By Rachel J. Trotter
Earlier this year I attended RootsTech, the largest family history conference in the world. The event is sponsored by FamilySearch, a family history organization run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, opened the conference and afterward I was able to interview him in a one-on-one interview about the future and goals of FamilySearch and family history itself. Below is a combination of his moving keynote speech and our interview.
SALT LAKE CITY – It only took five minutes for FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood to get a room of thousands at the Salt Palace talking about their own family history. How did he do it? By evoking memories – memories that each person suddenly felt eager to share after his own moving story of his father, True. Rockwood shared how special Christmases were in his family and how hard his parents worked to make sure they got the greatest gifts, also sharing how his dad shot a bb gun in the living room on Christmas Day! Things became more serious as Rockwood then shared how his father shared his feelings one Christmas and his thoughts of spiritual things. “Little did we know that would be the last Christmas we would have with our dad,” Rockwood said. His father passed away a mere six months later on Father’s Day. He shared that none of his four boys ever got to meet their Grandpa True. “But they know him. They know the pictures and stories of his life,” Rockwood said. This is because in his family they wanted his children to know their grandfather. “Who is the Grandpa True in your life?” Rockwood asked the audience. Things became quiet as Rockwood encouraged each audience member to think of someone – someone they knew or someone they knew in their family history through beloved stories passed down through the generations. He then gave everyone one minute to share a treasured memory about that person. As the crowd grew to a bit of roar with talking, Rockwood stopped them and said, “You just did some family history!”
“Rootstech is a gathering of heart specialists. You are the heart doctors of your families,” he said. He encouraged the group to start thinking of small ways to introduce family history to their families – with stories. “You can start with funny stories to get your family to listen,” he advised. He noted that millennials and teens are the most “prolific journalers of our time. “They just call it social media,” he said as the audience laughed.
As we spoke after his address he added to that. “We can stand on their shoulders and be doers of the work,” he said of millennials and teens.
“There is plenty of room for accredited family historians and novices,” he said. So many people think they need to know so much more about the roots of genealogy than needed to be a part of FamilySearch and and family history itself, he added. Sometimes it just takes small things to get families hooked. He talked about finding a great-grandfather through a search of missionary journals on a new site the LDS church has just launched. “I found that connection and I just wanted to learn more,” he said. He thinks everyone can find a small seed and their desire to learn about their families and their stories will grow. “It becomes much more than finding green temples on a computer screen,” he said. Rockwood’s referral to green temples is regarding a tool on the FamilySearch site where people of the LDS faith check to see if their ancestor’s work has been completed in LDS Temples. For many, finding a green temple means they can take that information and go to a temple and do their work.
He looks forward to moving FamilySearch into a more worldwide organization and welcoming to folks of all faiths. “We want people to tell the stories and find out who they are. They can do that with family history and family stories,” Rockwood said. There are several levels of family history and he wants to reach all those levels. He noted that regardless of religious affiliation, people should prepare themselves spiritually to do family history work. “Family history can get very mechanical very quickly. The first thing you need to do is ask for the spirit,” Rockwood suggested. He hopes that as we learn each others stories and tell our own stories people will teach in the same way Jesus Christ taught, humbly and meekly, but with power.