., learns about his family history at a FamilySearch booth at the Oakland Cemetery Juneteenth event in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 17, 2023, with the help of Kay Beals. Elder M. Andrew Galt, Area Seventy, stands behind them. | Sydney Walker

The Rev. Lawrence Edward Carter Sr. — founding dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College who presented the Gandhi-King-Mandela Peace Prize to President Russell M. Nelson in April — attended a FamilySearch booth at the Oakland Cemetery Juneteenth event in downtown Atlanta with Elder Galt.

“I was very impressed with what was pulled up,” the Rev. Carter said. “Immediately it touched the deepest parts of my emotions when I looked at the screen and saw stuff that I recognized. It was almost like the faces of these people came before me, with an ‘Ah ha, you found me.’ ...

“Our ancestors are speaking to us, calling us from the grave, to remember them, to lift the veil on their history, their contribution, all that we have inherited that has been bequeathed to us. Because you see, there is no such thing as a self-made anything. We stand on their shoulders.”

Related Stories
What FamilySearch is offering as it celebrates Juneteenth and African American genealogy
Meet twin brothers who are newly called bishops in the Atlanta area

What it meant to the community

Atlanta resident Marilyn Parham Robinson came to the FamilySearch booth at the Oakland Cemetery after seeing an article about it in the local newspaper. She and her cousins had hit a wall in learning about their grandfather, Wyman Parham. With the help of a volunteer at the booth, she broke through that wall. 

“A picture we have of him with a medal, it’s from WWI. … All his stuff started coming up — his date of birth, we never had any of that. I’m over the moon. Just that quick, that easy. I can’t believe it,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I feel so happy, so full. … When I get home, I’ll get on the computer and search some more.”

Volunteer Kecia Haggins helps Marilyn Parham Robinson look through records on FamilySearch at a Juneteenth event at the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 17, 2023. | Sydney Walker

John and Cheryl Deloach didn’t know much about FamilySearch before visiting a booth at a Juneteenth celebration in Acworth, Georgia. “It was nice to have someone walk me through it,” Cheryl Deloach said of her experience with a volunteer. “I want to know more about my family.”

And on a holiday celebrating freedom and heritage, John Deloach was reminded of the importance of knowing one’s story. “If you don’t know about your family, your children and grandchildren won’t know about them either. Get all the information you can so they can know,” he said.

Volunteer Jerrod Lee, right, shows Cheryl Deloach how to use FamilySearch on a tablet at a Juneteenth event in Acworth, Georgia, on June 17, 2023. | Sydney Walker
Related Story
Why Latter-day Saints were invited to host a booth at the Sikh festival in Yuba City
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed