Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What's a Ward Family History Night?

Followers may know that I serve as a Temple and Family History Consultant in my local LDS ward (similar to a parish). At the request of our bishop, Mr. Myrt and I hold a monthly Family History Night. A Facebook friend asked me to describe how our meetings are set up, and this is my response:

The goal is to provide time for each attendee to share a family history challenge or breakthrough. We brainstorm suggestions for what to do next. When the group is entirely newbies, I may provide more input. This is different from a lecture or a spiritual discussion about why Mormons do genealogy research.

Our monthly ward Family History Night is held at our home from 6:30-9pm on a drop-in basis. In this manner it doesn't appear to be an overwhelming commitment. We let curiosity about ancestors do the pushing to continue. 

As many as 12 have attended, but it is usually only 4-5. Participants usually become intrigued and stay until I affectionately boot them out. Even if it's 1 or 2, those who show up are ready to learn.My preparation includes selecting a few mini-lessons that I choose to share based on attendees' brief comments during the welcome-introductions period where we each state our intention for the evening. A good friend brings her fabulous homemade cookies. My laptop is hooked up to our big screen TV so I can demo anything.

If folks bring a laptop, I may have them hook up to the big screen one by one. The group provides advice for figuring out something, like how to merge duplicate individuals in their genealogy program of choice.

  • Opening prayer
  • Individual introductions (perhaps 2-3 sentences on current family history goal)
  • Mini-lesson (solving at least one challenge noted during introductions)
  • 8-10 minutes on each attendee's scenario (all benefit by hearing advice to other researchers.)
  • Closing prayer
  • Refreshments 
Although I clearly lead the meetings, it's highly effective to encourage the group to discuss solutions rather than have me lecture. Active participation encourages creativity. My greatest joy has been to observe a participant inspiring another with a practical idea to bust through a genealogical brick wall.

Each first-timer receives:
  • Green file folder (to begin gathering notes and documents)
  • Top-loading sheet protector (to encourage preservation) 
  • "Which is more reliable?" (a collage with two derivative and one original document)
  • Clearing names for temple work
  • LDS access to 5 websites (how to sign up)
  • The Genealogical Proof Standard (briefly described at:
  • Larger "which door" handout (showing family history is also scanning old photos, interviewing elders, ancestor spotlights at Family Home Evening, etc.)
Personally, I'm prepared to deliver the context-sensitive mini-lesson and then fly by the seat of my pants, based on newly articulated research challenges. Since we meet in our home, I can pull any reference book off our library shelves, open any website, demo most any program to provide thoughtful suggestions for each attendee.

Ol' Myrt here recognizes it's not about me, it's about the ancestors. We just provide a space where we can hear and feel what to do next when climbing family trees. As we gather for Family History Night, we celebrate our varied ethnic and cultural background. No single lesson manual could cover the different locality research challenges our participants face. In six months, ta participant may jump the pond to discover the ancestral homeland has an entirely different set of laws and record groups to navigate.
Take into account that Family History Night participants come from all walks of life, with varied talents and abilities. They learn in different ways.

Here, the leader's goal must be to encourage progress for each participant from his unique "point A" to his "point B".

These take-home cards printed on 1/3 card stock are fancied up with our "which doors" 2017 theme graphic, and space for the consultant to write the next goal to accomplish.

Relaxing, clearing my mind, and remembering to look at things from a member's point of view is facilitated by personal prayer.

We've begun scheduling one-on-one consultations using Skype and Google Hangouts.

Being adaptable is the name of the game.

Check the DearMYRTLE Hangouts Calendar for upcoming study groups and hangouts. There you'll find links to the GeneaConference (in-person) and the GeneaWebinars Calendar with over over 200 hours of online genealogy classes, webinars, live streams and tweetchats from other hosts and presenters over the next 12 months.

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