“My purpose today is to extend to you an invitation to become agents of change,” said Elder Allan F. Packer. Elder Packer was the opening keynote at the Brigham Young University (BYU) 2013 Conference on Family History and Genealogy. The theme this year is “Strengthening Ties that Bind Families Together Forever.”
Elder Packer is the executive director of the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is a member of the Church’s First Quorum of the Seventy. Previously he worked for companies such as Boeing, Eaton-Kenway, O.C. Tanner, and MyFamily.com.
“It is really a remarkable time. Perhaps more changes are taking place in family history than at any other time in the world,” he said. Packer explained that change is fundamental to life. It is really something we should embrace. He said that there are those who are oblivious to change. There are those who observe it. There are those who participate. And then there are those helping others embrace it.
The change that Packer wants us to effect is the involvement of more people in family history. About 60% of people in the United States have expressed an interest in family history, but only a few percent are actually involved. He challenged us to inspire others to become involved. “I ask you to ponder what you could do and how you would do it.”
Now is the time for change, said Packer, because of the greater availability of tools and resources. Because these are available online, “the new family history center is the home.” There is also great cooperation between companies, organizations, and people.
One reason to get more people involved is the strengthening effect family history has on individuals and families. Packer quoted from a Parade magazine article by Bruce Feiler. “When a team of psychologists measured children's resilience, they found that the kids who knew the most about their family's history were best able to handle stress.”
There are specific things you can do to get more people involved. One thing is to involve young people. “The youth have been amazing as they’ve become involved in family history,” said Packer. (“The youth” is a term used by the Church to reference Church members aged 12 to 18.) Those becoming involved in FamilySearch Indexing are giving up video gaming time to do so. The Church also encourages local congregations to call youth as family history consultants. The youth know computers and are able to help older people use the technology.
To get more people involved, simplify family history and change the sequence of how we introduce people to it. Start by helping people discover themselves. Use stories and pictures.
Packer showed the cover of a booklet that the Church is currently printing and preparing to distribute. It is a simplified approach to the introduction of family history to the youth and has some space for stories
Each of us have stories that are worth recording, Packer said. He related the story of a man in Ghana. He was sitting in the Church’s Ghana Temple when a younger man happened by and by chance struck up a conversation. The two spoke for several minutes when a realization hit the younger man. “You are my father!” he said to the older man. The two had been separated when the younger man was very young. Separately, each had investigated and then joined the Church. Both had travelled some distance to be at the temple that day. And they happened to strike up a conversation.
“Imagine the feelings of a little boy having been separated from his father. Image the feelings of the father,” said Packer. “This story is worth recording.” Each of us have stories that are worth recording, he said.
Love is the great motivator. Stories create feelings and stories about ancestors create feelings about ancestors. Feelings motivate us to do something.
Think about sharing stories with your great, great, great, great, great grandson, said Packer. Think about how knowing his family history—your stories—might strengthen him to deal with the challenges he will face.
“Become agents of change.”