SALT LAKE CITY 21 May 2008
Family history research, or genealogy, has traditionally been a hobby pursued mostly by middle-age adults and seniors. Formal college courses and advances in technology are now attracting teenagers and young adults to the pastime.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints places a large emphasis on family history research and maintains FamilySearch.org, one of the largest genealogical Web sites in the world. Members of the Church, who believe they will be reunited in the afterlife with family members, consider it a religious obligation to trace their family history.
Avril Carranza, a sophomore from Mexico City, was exposed to genealogy early in life when her father took her to the Latter-day Saint family history center in their area.
Carranza is now studying family history in the School of History at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. When the major was introduced a few years ago, only a handful of students signed up. Now, she is one of over 100 young adults learning about genealogy at the school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The university has created an online family history resource to make researching a little easier.
“Finding the right dates and actual documents from my ancestors’ time is very fulfilling,” Carranza says. She hopes to take her knowledge and passion for family history back to her home in Mexico after she graduates.
Brandi Hales, another young student, says by doing family history she is better able to understand her family and herself.
“It’s like being a detective for your family,” said Gerald Haslam, BYU family history coordinator. “After finding what you are looking for, you can share it with your living relatives. It really brings people together.”
In addition to creating family bonds, Haslam says, family history builds a sense of security and teaches life lessons about discovering one’s heritage.
Haslam says the program has attracted students from Iceland, Brazil, Denmark and other countries.
BYU is not the only school that offers genealogy courses to people of all ages. According to Web site www.my-history.co.uk, there are over 50 college and university courses available in the United Kingdom alone.
Recent college graduate of BYU Cara Whiting, originally from Connecticut, has taken her interest in family history to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where she helps visitors with online research. Whiting has been fascinated with family research from a young age.
“I was the only child in my family that could place which cousin went with which aunt and uncle,” she said.
Whiting believes family history has become more appealing to young people because of the technology that is now available.
“The way things are becoming more available and easy to access makes it easier to do,” Whiting said. “It doesn’t need to be an all-day commitment like it used to be.”
Paul Nauta, manager of public affairs for FamilySearch, says family history work is a fun diversion from other activities young people are involved with. With new advances in technology, Nauta says it is more appealing than ever for them to get involved in family history.
“Young people are Internet savvy,” Nauta said. “They are early adaptors to new programs online, and they can help those around them.”
Calvin Coy, an 18-year-old from Sydney, Australia, juggles a busy lifestyle and still manages to squeeze in time to learn about his forebears. In his spare time he is able to get on the family computer to check the scores of his favorite sports team, send an e-mail or two and still have time to do some family history research.
Coy’s interest in genealogy, and specifically in Scottish history and the tribal interactions between ancient European cultures, began over five years ago. Reading books and watching movies about the time period inspired Coy to learn more and eventually get interested in family history research.
“It was not until later that I learned of my Scottish heritage,” Coy said. “I thought it was such a coincidence that something I was so interested in really was a part of me.”
Michael Otterson, director of media relations for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, encouraged students at Brigham Young University-Idaho in 2006 to join others who are engaging in family history research.
"Thousands of people have awoken to the realities of how our electronic age can transform our knowledge of our forebears and help us discover what was previously almost impossible to find," he said.