Saturday, 29 March 2014

Deloraine member teaches family history to U3A

With the growing emphasis on family history work throughout the Church, stake members have looked for creative ways of helping others to get started on their journey of discovery. At the beginning of the year, Deloraine member Suzanne Walters had the idea of promoting family history through the local chapter of the University of the Third Age (U3A). Although students and instructors in the U3A are generally retired professionals, the organisers welcomed Suzanne's offer of a free six-week beginner course on family history.

In the weeks leading up to the first term, the U3A held a number of enrollment days at which the Church was invited to display a large FamilySearch banner and leaflets advertising opening hours of the local Family History Centre (FHC). One such open day coincided with the local council's Australia Day volunteer expo, at which Deloraine FHC volunteers managed a successful FamilySearch stall (read more here).

By the time the course commenced, 8 people had signed up, none of whom were members of the Church. For most, their participation in the course was their first personal contact with the Church and first experience inside a Church building.

Each two hour lesson block was divided into an hour of instruction and an hour of practice time, assisted by local FHC volunteers including the Centre director and his wife, Graham and Sue Brown. Topics included:
  1. Getting started - Why the Church invests so much in family history, and why it's worthwhile for us to get to know our ancestors. 
  2. Recording your family history - Using paper (including the new My Family booklet), computer and on-line facilities including the Family Tree on FamilySearch.org.
  3. Australian research - How to access local births, deaths and marriage records and Australian newspaper archives.
  4. International research - Using international databases, websites and forums to research ancestors in other parts of the world.
  5. Photos and stories - Preserving precious family memories that turn our hearts to our ancestors.
  6. Unlocking records - Volunteer projects that enable us to contribute to the availability of on-line records, such as FamilySearch Indexing and BillionGraves headstone recording.
By the end of the course, each student was signed up on FamilySearch and had begun recording their research and memories on the Family Tree. Some were able to connect with other people who had been contributing research on their family lines to the Family Tree. Many had been in touch with children and grandchildren around the world who had expressed an interest in learning more about their families, and had started to help them to connect to the Family Tree or find their local Family History Centre. Almost all students had made significant discoveries, including finding members of their immediate families they had previously been unaware of!

In describing the experience, Suzanne said, "I've always appreciated the importance of family history as a member of the Church, but to be able to see others who are not members of the Church visibly touched as they made discoveries about their ancestors was a real testament to me of the power of turning our hearts to our fathers."

None of these students may ever join the Church - that was not the objective of the course! - but each one has a deeper connection to their own families and greater understanding of the value that Church members place on enduring family relationships.

A copy of the course in PDF format will be made available here shortly.