Community, From the News, Religion, Uncategorized

Overwhelmed by the Goodness of Others

Last Friday, President Scott Wheatley, our church’s leader over the area from Vienna to Herndon, Virginia and everything in between, wondered what we could do as a community to help the Hurricane Sandy victims in New York and New Jersey.

President Scott Wheatley with Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

He contacted Kevin Calderwood, a church member from Reston who is now serving as a mission president in the New York South Mission of the church, overseeing 200 LDS missionaries. President Calderwood quickly responded and said the people there needed warm clothing, blankets and coats.

We sent out the word last Saturday that these good people needed our help.

I sent an email out to my neighbors, and other members of our congregations in this Northern Virginia area did the same. We also invited some of our church members in surrounding areas to join us by bringing clothing items and gift cards in $25 increments to help our missionaries buy food because they have depleted their own funds eating out. They can’t get back to their own homes for meals and they are spending all their waking hours hauling furniture out of homes and helping people one house at a time.

Local bishops announced an “Emergency Gifts of the Heart” donation event to be held at one of our buildings the next day. One couple in Frederick, Maryland immediately left the church, rallied their neighbors and joined other church members, packing up vans, trucks and a long trailer they towed to Oakton, Virginia because they felt the urgency of the call to help.

On Monday afternoon, the day before the election, when I showed up at the donation site, Stuart and Trina Neel, who organize a similar non-emergency “Gifts of the Heart” event like this twice a year, were busy putting up signs to direct cars through an efficient drive-thru where donors could drive up, drop off their donations and exit the parking lot. Our church members know this drill extremely well after participating in it for at least the last 10 years. In fact, Kevin Calderwood, the NY South mission president, is the church leader who really built up this event in the area all those years ago.

Hunter Daines drops off another bag of donations

Little did he know then that the giving model he perfected would be the same one that would benefit him and those he serves so many years later when faced with perhaps the most challenging assignment in his life as the leader in an area hit by the “storm of the century.”

Slowly the volunteers came. They picked up yellow “Helping Hands” vests, went to their posts and the work began. Volunteers then started coming in hoards and didn’t stop all night. The cars lined up from the drive-up and drop-off area, out the parking lot and down Hunter Mill Road. And the line never let up all night long.

Vehicles stuffed from floor to ceiling continued to be unloaded by teenagers who used their day off from school to gladly help. They rushed the items into the gymnasium where a woman from Rockville had positioned her wheelchair for the evening to direct the teenagers where to put their bags of donations.

Then, hundreds of volunteers hurriedly grabbed bags, tore them open and began the massive sorting.  When stacks of clothing became too high, they piled them neatly below the tables — infants, boys, girls, young women, young men, men and women. We saw boxes full of brand new towels, brand new coats. Families came together and every child had a job to do. The biggest challenge of the night was tracking down enough boxes for all the donations.

Becky Probst from Reston walked into the church and asked Trina what she could do to help. “Do you have a van?” she asked. “I have a van,” Becky said. “Then go find boxes — as many and as fast as you can.” Becky left and wondered where she could go that hadn’t all ready been cleaned out of boxes by other volunteers. Finally, she pulled her car over to the side of the road and said a prayer. “Help me find boxes,” she pled.  The name of a man she’d worked with on a different project years before popped into her head, and that led her to another man who owned a moving company. She emailed him and he responded promptly asking,”How many do you need and when?” Without hesitation, he offered all the boxes we needed AND trucks, and drivers.

In one night, we filled five 26-foot trucks with not an inch to spare and still had boxes we would send up later with another church’s load later in the week. We collected over $45,000 in $25 gift cards, had 400 or more volunteers receiving, sorting, boxing, loading, about 2,500 boxes, 10,000 diapers and over 100 bags of summer clothing we donated to the MS Foundation locally.

Channel 9 and Channel 7 news reporters joined us along with Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Everyone was astounded at what we were able to do in 48 hours.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151186707268192

I put a collection bin on my porch and every time I returned home from an errand, I found more clothing. The bin overflowed, filled up my porch and the sidewalk leading up to the porch. The charitable goodness of my neighbors overwhelmed me. And, by far, the most frequent comment I heard was, “Thank you for giving me an opportunity to help!”

This is just one of my carloads

We had no idea what our community could do in a weekend but when motivated purely by love and a desire to help others, we learned they could do miracles.

When the five-truck caravan arrived in New York and the back doors were opened, I hope the people there felt the love behind every jacket, pair of pants and warm quilt.

And you know what the second most often asked question was?

“What else can I do?”

I got emails from people wanting to take time off work to drive up and help. One was from a church leader in Mount Vernon that said, “I have people chomping at the bit to get up there and help! Just send me the word when it’s time and they’ll be off.”

For now, it’s hard for the rescue workers to accommodate extra people. They can’t feed and house more bodies with an infrastructure so badly ruined, but soon they will have need for manpower, and I have no doubt those calls for help will be answered swiftly and generously.

One of our church leaders was once asked how we get members of the church to do so much service. He wanted to know how we get young men to postpone college for two years while they serve missions and why older couples leave their grandchildren and aging parents to serve humanitarian missions. How do you get people to do so much?

The simple answer was this: We ask.

I’ve seen the same thing in good people everywhere over the last week.

To everyone who helped with this emergency service event, thank you.

It’s amazing how much good we can do in the world when we just respond to a simple call for help even if it’s as small as a $25 gift card, a coat, or a warm pair of mittens for a cold set of hands.

I’m overwhelmed by the goodness around me.

Community, From the News, Religion

Day to Serve and The Snowball Effect

Last January, I received a new church public affairs assignment.

One of our first decisions was to encourage the members of our church to dedicate a day to serve.

We explored the various needs in our communities.

After reviewing some startling hunger statistics, we decided to focus on the needs of those who are considered “food insecure.”

One in four Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from.

11.8 percent of people  in Virginia, one in six people in Maryland, a surprising 27.4 percent in the nation’s capital, 

and 21 percent of children in West Virginia live in families that cannot afford food

We reached out to the Governors of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia and the Mayor of Washington, D.C. and asked for their support.

They eagerly jumped on board.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoIXrRRRikE&feature=plcp

They issued proclamations declaring September 29 as a regional Day to Serve.

They reached out to their community faith groups and asked them to join us by organizing and/or participating in service projects to benefit the hungry.

Governor O’Malley in Maryland set a high bar by sending out letters to over 30 faith groups who all wanted to help.

We have held weekly meetings with our planning committee, which includes representatives from our church and representatives from the Governors’ and Mayor’s offices.

Each week, there is more to report.

More people are catching the vision.

More people want to help.

In West Virginia, all the football games played this Saturday will include food drives.

In Virginia, there are soccer games, 5K races, grocery store food drives, clean-up activities and more.

In D.C., there are “pack the pantry” projects to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank.

In Maryland, there are activities to clean up the environment and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and feed the hungry.

Enthusiasm is building for what will be a historic, unprecedented regional day to serve.

We set up a website at daytoserve.org and asked every organization sponsoring a service activity to add a pin to a google map.

If you go to the site, you’ll see a packed map, full of activities in this wide swath of the country, all designed to feed the hungry or serve the community.

In fact, we maxed out the number of pins allowed on a google map.

We are now in the process of redesigning it to accommodate all the projects that haven’t made it on the map yet.

Every day the snow ball gets bigger with more activities, more donations, and more people gearing up to serve.

If you’re not sure, how to help, go to the website, click on a pin in your community and show up.

Everybody is welcome and everybody is needed.

From the News, Religion

Does Truth Exist?

Last week we went to the beach in North Carolina.  Annie invited a group of her high school friends to join us.

Every night after dinner we asked each other probing questions and talked about the big concepts of life.

Is there a God?

If so, what is He like?

Does God have a plan for us or are we in complete charge of our lives?

What beliefs and values shape your life?

Where do you want to be in 10 years?

What is faith?

Why do some people have faith and others don’t?

How can someone really live by faith?

Why is it so central to some people and irrelevant to others?

How do you know whether something is true and is there such a thing as truth?

This group of 19-year old college students astound me with their passion for answers to these questions.

They are achievement-oriented and live their lives “on purpose.”

They believe that being their best matters.

They believe in being good people and they know right from wrong.  Even though there are many questions on their minds, they are clear about their own ethics and morals. They are true to what they believe even though they are still sorting out what it is they really believe.

They all come from different religion backgrounds and some grew up without any religious influence in their lives at all.

Yet, they yearn to define themselves.  They want to stand for something.

thank you Griffin Harrington for the photo!

Part of me wanted to tell them all the answers to these life questions because after living so many years, I’ve figured a lot of things out.

But part of me relished the conversation, the struggle, the growth that comes from figuring out life on your own.

I enjoyed listening to what they wonder about, what scares and worries them.

Annie Turner photo

I learned their fears and questions aren’t much different from my own, and that while I have a strong set of beliefs and values, I have much to learn from them.

I wanted to tell them what it’s like to grow up and finally have all the answers.

I discovered two problems with that.

First, we only learn by experience and by figuring things out ourselves.

Second, and most important, I still don’t have all the answers.

Even after all these years of forming my own beliefs and relying on a certain set of religious guideposts, I still have a lot to learn.

And I love learning it from optimistic, bright, questioning 19-year olds whose minds are on fire with curiosity.

There is power in their intellectual form of gymnastics as they ask hard questions, and seek inspired answers.

Our conversations reminded me of Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s words:  “The time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of who we are and what we stand for…This is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, breadth and importance of our own mission…It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences…It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain…It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all our relationships…It is a time to nurture yourself spiritually, intellectually and to have no fears, no doubts about your future.”

This stellar group of friends are living up to these words, giving me no doubts about my future because I feel assured that as I age and they take my place as the responsible adults in life, I am in capable hands.

Community, Religion

A visit with the Lutherans

In my assignment as a public affairs director for my church, I was asked to attend a Holy Cross Lutheran meeting Sunday morning. One of our local congregations was holding a three-week Bible study course on Mormons and what we believe.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church http://www.holycrosslutheranchurch.net/

Prompted by the presidential election and the possibility of having a Mormon as the Republican nominee, many members of the congregation were asking the pastor questions — could they support a Mormon? Are Mormons Christian?  What would it mean to have a Mormon as president of the United States?

To help educate his members, the pastor planned a series of three classes.  For the first two classes, he showed videos about the Mormon church.  I don’t know what the first week’s video included but I know it prompted a woman to ask her Mormon colleague several questions about what we believe.  He happily answered her questions and clarified many of our beliefs.

Then she asked her pastor if she could invite her colleague to their second meeting.  The pastor agreed and the woman took her colleague to church with her last week.  The pastor showed another video that was produced by a group of ex-Mormons.

You can guess how that video was slanted…

The pastor invited the woman’s colleague to come back to their last meeting, and I and one of my assistants were asked to join him.  We welcomed the opportunity to explain who we are and what we believe. When we arrived, the pastor warmly greeted us and then introduced us to his congregation.  Then he went on to teach about some of the differences between Mormons and Lutherans.  Among them: they believe we are saved by grace alone, and we believe that while Christ’s atonement ultimately saves us all, we are still required to spend our lives doing good works.

He pulled up a page from http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/ about what we believe then he said it was hard to find objective, fair information about the Mormons because on the internet he could only find anti-Mormon or the actual Mormon Church’s official websites.

Mormon.org

I believe that the official Church websites are legitimate, credible sources of information, but the pastor’s point was that the Church’s sites are more conversion-oriented than informational so he wasn’t sure he wanted to share that with his members.

I respect that viewpoint although the Church has really worked hard to make more information available for the curious as well as those interested in becoming members.

Just a couple of days before attending this meeting, I read a comment from Krister Stendahl, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69DkoG-m8Agemeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, who said he believed in three rules for religious understanding:

Krister Stendahl photo from elijah-interfaith.org

1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies;

2. Don’t compare your best to their worst;

3. Leave room for “holy envy” by finding elements in other faiths to emulate.

He said these principles foster relationships between religions that build trust and lay the groundwork for charitable efforts.

I believe in these three rules.

http://amy-gordon.blogspot.com/2009/03/holy-envy-part-1_15.html

I’ve never understood why people seek out ex-Mormons to learn about the Mormons.   That’s like asking Mitt Romney to tell us all about President Obama.  His view will obviously be a little skewed.

I love the third rule: leave room for “holy envy.” If we could follow that one simple rule, imagine how interfaith relationships could be improved — softened and strengthened at the same time, and how that would benefit a community. If we could learn to take the best from each other and build up from there, we could really accomplish something powerful and positive for everyone involved.

 

As the pastor described different points of doctrine, he graciously allowed us to make corrections as he went along.  For example, one member believed that Mormons worship Joseph Smith instead of Christ. We quickly said that we follow Jesus Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet and leader of our church whom we hold in high esteem but we worship Christ. A woman behind me said, “Well, then is what we learned wrong?” In unison, all three Mormons in the room, said, “Yes!”

I appreciated the pastor’s willingness to let us speak up, correct and clarify.

After the meeting concluded, many people thanked us for joining them and some wanted more information.

Many of them were shocked to find out that my assistant public affairs director works for President Obama.  They thought all Mormons had to support Mitt Romney. We had an opportunity to dispel that notion.

We have a long way to go in this effort of telling the world who we are and what we believe, but today was another small step forward.

And while all religions may have some doctrinal differences, most of us are seeking to live good lives, help our fellowmen, and strengthen our own relationships with God.

As for “holy envy,” I think that’s a beautiful concept and one that we should more readily embrace. We are all truth seekers who want to understand the world, our purpose and our destiny. When we share the bits of truth and goodness we all have  in our religions we build each other up.

I never imagined myself spending a Sunday morning in a Bible study class with the Lutherans talking about my religion, but I think when we respectfully share our faiths, we increase our knowledge and understanding of each other. We promote tolerance and religious freedom.

As Gordon B. Hinckley once said, there really is no room for bigotry, self-righteousness and arrogance.  We need friendly dialogue that leads to tolerance, brotherhood, friendship, appreciation of others, respect, kindness and love.  We should have quiet, friendly dialogue not vociferous argument and debate.

He said, the world knows “we carry on a vast missionary program in the Church. But it is not argumentative. We do not debate. We, in effect, simply say to others, ‘Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.'”

That is a form of “holy envy.”

We all share the good that we have and we all benefit.

In a world fraught with more and more intolerance and disrespect, we could all be better with a little “holy envy.”

Friends, Religion

Hometown Friends

I’m sitting in a log cabin in Park City, Utah watching a bird hop from branch to branch on the snow-covered pine tree outside my window. For the first time since I arrived 16 hours ago, the house is quiet.

My group of eleven high school friends finally stopped laughing and visiting and fell asleep at 4 a.m.

I’m the first one awake because my body clock runs on Eastern Standard Time.

Most of us became friends in middle school or earlier, drawn together by our love of laughter and having fun.

After high school our lives went in many different directions.

We fanned out to different colleges, jobs, states, and countries.

We developed new friendships, met husbands, had families, and pursued careers.

But we never forgot about each other.

Years passed when we didn’t see each other.

Then, reunions came along or we planned weekends together.

And each time we got together, the years and the differences melted away.

So here we are in Park City, luxuriating on a snowy night in the warm glow of a fire and surrounded by lifelong friends.

No topic is off-limits.

All conversations stay private.

No one judges anybody else.

All advice is rooted in solid love and planted in the richest, most soul nourishing soil.

As I think about the trajectory of our lives, we have one thing in common.

Each of us has experienced at least one life altering moment that shattered our innocence and reshaped our lives.

Kay and me

Whether it’s the end of a marriage, the death of a spouse, a diagnosis of cancer or the heartbreak of an anorexic child, not one of us has escaped life’s tests.

Marvelously and even miraculously, we’ve all survived, and even become better women because of those tests.

Throughout the evening I wanted to hit the pause button and take a deep breath to absorb the warmth, beauty and tender love that enveloped us. I wanted to bottle it up and take it home with me.

Only part of the group.A few people had to leave early...darn it!

While sitting around the kitchen table eating junk food just like we did in high school, we couldn’t stop laughing at a private joke we’ve enjoyed and embellished for decades.

Then a friend shared a few tasteful but still intimate details about her love life and I said, “Do any of you ever talk or laugh like this with any other friends?”

In unison, everyone said, “NO!”

Partly because our jokes don’t translate well to people who weren’t part of our juvenile world and partly because so much of it is so personal.

It’s like we time travel and become raucous teenagers again and then seamlessly transition back to adults who share a rare kind of trust with each other.

We only see each other every couple years for 24-hour stretches but when we get together wherever we are feels like sacred space.

We feel safe, loved, appreciated, and free to be ourselves in all our immature glory.

Actually, you can’t be anything but your genuine self with people who have known you your entire life.

I love the continuity these friends give to my life. Being with them gives me a “high mountain” perspective that lets me see myself from my starting place to now.

And the real beauty of these friendships that span my lifetime is that they communicate to me in more than words that I am loved, really truly loved and valued for nothing more than who I am.

It doesn’t matter to them what I have achieved or what weaknesses still plague me. They see the core of who I am and who I’ve always been. They don’t expect anything of me or judge me for falling short of my goals. They simply see and appreciate the down-to-earth small-town girl I’ve always been.

So as I look out my window at the snow that blanketed the ground through the night, I enjoy a few minutes of solitude and savor the memory of how I snuggled down into my flannel sheets and warm quilt the night before and fell asleep listening to the giggles of my hometown friends and relished one of the sweetest lullabies I’ve ever heard.

Religion

The Mormon Moment

The most commonly asked question in Washington, D.C. is, “Where are you from?”

photo from city-data.com

When I say I’m from Utah, the natural follow-up question is, “Are you Mormon?”

When I say yes, I feel a yellow sticky note coming directly toward my forehead – bam, you’re one of those!

I’m never sure what’s written on that sticky note but based on the questions I’ve been asked and the news articles I’ve read, I can make some pretty good guesses.

A saleslady recently asked me about one of my purchases, wondering if it was for a special occasion.  I told her it was for my upcoming trip to Utah.

Utah photo from life123.com

Then the question, “Are you Mormon?”

“Yes, I’m Mormon,” I said.

“Oh, I love Mormons,” she said.  “My best friend in the world is a Mormon.  We used to live in Arizona and met so many Mormons.  They’re such happy, positive people.

Then the saleslady next to her said, “Mormons are polygamists right?”

No.

That would be a big, fat no.

“But aren’t all those polygamists on TV Mormon?” she asked.

“No, they absolutely are not Mormon,” I said

So if you watch “Big Love” or “Sister Wives” or associate any polygamist groups with my church, stop it. Right now.

Polygamy is illegal.

And, we are law-abiding people.

I get this misunderstanding because the church allowed polygamy in the early days of the church and the media love to dredge it up.

In Newsweek’s article on “The Mormon Moment,” they ran pictures of polygamists with their story leading readers to believe they are associated with the LDS church.

They are not.

Polygamy is not approved or practiced by members of the church today and hasn’t been for over 100 years.

There are groups that claim to be associated with the church or at least claim to have the same origins, and some of them practice polygamy.  We do not recognize, protect, or affiliate with any of them in any way.

I like what Gary Lawrence, a pollster in California, wrote in his book, “How Americans View Mormonism.”  He said, “We do not hold Roman Catholics responsible for those who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, and we are not responsible for those who broke away from ours.”

There is talk about polygamy being okay in Mormon heaven.

First, it’s important to note we don’t go to a different heaven.  God doesn’t stand at the pearly gates and sort us out by religious affiliations.

Johan Henry photo called "The Pearly Gates"

Second, if I get to heaven and find out I have to be a second or third wife to Doug or anybody else I’ll blog about it straight from my MacBook Pro. (It wouldn’t be heaven if I didn’t have one.)

I’ll bob and weave my way up through the line of people waiting to talk to God, and the first question I’ll ask will be about polygamy.

Believe me, I will ask about polygamy.

In one of my writing classes I shared chapters of a memoir I’ve been writing about growing up in a mostly Mormon town in an unconventional Mormon family.

There was drinking in my family, you know, as in forbidden alcohol.

Shocking, I know, but true.

One of the rules was that while the class discussed our writing, we had to remain silent, just taking notes on the feedback from other students.

“These things don’t happen in Utah,” one woman said.  “Maybe her family didn’t know the rule against drinking,” another one said.  “How could they not know?  Everyone in Utah knows that you can’t drink!”

Finally, someone broke the rules and said, “Let’s ask the only Mormon in the room.”

“I thought if you lived in Utah you couldn’t drink, so how could your family drink?” someone asked.

There are more than two-and-a-half million people in Utah.  Just over half of them are Mormons.  And of that group, not all of them are walk-the-line, churchgoing, and church-loving members.  And like all people, Mormons have choices.   Not all of those choices line up with church doctrine.

“I have a question,” one classmate said.  “Why do Mormons carry dirty Bibles? I mean can’t they afford new ones?”

Now there’s one I haven’t been asked before.  “What do you mean dirty Bibles?” I asked.

“Well, it’s like they’re all worn out.  They have writing in them and sometimes the pages are falling out, and they are never crisp and clean like most Bibles.”

Dirty Bibles?

“I guess that’s because we use them,” I said. “We read and study them.  When we learn something new or want to cross reference one scripture with another, we write notes in the margins.  We don’t leave them on our coffee tables like family heirlooms.  I guess that’s why they look dirty.”

Over the years, I’ve read countless articles analyzing everything from the church’s wealth to the existence of a Mormon Mafia. I’ve been questioned about polygamy, and repeatedly asked about my Sabbath Day observance. But I never imagined I would watch a fresh-faced LDS missionary sing about my religion on the Tony Awards while everyone in the audience laughed.

Are we that funny or that peculiar?  My life seems pretty close to the kind of lives my non-Mormon friends live.  There are exceptions, of course, like my three-hours of church meetings on Sunday, my dog-eared scriptures, my teetotaler ways, the 10 percent of our income we give to the church to help build new churches and temples, and to help provide humanitarian relief to about 170 countries around the world.

But overall, I feel pretty normal.

The Mormon faith can’t be that weird if people keep joining the church, right?  In 181 years since the church began, our numbers have never decreased. We started out with six members, and today there are about 14 million.

Maybe all 14 million of us are brainwashed but I’m a reasonably intelligent woman and I honestly don’t think that’s the case.

And, I can’t deny that being a Mormon makes me a better person.

I’m sure every religion seems weird to somebody.

Am I going too far to say that it seems a little weird to smear ashes on your forehead and leave them there all day?

Yes, on the surface that seems a little weird, but I respect my Catholic friends that do it because it’s meaningful to them.

Every religion has something that appears different or weird.  I’m sure people thought Noah was pretty weird when he went around warning people about a flood that would cover the entire earth.

In Lawrence’s book he asked, “Why don’t people know beans about us? Because we members have not told them in words they understand.”

He recommends we cut the jargon when sharing what we believe.

Whether it’s semantics or substance, we obviously need to do a better job of showing who we are and what we believe.

So maybe we will always have to deal with the yellow sticky notes that get stuck on our foreheads, and just stay amused by the flurry of media that can never stop trying to figure us out.

But in the meantime, maybe we need to come up with a new Mormon vocabulary to help us clearly explain ourselves to a curious world. Or maybe there’s another Broadway musical that needs to be written.

Community, Family, Religion

Genealogy Goes Prime Time

(This was an article I had published in the Deseret News http://desne.ws/qr5awt)

Genealogy has gone prime time.

That was the message at the Conference on Family History and Genealogy held at Brigham Young University last week.

Television programs like NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” BYU-TV’s “The Generation Project,” and “Faces of America” on PBS have piqued the interest of viewers around the world and motivated more people to research their family histories and heritage.

D. Joshua Taylor, a nationally recognized genealogical author, lecturer, and researcher spoke at the conference and talked about the future of genealogy, saying, “it will not longer be viewed as an ‘old’ activity for the retired.  It will be undefined by age, gender and nationality.  We’re in primetime now.”

Taylor looked at his first microfilm when he was 10 years old, and became instantly hooked on genealogy.  He is the director of education and programs at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and has assisted with research for the NBC Series “Who Do You Think You Are,” including helping Sarah Jessica Parker with her genealogy.

At the conference, he traced genealogy through the generations, and discussed how it has changed and evolved over the years.

“We started out with people writing letters, going to courthouses, and lineage organizations for genealogical research, then we moved to microfilm, which brought thousands, millions of records to people.  After Alex Haley’s “Roots” book and television series, people became more interested in tracing their families.  It became more visible and the word ‘genealogist’ became known.  Then we moved to digital records like on familysearch.org and ancestry.com,” Taylor said.

Sarah Jessica Parker on an episode of NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are."

Photo taken by Lisa Poole, NBC
Sarah Jessica Parker on an episode of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are.”

The attributes of the next generation of genealogy may sound “absolutely bananas,” but they will happen, he said.  He predicted some of the following changes:

  1. We won’t have to type in genealogical data from census and other records, we will just drag and drop everything, and the computer will fill in all the details.  “It’s happening now with medical records,” he said, “why not with genealogy?”
  2. Everything will be interactive.  For example, you’ll click on a church, and then click on a pew with a name of a family.  Then all the information about that family will pop up.  With the push of a button, you’ll see all their data.
  3. There will be more online websites for digital scrapbooks and family histories. There will be blogs with live recordings, videos, and links to other pertinent information.
  4. We will see the end of paper.  No more carting boxes of family documents from one relative to the next.  Everything will be digital. It’s all about “the cloud,” and storing data in Apple’s new icloud that should be coming out soon or “dropbox.com” where you can access your data from any computer and you won’t have to worry about external drives, back-up CDs, and thumb drives.
  5. Genealogy will be more about people than facts.  He encouraged genealogists to think beyond the pedigree chart and get into the stories about people.
  6. Communities will share data.  Genealogists, historians, librarians, archivists, and medical professionals will share information.  “We all need the same stuff,” he said, “so we might as well share it with each other.”
  7. Mobile devices are the future.  They will replace computers because they are more portable and can perform more functions.
  8. There will be more instant communications, not just with family members working together on genealogy, but with librarians, county clerks, associations, etc. In fact, he said, the new plus.google.com could be the end of Facebook because of its increased functionality, group video chats and “circles” of friends that can be organized by families, research groups, etc.
  9. Genealogy will not have to be a full-time pursuit.  The younger generations will be able to devote just 15-minutes at a time and make progress because of new technology and collaborative methods.
  10.  There will be a new generation of genealogists that will take new tactics.  Taylor described a Boston University group of students assembled to work on their family histories and said there were 20 countries represented within just three generations of a family.  Fifty percent of their parents or grandparents were born outside the United States.  The average birth year of this new group of genealogists was 1989.  About 85 percent of them immigrated after the year 1900, with the most recent immigrants coming to America in 2000.  With this new generation, new approaches need to be taken like oral interviews, and tracing people who are still alive to find out why they came to America and what political movements affected them.

The Conference on Family History and Genealogy is held at BYU and is sponsored by the BYU History Department, BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy, FamilySearch, Family History Library, and BYU Division of Continuing Education.