News Story

Generations Connect Through Personal Histories and Life Stories

“In all of us,” wrote Alex Haley, author of the popular novel Roots (based on his own family history), “there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage — to know who we are and where we have come from.”

That “hunger” is growing throughout the world. People are discovering that to understand better who they are, they must know the stories of family members who went before them. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among those who have a desire to connect in a personal way across generations by researching their family histories, gathering written personal histories, preserving oral histories and recording interviews of the life experiences of elderly family members for the benefit of posterity.

For 15-year-old Hannah MacKay from Calgary, Alberta, an interest in family history was sparked when her grandmother Joan MacKay shared an article about a beloved deceased ancestor. Hannah realized she knew very little of her grandmother’s background. “I couldn’t tell you what school she went to or where she grew up,” said Hannah. “There was so much that I didn’t know about her that I just wanted to know more.”

Mormons believe the family is ordained of God. They also believe the family is the fundamental unit of society and central to God’s eternal plan for His children. This belief impels older members of the Church to share the important, life-changing moments of their lives with children and grandchildren who, upon hearing and preserving these experiences, develop a stronger sense of family and belonging. With the knowledge of their forebearers’ accounts of strength over adversity, children and grandchildren become better equipped to overcome difficult challenges in their own lives.

Hannah is now working on her grandmother’s biography and regularly visits her to conduct family history interviews. Through a series of questions, they have covered hundreds of topics and events. Hannah reports, “Stories like these have really pulled me in, and it’s a really cool experience.”

Mormon youth worldwide are becoming more involved in seeking out personal histories and stories of their family members.

“It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies,” said Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the senior governing bodies of the Church.

Examples of such tools are the Family Tree and Memories features recently launched by FamilySearch. The new Memories feature allows users to easily upload and manage family photos online and to tell their favourite ancestor stories. With photos, faces can be identified and linked to the respective ancestors’ profiles in a user’s family tree, ensuring the information will be accessible for future generations. Photos and stories can also be seamlessly shared via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and email.

Joan and Hannah MacKay agree that doing family history work has brought them closer together. “We have been trying to find names on my mother’s side through FamilySearch,” says Hannah. “My grandmother has been teaching me. FamilySearch is pretty direct and easy to use.”

Joan adds, “We have been very close, but it is so very thrilling that she is so interested in my past. It makes me feel that Hannah … can follow in my footsteps. That is quite a blessing for me.”


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