Recording History

Recording History as it Happens

Where were you on November 22, 1963? What were you doing when you found out about 9/11? What about the day of the Challenger disaster?

In the course of our lives we all have those days when the world stops turning and a moment is forever frozen in time.

Sometimes we make a record of those things. Most of the time we do not think to so or feel it isn’t necessary because we can recall it so vividly even years later.

I’m not sure if March 11th, 2020 is one of those days.

Probably not.

But it is the first time since this whole “coronavirus” thing began that I saw the light kind of flip on for some people.

“Uh-oh. This is really happening.”

~ Is it History? ~

As I write this we really have no idea how much this changes the world.

Panic seems to be a word thrown around too easily. Markets are crashing, businesses don’t know what to do and, doggone it, there is no toilet paper and bottled water to be found anywhere.

I don’t want to speculate. History with this thing seems to be moving in slow motion and where it goes is anyone’s guess.

I just want to suggest something.

If your world comes to a halt, if you find yourself in quarantine with nowhere to go and time on your hands – let’s do some family history, okay?

~ Really, Jeff? ~

Yeah, really.

I see the downtime of the coming weeks and months as an opportunity. It’s a chance to do some good things with time you never saw coming.

It seems in our rush in latter-day life we have turned the term “family history” into something to avoid. You say it and eyes glaze over. At church, knowing my calling is in family history, I seriously run into to two types of people: those who are so into family history they want to talk and those who are so turned off by it that they run the other way.

Even in the family we have folks who won’t touch it.

And I get it. I’m not here to hound you.

But if you’re reading this and you think you’ve got some downtime coming please consider doing a little something when it comes to family history.

Don’t know where to start? Hate the idea of family history?

Let’s talk about that.

~ Things You Don’t Know About Family History ~

Some people think family history is all about trees, digging up genealogy and wading through the endless detail of names and dates.

I’d like to suggest there are lots of other ways you can do some family history:

– Record Your Thoughts Right Now

We’re going through something historic, right? Why not create a record of what you’ve seen and experienced with this thing? As I shared a couple of weeks ago, my great grandmother on my mother’s side tragically died from the last great pandemic. What I wouldn’t give to have more detail from that time. Why not put down on paper what you are going through with this event?

– Dig Through Your Closet

Everyone has hidden treasures tucked away somewhere. What do you have that might be scanned and shared? It might be pictures, maybe it’s Dad’s high school yearbook, perhaps a baby book Mom put together years ago – who cares? This would be a good time to find something significant from someone you love and share it in some way.

-Tell a Story to a Youngster

Every smart phone is a tape recorder. It takes only a second to set it up to record voices talking. How hard would it be, during the long boring hours of quarantine, to tell the kids something they didn’t know from your past? How did your parents meet? What was the one time you really got in trouble when you were a kid? How did you select the names of your children? The topic possibilities are endless – and most stories can and should be told unscripted. That smart phone, by the way, can easily and nearly instantly share that audio recording to FamilySearch or on social media.

-Ask for Help

If you’re truly stuck and want help getting onto and using FamilySearch why not call your local Family History Consultant? Or, even use our own toll free number and call me? I’d be glad to talk about your family history situation and help you get organized and trained on what it is you want to do?

– Copy Your Census Form

All of us get to fill out the 2020 census. April 1st in census day. For those who have delved on to FamilySearch and have tried finding names you know how valuable any census can be. But did you know the census stuff you fill out will not be available for use in research for 70 years? Yup, we just got the 1940 census – but we have to wait 70 years from the date of each census after that. Why not save your children and grandchildren some waiting and just copy your census form before you turn it over? Seriously – just scan it and save it as a digital file or go to FedEx and copy it. It’s a vital record, it’s about family and it’s family history. Simple and easy to do.

The recording of history as it happens would be important to do if we have the presence of mind. Usually, when we take a big trip or have a major event like a wedding or a graduation we at least take a camera with us to record the moment.

But this moment in history with this Coronavirus thing represents a unique opportunity.

Let’s take advantage of it.

Are You Giving All Your Family History Just to Facebook?

Earlier this evening I was on Facebook and noticed that my cousin’s daughter was soon to open her mission call. They had set it up to open the letter at a set time to broadcast it via Periscope, a live video app that is tied to Twitter.

What a world we live in now, eh? Here I sat in my office in rural Northern Utah watching a live event on my phone that was taking place in Colorado.

I was amazed to see that I wasn’t the only person to join in the festivities in this way — there were dozens of people from all over the place who “tuned in” to see this little moment of family history.

Oh yeah….that’s what that was: family history.

We make history every day. And most of us dump much of what we do every day on Facebook.

I can go to my Facebook page every day and see what family in California are doing today. I see the travels of my friends from across the world. I look at their pictures and hear of their experiences.

I could probably tell you more about the weather in Australia than in my own backyard because I have a friend there who posts weather information every day. Dumb as that sounds, I actually have come to enjoy seeing what is happening half a world away down under every day.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m an Internet pioneer. My first web efforts date back to the early 1990s.

But I’m also in my fifties — and I’m just not as tied socially to all things online like my kids.

Yes, I use Facebook but not like they do. I rarely take pictures of my food, I never post selfies and Facebook is about as far as I go. Well, okay, I look in on Twitter maybe once a month.

But my kids are daily users not only of Facebook but also Instagram and SnapChat and Vine and YouTube and all manner of other types of social sites.

In fact, they are like so many of their peers — they spend so much face time with a screen they sometimes don’t know how to handle face time with a person.

What does all this have to do with family history?

Just as the way we interact with each other has changed so too has the way we archive our own history. Not many keep private journals any more. Few have actual hold-in-your-hand pictures. Everything is online and much of it is embedded in social media such as Facebook.

In many ways, it’s wonderful. My mother-in-law interacting on an almost daily basis with my children thrills me. Their sharing one-on-one and instantly with others is great. In this way, even at a distance, more family can get to know each other in real time. We are indeed in a blessed time.

But there is a downside to all this convenience and all this data that is instantly shared: it is rarely, if ever archived and it is never organized.

You can see it now but can you find it later? And will you even try?

The fact that you can instantly update the world from your phone while you are on the go conditions you to only deal with your data in that way. But before long it is gone — long replaced by whatever came next, never to be seen again.

I was teaching at a Family History Fair a few months back and a young person told me that all her video and images were always there and available to her — instantly retrievable. I had her pull out her phone and attempt to bring back a picture from just last summer. She couldn’t do it.

In the moment — social media is great. But getting a record of it all that you can use for family history isn’t exactly easy.

Now, there are tools. You can actually order books of your Facebook feed. There are web services out there, if you want to pay for them, that can help you archive your social media activity. And maybe indeed, 150 years from now, our 22nd century family can look back on it all through the magic of their technology. Will that be how family history is done?

I hope you don’t leave all your family history in the hands of Facebook. I hope you gather your own stuff, organize it and share your story in your own words. It is okay — in fact, probably preferable — that you use all available technology. If history is any indicator technology will advance to present it in another way anyway.

Think about it. 100 years ago all records were kept on paper, most of it handwritten. At some point it was stored for a long time and then retrieved to be photographed and put on microfilm. Now those microfilms have been digitized — and we view what was originally on paper here on a screen. Chances are these very words 150 years from now will be presented differently than we see them now.

So don’t get hung up on the technology. Get hung up instead on your content. It is your story. Do you want it presented to your future family by the likes of Facebook? Or would you rather present it yourself?

Nobody Can Do YOUR Family History

I met a man at Rootstech named Frank Nielsen. He was there selling copies of something his father had given him years before — a map, dating back to his great grandfather in 1899 — mounted on a piece of wood. You can read his story on his website,

Frank didn’t push his maps on me. Instead I asked him about it and heard the story from him. I have not figured it out but it dawned on me that there is a good possibility that we’re related. In just minutes of conversation with him it dawned on me how similar our stories are. He possesses the Spirit of Elijah. Like so many others he cannot tell the story of his family past without tears of gratitude.

That term, Spirit of Elijah, is one the traditional Christian world knows little of. After hearing the comments of Elder Allen F. Packer at Rootstech 2014, I’m convinced that very few Latter-day Saints get it either.

According to Elder Packer, less than 3 percent of Church membership is submitting names for temple work via Family Search.

That is a shocking figure. Consider this: the Church estimates that between 10 and 12 percent of Church members have gathered a year’s supply of food storage.

What that means is that roughly four times as many Church members have stored wheat than worked on their family history.

Why the disconnect? On the one hand you have guys like Frank Nielsen or the man I met in the wheelchair — pushing themselves to get family history work done — while on the others we have otherwise good, decent, faithful and active members of the Church who won’t even touch Family History. That’s amazing to me.

I’m one of the guilty. I have and used all the usual excuses.

There are three points I’d like to really make here:

1. We have a moral imperative as Latter-day Saints to get busy.
2. You don’t have to be LDS or a temple-worthy member to feel the Spirit of Elijah and get involved in this work
3. Nobody has YOUR family history — so it isn’t done

Once I’m off my soapbox about those three points I want to provide the very first steps EVERYONE has to take to get started. So please bear with me to the end of this article.

Our Moral Imperative as Latter-day Saints

This great work of family history was foretold by prophets anciently. In fact, the last verses of the Old Testament so confound the experts of Christianity they cannot make sense of it. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

The Prophet Joseph explained that the proper translation of the word “turn” in this context is actually “bind” or “seal”. Said he:

And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.

That idea of “being perfect” is reminiscent of the Savior’s admonition to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). Here the Prophet teaches that the word “perfect” was translated from the Greek word “teleios”, meaning “brought to its end, finished, completed”.

If that modern prophet direction is not enough, consider what President Wilford Woodruff said in 1894: “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. … This is the will of the Lord to his people.”

It amazes me, and much to my own shame, it humbles me, that we can expend so much energy in trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ through service to our Church callings, through efforts to raise our children in righteousness, through obedience to countless commands and yet we fool ourselves into thinking this work is done or will be done by someone else or at another time. This work was held in reserve for THIS dispensation — just as we were held in reserve. It is ours to do.

This work is for EVERYONE

Some feel they are not worthy of the temple so they don’t have to do this work. Others are not members of the Church at all and see nothing of the vision of this time. Indeed, it has been observed that the two dominant online activities on the Internet are pornography and family history. While one leads to heartache and even destruction, the other leads to paths of knowledge, honor and even greatness.

The pull to work on family history, for many though unexplained, is natural enough. Alex Haley, author of Roots, said: “In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage — to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. In every conceivable manner, family is the link to our past, bridge to our future.”

It is not only my hope but my promise that “turning our hearts” will lead to a change in our lives and focus. The exploration of family memories will lead to the creation of better family memories. Nothing but good comes from it, as generations of genealogists and family history enthusiasts will tell you.

Nobody has YOUR Family History

No two family histories are alike. When I was younger, I focused on the history of my father’s family, which was totally different than the history of my mother’s family. The two combined were my family history and I shared then the same family history as all my siblings.

That changed when I got married and had children. Now my family history includes my wife’s families — and it will change even more as each of my children marry and have children.

With that shifting dynamic comes ever growing responsibility. The work for family on all sides needs to be done. We have a saying in our family that we have used to try to teach our children — NO EMPTY CHAIRS. What that means is that we always come together as a family, no one is left out or left behind. That philosophy extends to our all of our family. And it grows in meaning and significance when it comes to the work of the temple.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson has taught:

Our anxiety to redeem the dead, and the time and resources we put behind that commitment, are, above all, an expression of our witness concerning Jesus Christ. It constitutes as powerful a statement as we can make concerning His divine character and mission. It testifies, first, of Christ’s Resurrection; second, of the infinite reach of His Atonement; third, that He is the sole source of salvation; fourth, that He has established the conditions for salvation; and, fifth, that He will come again.

With all of these imperatives, where do we begin?

Our simple first step is to merely register at Family Search and take a look.

Family Search contains not only links to what family is on record connected to YOU it contains an accounting of what temple work needs to be done. This “one world tree”, which has been in continual development since the coming of Elijah in 1836 and will continue through the Millennium, is the documentation of YOUR stewardship. It won’t show what Grandma did for you or what some other person did or is doing for you. It will show what YOU are doing. If you don’t log in and “thrust in your sickle” no one can or will do it for you.

If you already have an account at your logon should work for Family Search. If not, registration is otherwise easy and free. Click here to learn how.

Family Search is completely free. It is smartly designed. It is intended for you to use over and over and over on a continual daily basis. Think of it as Google in the world of family history. It is essential to all other genealogical efforts you will make online.

You must learn it and become familiar with how it works. To some this will be daunting, especially those unfamiliar with computers or the Internet. But remember, you were held in reserve to come forth at this time for these purposes. You will get it — just push forward with it.

It always begins with yourself. Check the information there about you. Make sure it is accurate. Then do the same for your parents. Go step by step, generation by generation. Where you see work to be done — meaning the temple — that’s your priority.

If more information is needed before temple ordinances can be done, go get it. That might or might not be easy. It will require time. It may require money. It could, in some cases, require miracles.

All those things are possible and happening.

But if the information is had, and you put it into Family Search, then the temple work can be done.

There are many, many benefits of doing Family History. We will talk about those at length in the months and years ahead. But this is WHY we do it all — and it doesn’t get more compelling than as a commandment from the Lord.