Episode 18: An inside look at RootsTech Connect 2021 with Elder Kevin S. Hamilton and FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood

People worldwide celebrate shared connections every day. They connect with family and friends, their past, their heritage and their homelands. This year, the organizers of RootsTech — the world’s largest family history event — will help them to connect to others from home.

Made possible by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, RootsTech will be held Feb. 25-27 and is a free, virtual family history celebration. For the first time in RootsTech’s history, classes will be offered in multiple languages, and presenters will teach from international locations.

This podcast features Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department, and Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International, talking about family history and RootsTech Connect. Register for free at rootstech.org or on the Family Search App.

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Transcription

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question: “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.”

All of us have reason to celebrate shared connections with people from all over the world. We connect with our friends and our family and our past and our heritage and our homelands. And this year, the organizers of RootsTech — the world’s largest family history event — have made it possible for us to connect virtually from our homes. Made possible by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, RootsTech this February is free. On this podcast, we are joined by Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and Executive Director of the Family History Department, and Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International, to talk about RootsTech Connect. Welcome to the Church News podcast. 

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: Thank you. 

Brother Steve Rockwood: Thank you very much. It’s great to be with you. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: It’s so wonderful to be here today to talk about RootsTech and this opportunity that is unique this year because of the pandemic. Elder Hamilton, as you think about RootsTech Connect this year, what are you most excited about?

1:48  

Elder Kevin. S. Hamilton: Well, what I’m most excited about is a worldwide reach. You know, we’ve had RootsTech for 10, this is our 11th year, and it’s pretty much been a North America and even more of a kind of a Wasatch Front event. But with the power of the Internet and with a virtual conference, we, literally, I think we’re up to 216 countries and territories around the globe. It’s really staggering to think of the reach that we’ve been able to achieve with this virtual conference. We invite everyone to come to RootsTech: rootstech.org. It’s an easy place to get to and it’s an easy place to sign up and it’s free. I invite everybody to come.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and this conference has a great history. RootsTech 2021 will be held Feb. 25-27. Participants can register on rootstech.org, or through the FamilySearch app. Is that correct?

Elder Kevin. S. Hamilton: That’s right, and I just want to point out it’s free.

How RootsTech Connect 2021 became a global event and what the organizers want you to know

Sarah Jane Weaver: I want to dig deeper on this idea that you’re attracting participants from all over the world. How is that unique for this conference? 

2:55  

Brother Steve Rockwood: We’ve always had the aspiration to globalize RootsTech and globalize our services of helping people learn how to discover and gather and connect their families. And it was a multi year process we thought we would follow. For example, we went to London last year, and that was part of our globalization. We’ve always had visitors from several countries come to Salt Lake or to London. But when the pandemic came, it was such a unique opportunity with this incredible restraint that we could not gather physically. It was such a wonderful blessing to then say, “OK, what we’ve always aspired to do, we can now do by putting this online, increasing the accessibility of it.” And also the convenience of it, so that many more people can be blessed around the world. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and it’s the first time in the history of RootsTech that everything’s been offered virtually, and in multiple languages. Elder Hamilton, can you talk about what is so unique about these international locations, and the opportunity for people to hear presentations in their own language?

4:00  

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: So when we came up with the idea of globalizing this conference, the companion theory was we’ve got to figure out how to localize it, it needs to feel like it’s your conference in your country or your region, in your language, with your culture, dealing about issues that you care about with respect to your family and family history. And so we began to think about, well, how do you localize something that’s global in nature, and a lot of it boils down to language. So we are officially in 11 languages with over 1,000 classes, something like 1,200 classes, I think something close to 40 different languages. And each of these classes is being taught by someone in country with native language capability or near native language capability, very carefully attuned to the issues of that particular part of the world. And so when you go to a country, take Chile, for example, and listen to a Spanish language presentation on Chilean records. That’s going to feel very local, that’s going to feel like it’s right there in my backyard. It’s for me. And so that’s really been our vision of how to localize what is effectively a global conference. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Elder Hamilton, earlier you mentioned that we’re talking about 200,000 people that have already registered for more than 200 countries and territories. You know, often we talk about global reach in The Church of Jesus Christ, but this is actually a literal, global footprint. Brother Rockwood, what do you hope that participants learn, feel and experience as they participate in this conference? 

5:38

Brother Steve Rockwood: Well, first and foremost, absolutely everything we do, whether it’s in our Family History centers, or with familysearch.org, or with the app, or those hints that we send you on a Sunday morning, or with RootsTech, the first and foremost, we want you to feel the Holy Ghost bear witness of the divine nature of your family. That manifestation, the Holy Ghost is often referred to as the spirit of Elijah (a manifestation of the spirit of the Holy Ghost). And at RootsTech, we know without a doubt, those people that come ,and they don’t just come to attend, or listen, they actually come and do family history. We learn by studying by faith, and faith means action. So we give them experiences and they can actually do family history with the purpose to help them feel the spirit of Elijah bear witness to the divine nature of their family. So it gets very personal, very quickly. And then they’re empowered to continue to act on that through our keynote messages through the Expo Hall where we connect them to companies and other organizations that want to help them discover and gather their families. We do it through fun experiences with music, food, and dance and culture, because it’s about connecting to your homeland as well as to your family. But the most important connection really is when you’ve connected to your family, you’ve connected to your homeland, you then connect to that spirit. And that’s what we really want everyone to feel.

7:00

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: I would just make a comment, Sarah Jane, that you mentioned earlier 200,000, we’re actually closer to 300,000 now attendees, and it’s interesting, we figure somewhere between 70% and 80% of those are not members of our faith, they’re from other faith traditions. But the common denominator is they want to connect, they want to have an answer, have an experience with their families with their ancestors, they want to figure out how they fit in, what their genealogy is. And that’s a very common experience we find around the world. People have different languages, different cultures, different demographics, but a very common thread through all that is family. And people want to be part of a family. It’s a very natural, normal sort of a thing. And we just find that to be the great unifier. So we’re delighted to have all of these that are not Latter-day Saints come to our conference and participate. We’re thrilled to have them, it’s going to be a wonderful experience. 

7:59

Brother Steve Rockwood: You know, we talked about 300 pre-registrants. Keep in mind, those are just the ones that have registered beforehand. And we fully expect that they will bring their families and that they’ll invite their friends. And as you take Elder Hamilton’s invitation to invite others, that 300,000 will swell, to use President Nelson’s word, exponentially. And we’re planning on that.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Brother Rockwood, so many of these people have never experienced any kind of RootsTech conference before. What do you hope that they will experience in this first time experience?

8:35

Brother Steve Rockwood: Well, one of the favorite things we hear at RootsTech, or any other touchpoint we have with our patrons, is when they say I had no idea. People come with their own preconceptions of what “family history” is all about. But when they come and see that it’s not just about names, dates, and places, it’s not just about records, it’s not just for old people, we totally violate their expectations. So while you always want to meet the needs and expectations of people you try to serve, we really strive to violate them. And we are confident through our past experiences the last 11 years our first time attendees and right now it looks like 90% of the people that will be attending have never attended before. And so we’ll have them say, “I had no idea, what is this that I’m feeling, and I had no idea I could connect to so many people.”

Sarah Jane Weaver: So you’re saying everyone who participates may gain a love for family history.

9:34 

Brother Steve Rockwood: They’ll certainly gain a love for the idea of discovering their family. And they’ll realize that a big part of that is yes, discovering their family history, but also the present family. And that’s when they’ll learn (that) family history is actually about the past, present, and future. And that’s one of those violations of expectation that we’d love to see happen. And then a real manifestation is, and this is going to be a little bit harder this year, but the real manifestation is literally when we see these big smiles, with tears coming down, those are tears of joy. And we’ve just got to trust that those tears of joys will be taking place, even though we might not be able to see all the attendees.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Great. Well, Brother Rockwood, I want to explore this idea of connection. I remember last year, I was traveling on a work assignment. And I was in a hotel in Indonesia, of all places, and pulled up my app that said, “Relatives Near Me”, and actually found some second cousins right there in the room. And who would have thought that that could even be possible halfway across the globe? What is it that we want to accomplish when we get people to connect with family?

10:44  

Brother Steve Rockwood: Well, we know without a doubt, it’s inherent. People want to connect and we see that obviously with popular culture, with platforms with the Internet, but what we provide is we want to go one step beyond that. It’s not just connection, and it’s not quantity, its quality. So what we want is to provide meaningful, abiding, quality connections where that spirit of logic can be felt like you did at the hotel there in Indonesia. And this is a wonderful thing we’re gonna be able to do with RootsTech Connect. This is a key differentiator that we know people will discover. We’re not talking about a conference that you “tune in on” or come and listen and watch. This is actually, you do those things, but this is a matter of doing family history and connecting with people, and that experience you had, Sarah, at the hotel, we are now going to facilitate for every attendee that comes to RootsTech and then shares their tree with the rest of us on Family Search. And we’ll be able to replicate your Indonesia hotel experience with everyone else around the world, and so you won’t just see relatives around me. You’ll see literally relatives around the world.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow. And we also have some Latter-day Saints specific events — We have Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, doing a Family Discovery Day presentation. Is there something about that that we can tell our listeners?

12:09 

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: Well, Elder Holland and his family were so gracious this year, they agreed and were very willing to participate in an about 45 minute presentation, when it’s all edited and done, filmed on location in St. George. Now, Elder and Sister Holland both grew up in the St. George area. They met in high school in St. George, they tell their story of meeting for the first time, which I have to say is quite different. Her version is quite different than his version, he claims to have the true version. We’re actually able to travel around with the Holland family for a day as they visited their schools where they grew up, their churches where they first gained their testimonies, their homes where they were raised. And it really was tender and very tender to watch the Holland family gather together and the children to talk about their experiences growing up, Elder and Sister Holland testifying again and again about the power of family the power of connection, Elder Holland, making a special effort to talk about those who don’t have a typical family or who have challenges in their family. And finally, Elder Holland, bearing testimony as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, about the divinity of family and making promises to those who search out their family. It’s just a really entertaining and powerful experience. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it was a wonderful way to get to know the Holland family. And of course, Elder Holland is a beloved figure in the Church. And I think people will find it to be just a really wonderful experience to be able to participate with them over the course of that weekend.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I suspect it will also make people reflective of their own childhood, of their own schools, of their own stories.

13:49  

Brother Steve Rockwood: As we were up behind the camera and watched that, we saw exactly that, Sarah. All of us were just saying, “Look at this wonderful, real family, basically modeling what all of us could do.” We could all do what the Hollands did, we could all get with our family, connect to a homeland, connect to our family, connect to the Spirit. And we just watched the Hollands do it and we all left saying, “I want to do what I just saw.” And I think that’s exactly what everyone’s going to say. And they’ll be able to then go do what the Hollands’ modeled.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And he extended an invitation, in fact, for us to do that, right?

Brother Steve Rockwood: He did, along with incredible, tremendous promised blessings that no matter your current personal or family situation, you will want to hear and receive the blessings offered.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, let’s talk about Our Quest for Connection for youth and young adults. Brother Rockwood, can you tell me what that is? And what the challenges are that are associated with that?

14:47  

Brother Steve Rockwood: Well, I would refer back to, really a landmark address given by Elder Bednar in the October 2011 conference where he not only mentioned that the young people can participate in family history, but they can actually lead out and bless the lives of others because they are digital natives, and because they’ve been saved for this time to help build the kingdom. That, of course, was accentuated and, and now led by President Nelson by calling the young people to the youth battalion of the gathering of Israel. So at RootsTech and at Family Search, we have a very simple role here. And that is to help these young people act in doctrine and truly do go beyond just participating, but to lead out. So the Our Quest for Connection event is geared towards the young people and the young adults. It’s once again learning by doing, it will have a number of activities and challenges that will allow them to feel the spirit of Elijah (a manifestation of the spirit of the Holy Ghost) through technology, and through no technology, and more importantly, help others. We hope that they’ll be able to then help their younger brothers and sisters, help their peers, family and friends in and out of the Church, and help their parents and grandparents. They are the catalysts and there’ll be a great halo effect. And so they’re going to do this all together starting on the first day of the event. And they will have this wonderful wrap up with, as you said, Sister Cordon, Brother Lund, and Elder Bednar.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow. And we also have some other Latter-day Saint keynote speakers.

16:19  

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: We actually are taking this kind of as a page from the physical RootsTech where we had a mainstage, and we’d bring two or three keynote speakers onto the mainstage. Last year, we had Emmitt Smith the football player and Leigh Anne Tuohy, the mother from The Blind Side movie. This year, we have a virtual mainstage, and it’s literally around the world. So we’ll start in the Pacific, and then we’ll follow the sun around the globe. We have 13 keynote speakers in each of these different parts of the world. We’ve got Sister Astrid S. Tuminez, from the Philippines. She’s currently the president of Utah Valley University. We have bless4, which is a singing group from Japan. We’ve got Tita, the acclaimed Brazilian soccer player from Latin America. Bruna Benites, on the Women’s World Cup team from Brazil. Will Hopoate is a professional rugby player in Australia. And all of their keynote addresses are going to be in the time zone where they live. So you literally, in a 24-hour cycle, can follow these keynote addresses around the globe. The second day will repeat the cycle but jumble them up into a different sequence so that those that didn’t get to hear the first time can hear the second time. And that will be this kind of virtual mainstage experience where people can participate and listen to these very well known, some Latter-day Saints, some not Latter-day Saints, but very well known keynote speakers in the parts of the world where they live.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And our listeners can find that schedule and register on rootstech.org, right?

17:59  

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: Yeah, everything happens on rootstech.org. It’s a really simple registration, it’s less than a minute. And it’s free, again, you know, there’s no cost. Anybody can register.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, when I was growing up, family history was something that my grandma did, or my great-aunt did. I think we’re finding now that youth are leading out on this and that all people of all ages are finding great joy in this effort.

18:25

Brother Steve Rockwood: That’s exactly right. And it’s also manifested in another event that’s always done in conjunction with RootsTech, and that’s the annual temple and family history leadership instruction, and Elder Hamilton and Elder Bednar will be hosting that, where this youth leadership comes true, and maybe Elder Hamilton should explain, an incredible, innovative way that he and Elder Bednar will be providing this ,and not just for those involved with temple and family history work, but really for anyone on boards and state councils and youth councils.

18:58  

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: Yeah, so we had this idea that we could create a global leadership conference. And so it starts with a panel discussion with six youth, youth from France, Austria, Guatemala, Brazil, Japan and the Philippines, speaking all of those languages, and then Elder Bednar and myself, and having a really wonderful discussion with these youth about what they’re doing to lead out and temple and family history. All of that translated into 11 languages so that anybody can participate, anybody can understand. And then we divide into a series of virtual visits using Zoom technology, where a General Authority or a General Officer in the Church will visit with families or with ward councils in countries around the Earth in different languages. For example, we have Sister Cordon visiting a family in Brazil speaking Portuguese, we have Elder Mutumbo visiting a family in France speaking French, we have Elder Parrella speaking Portuguese, we’ve got Elder Bragg speaking Spanish with a family or a ward council speaking Spanish. And so these language tracks kind of sort out, there will be 11 different language tracks. And then it all comes back together again with Elder Bednar kind of wrapping up giving some final thoughts and counsel, translated again into 11 languages. So 11 languages, that covers about 90% or 95% of the Church population. So anything that you reasonably speak, we can handle, and we’ll be able to give this wonderful leadership experience in these languages and in these cultures during that leadership session.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, certainly the Church and FamilySearch has invested considerable resources and time and effort into making this event so big and so global and so meaningful. Brother Rockwood, what is the ultimate goal?

20:51

Brother Steve Rockwood: Well, it’s really easy for us just to continue with the whole purpose of FamilySearch and the FamilySearch department. It was in 1894 when Wilford Woodruff created the Genealogical Society of Utah, and that was right when the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated, and the Law of Adoption, which was, you no longer were sealed to a prominent member of the Church, you were sealed to your own family. Well, that was the doctrine, the temple was there, but all of the people needed help to simply connect back to their family and their homelands who they had left in the eastern United States, or in Western Europe, or the United Kingdom. And thus they created us. And when they created us, we were given three charges: First and foremost, help members perform saving ordinances for their ancestors, for their ancestors in the temple. Number two: We don’t have a corner market on this effort. And in the dedicatory prayer of the Salt Lake Temple, President Woodruff asked Heavenly Father to bless those not of our faith, but that they too would be guided in discovering and gathering their families. And so that’s why we are very public-facing and we help members but we also help millions and millions of those not of our faith with our collections, with our libraries, with our Family History centers. And then the third thing, which kind of gets to the answer, is we are to provide education to the world and to help them. There are millions of people that want to discover who they are, where they come from, and where and from whom do they come. And our job is to help them discover that and provide the education. They literally are seeking for the truth but know not where to find it. And they now know that they’ve turned to RootsTech and to Family Search, we can help them find that. And that’s why RootsTech Connect is so important, so now that more people, literally globally, can turn and find the truth about their family.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And this year, defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Church News did a series interviewing all the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency. And in those interviews, there was a common theme that emerged as each of them talked about these unique and special and trying times. But almost across the board, they all said, we’re going to learn something in this time that will help us in future times, we’re going to come out of this a little better than we went into this. And so, Elder Hamilton, I’m interested to know how you think the things that we’ve learned this year in planning RootsTech Connect 2021, the things that you adapted because of the pandemic, how will those impact or influence future RootsTech or Family Search events?

23:32  

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: Sarah, I think it’s given us a much broader vision of our audience and of our mandate. I mean, we actually are tasked to build a family tree of humanity, so that Heavenly Father’s children can receive temple ordinances. But you know, the Latter-day Saints are 16 and a half million or so members in a world of 7.8 billion people. We’re just a small sliver of the world population, I think, I calculate 0.2%, as what we represent. And so I think increasingly, we have to think much broader, much more worldwide, much more of a global vision of who is engaged in this work. And so I think, as we’ve thought about that, and as we thought about RootsTech, we’ve really opened up and pointed ourselves very much at the global audience, those that are Latter-day Saints and those that are not Latter-day Saints, because all people have an interest in family. Family is the common denominator, and we just find that as we become more open and embracing of these wonderful patrons that are not members of our faith, they are thrilled to be part of it, I mean, just thrilled, like they can’t get enough of this. And we’re thrilled to have them and we are thrilled to share our resources and our records and our collections of records and our technology and our familysearch.org website and our Family Tree mobile app and all of that is available for the taking. I think if I look back a year ago and compare it to now, I just have a much, much more expansive view of the world and of who we’re trying to service, and who we’re trying to address. And I think it’s been a blessing really, truly, a blessing.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And Brother Rockwood, I’d love for you to weigh in there, too. Is there something that you’ve learned in the last 10 months that will change the way we do Family Search, or that will impact family history efforts of the Church?

25:27 

Brother Steve Rockwood: I think I agree 100%, and follow Elder Hamilton’s vision and learning there. And to that, I would suggest that we also have a very unique position, and we don’t do this by ourselves. And so we’ve also seen the critical importance of our partners in the industry. And we are there to help them to be wildly successful, whether they’re archives, they’re genealogical societies, they’re commercial providers, like our partners of Ancestry, MyHeritage, FindMyPast and others. All of these resources are part of the Bishop’s Storehouse, if you will. And we just have this unique, nonprofit, non-competitive position to bring them all together, whether it’s RootsTech, or all together for you on a day-to-day basis. And I think we know our role in that regard. And RootsTech is a great manifestation of that. And you’ll see us do even more in inspiring all of the different individuals and organizations to currently participate in the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil, no matter what their background or faith is.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, in a recent Church News podcast, we featured some invitations that President Russell M. Nelson had issued to both the Church and the world in 2020, and one of the invitations that we did not get a chance to talk about in that podcast is one that involves family history. And so I’m excited that we can talk about it today. But in April 2020 general conference, President Nelson said, “While worshipping in the temple is presently not possible, I invite you to increase your participation in family history, including family history, research and indexing.” And then, you know, he followed that up in October 2020 general conference, and he said family history work has increased exponentially. So I’m interested in this increase in family history work, and in this really powerful invitation from our Prophet. Elder Hamilton, can you speak to this first?

27:32  

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: Well, I would say, first, it’s an invitation to the world. It wasn’t just an invitation to members of the Church, and he spoke prophetically to the entire world and invited them to engage in the work of family history, the gathering of Israel on the other side of the veil. And when a Prophet speaks, and exercises faith, things happen. And we’ve seen that happen, clearly, over the past 12 months. I would also say that this is not about family history, per se. This is not about genealogy. This is not about even technology, although we use all of that. This is the Lord. It’s His work. He’s in charge. When people feel something, when they feel impressed or motivated or, or almost driven to do family history work, to find how they connect to their families, that’s not us. That’s not marketing. It’s not salesmanship. It’s the power of the Spirit of the Lord, resting upon the hearts of the people and upon the face of the land. As He moves across the earth and changes hearts one by one, softens people’s perspective, and points them to their families, points them to their ancestors, it’s Elijah’s prophecy that the hearts of the fathers would turn to the children and the hearts of the children would literally turn to the fathers. And we see that happening, and Steve and I have this unbelievable privilege of kind of having a front row seat to all of this, we get to watch it happen. And it’s really, truly an amazing thing to see the hand of the Lord deeply involved in this work.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And Brother Rockwood, you know, we have our Prophet saying family history work has increased exponentially. How have you seen that reflected at Family Search?

29:16  

Brother Steve Rockwood: Well, first, I would say that the word exponential was very, very accurate, that we have not just seen incrementally seen exponential growth. Just as you mentioned, with RootsTech Connect, we were always thrilled and amazed when 30,000 people would come to RootsTech. Now we have 300,000 already registered. That’s exponential growth. We have the same sort of growth that we see every single week and every single day. Now I guarantee you we’re not driven by numbers at all, but we do have to look at this because we have to make sure we accommodate all the people that come, so we’re heads down concentrated on giving you an inspiring experience that will bring you joy, but when we do look at the scoreboard and when we do look at the computer power and that, there has been increased incredible exponential participation as the temples have closed. And as our cameras have closed in the archives due to the pandemic, it’s been amazing to see how our patrons have increased exponentially, their participation in the tree, building trees, adding names, uploading memories. And when President Nelson mentioned Family Search research, and then he used the word indexing, we saw incredible exponential skyrocketing growth in indexing. So despite the fact that the cameras were down, the indexing exploded. And as a result, we are striving to publish 3 million new names for you and your family every single day. And during the pandemic we were able to do that, despite the fact that 80% of the cameras were down. So it really is miraculous. And we have broken, literally, all records in 2020. You look at the top 12 months we’ve ever had in our history, the top days we’ve ever had in our history, all of them are now in the year 2020. It was incredible. And we’re not the only ones seeing that. If you talk to others in the industry, they will tell you they’re seeing the exact same thing. So this spirit of Elijah is universal, and it’s alive and well. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Elder Hamilton, I’m so glad that you mentioned that family history is not just a Latter-day Saint pastime. Why do you think family history and genealogy research has become such an international phenomenon?

31:34  

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: I think the technology has been part of it. It’s not all of it, but it’s part of it. It’s so accessible. Now, we all carry a smartphone, or almost all of us carry a smartphone. And our entire data collection is accessible through that smartphone, all of the records we had in the Granite Mountain Vault have been digitized. They’re all accessible. Everything in our archive is accessible. All the power of the Family Tree is accessible, the temple ordinance functions are all accessible. And all of this makes it just easier and more friendly and funner to do, quite honestly, there’s one of our industry partners calls it “genealogy love out there.” And it’s a fun thing for people, they enjoy it. It’s engaging, it’s almost like a bit of a mystery to solve. And there’s a feeling that comes as you find your ancestors and as you connect with them. And as you see photos and start to see documents that have their names and birthdates in them, it just is this overwhelming sense of, “I belong to a family. I’m not alone, I’m not by myself, I have a family,” it’s “I have ancestors, I may not know who they are. But if I did, I would love them the same way that I love my own mother and father.” And this is just a universal thing. Again, it crosses across every demographic, every religion, every ethnicity, every language. It’s just very universal. I’ve never been to any country in the world yet, that didn’t have some very strong genealogy presence, that is just a very universal thing. And it’s our privilege to be able to help and service that and participate in that growth. As people around the globe feel the drive to connect, they want to connect to their families.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I have a daughter serving a mission right now in Ohio. She just was transferred to Montgomery, Ohio, and we were so excited when we got in to our family history and realized we have relatives from Montgomery County. And instantly it was what we’ve been talking about on this podcast, we had an instant connection to her and to the area where she’s serving and to the people she’s meeting. And I’m assuming that both of you have had some pretty profound family history experiences where you’ve also experienced some personal connection to something from your past or from your country or from your family. Would you each be willing to share one of those experiences with us? Let’s start with Brother Rockwood.

34:06

Brother Steve Rockwood: Well, that’s very kind of you. Yes, we definitely have had those experiences. And I would suggest that what I’m going to share with you is probably the similar stories for all of those that are working at Family Search, and either on a missionary basis or part of their professional career, really have consecrated their time because of these individually unique stories and experiences they’ve had. My father passed away 30 years ago this summer, on Father’s Day. And, you know, I had my own career and had my own company at the time, and we were very, very blessed. But I will tell you time and time again, what’s amazed me as I dive into my own temple and family history efforts, or if I dive into trying to enable others and help others to have the same, There’s just been this sweet confirmation that we are not alone, and that the gathering of Israel truly is happening on both sides of the veil. And as I do my little part with my brothers and my children and my my nephews and nieces, and then those with whom we ministered to, I truly have felt and seen that I’m working hand-in-hand with my father, who’s on the other side of the veil, and with my grandparents and with my family members who left to go on the other side of the veil young in their life. The gathering is not on this side of the veil, or that side of the veil. I think we put much more emphasis on the veil than our Heavenly Father does or that the work requires. And it’s just been so sweet to see just how thin the veil is, and not just in general, but literally, and working hand-in-hand with my family.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Elder Hamilton, would you be willing to also share a personal experience with us?

36:00  

Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: I found that when we learn that we’re related to somebody, when we learn that we’re second cousins, or third cousins, or however we are related, we treat each other differently. It’s the most amazing thing. All of a sudden, we become open and friendly and we become family. I had an experience two years ago. There’s a sister in the Church, she is the wife of a fellow General Authority. And she came up to me at RootsTech, she goes, “Elder Hamilton, you’re my second cousin.” And sure enough, we looked at our relatives at RootsTech app, and we saw we shared the same great-grandfather. Ever since then, we have had this sweet, wonderful friendship. We knew each other before, but now we’re related. And we love each other. We’re family, even though we’re distant family, we’re just connected. And I’ve thought, well, if you really could see things clearly, the way Heavenly Father sees them, you’d understand that all of us are connected, the entire human race is connected, we’re all cousins. And if we really understood that, if we really felt that connection, we treat each other differently, more kindly, more lovingly. And that’s been one of the great eye openers for me is to see how we change our behavior when we learn that we’re connected.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Great. Well, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast, we like to give our guests the last word, we always ask the same question. And it’s “What do you know now?” And I’d like to start with you, Brother Rockwood. What do you know now, after leading the Church’s family search efforts?

37:33  

Brother Steve Rockwood: Well, I love a term that Elder Hamilton reminds us up frequently: that there is a Prophet in the land, along with the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and we have the incredible privilege and responsibility to serve under the direction of the Temple and Family History Executive Council. I just know that in these times of uncertainty, the incredible certainty that we’re provided by having a Prophet and Prophets and Apostles in the land, is something we’ve learned personally, and with my family, and also with this responsibility, and that through them, the gathering is not something that’s happening in the future. It’s happening now. And the gathering is not something that others are doing. It’s not an effort of specialists, like missionaries or genealogists. That I’ve learned we’re all gatherers, and that we have this incredible privilege to receive revelation. That this is a revelatory experience, and the Lord will direct us on all aspects of the work of salvation and exaltation. And I’m just grateful for modern-day Prophets and Apostles that give us that promise, and that lead us and provide us with the resources to personally participate in the gathering. And I’m grateful for the Holy Ghost that guides us. And I’m grateful for a Savior that makes this all possible through Heavenly Father’s plan and a loving Father that directs this work. And so I think that’s what I’ve learned. And I’m just absolutely so humbled. And we mentioned, we pinch ourselves every single day. We can’t believe, as Elder Hamilton said earlier, that we get a front row seat, not to lead this work, but to simply follow and follow the direction of Prophets and Apostles.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And Elder Hamilton, what have you learned as a General Authority Seventy, who has responsibility for the Church’s family history work?

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Elder Kevin S. Hamilton: When I look at this unbelievable work that stretches across the entire world, and it touches so many different people, I am just reminded again and again, God loves His children. He is our Father, and He loves them deeply and personally and in a very tender, and real way. And He loves them enough that He would provide a way that they could be gathered on either side of the veil, for the living or for the dead, and that they could make and receive temple ordinances. To make temple covenants and be brought back into His presence and have all that He has, that is to me just such an unbelievable aspect of the gospel. And I watch this family history work, which is so much more than just genealogy. It’s about gathering families together and making sure that they’re safe and that they’re sealed in the temple and that they can return back to the presence of a loving Father in Heaven. That’s what I’ve learned. And that’s what I know.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor, Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast, and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others.Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.