Genealogy is one of the most popular pastimes in America. Millions of people search online databases and take DNA tests in the hopes of finding the names and stories of their ancestors. Some seek to belong to something bigger than themselves, to connect with distant cousins, or to prove a relationship to a famous historical figure. Others are trying to solve family mysteries or find biological relatives.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have an added motivation to research their ancestry – the belief that all people are children of a loving God and belong to an eternal family that can continue after this life. Families are forever – and coming to know your ancestors in this life leads to stronger familial bonds and blessings in the life to come.
This belief is not unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Cultures and religions all over the world have rituals and traditions through which they reverence their dead ancestors. All Souls Day, Memorial Day, and Dia de los Muertos are holiday celebrations that incorporate the remembrance of the deceased.
Whether placing a stone or laying a wreath on a grave, leaving a token at a war memorial, burning incense, lighting a candle, flipping through an old photo album, performing rituals in a church, rites in a temple, or even shedding a few tears while watching the movie “Coco” – many of us have participated in practices meant to honor the dead and can understand the longing to remember our loved ones and to be remembered ourselves. Family history research is a natural extension of the almost universal human need to feel connected and it starts with preserving the records of our ancestors’ lives.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began collecting genealogical records in 1938. Available for free on the website, FamilySearch.org, the collection now contains about 3.5 billion images of U.S. and international records. Efforts to digitize the 2.4 million rolls of existing microfilm are expected to be complete within the next few years. As images are digitized they are indexed through the efforts of 1.15 million volunteers who type names and information from each record into a searchable database that is then published on FamilySearch.org. Additional records are captured and preserved every day using 362 digital cameras operating all over the world.
Teaching people how to access and use these records is an effort that local Latter-day Saints take seriously. Congregations in the Fredericksburg area have sponsored the Fredericksburg Family History Day conference for several years. Hundreds have attended this free community event to learn more about conducting their own family history research.
For 2018, the one-day conference has been replaced with a series of three workshops, all free and open to the public. The first workshop about census research, will be on Saturday, April 21, from 2-4 p.m. at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 1710 Bragg Road in Fredericksburg. Following the one-hour presentation, experienced volunteers will be available to assist attendees with their own research in a hands-on computer lab.
Workshops on African-American research and record preservation will follow in June and August. More information can be found on the Fredericksburg Family History Day Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/fredericksburgfamilyhistoryconference
FamilySearch also operates more than 5,000 local family history centers where patrons can receive one-on-one assistance with their research and access several subscription databases, including Ancestry.com, for free. The Culpeper Family History Center is located inside the chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, behind the hospital, at 420 Willow Lawn Drive. Call 540-825-2506 for more information.
Katie Derby is a professional genealogist living in Culpeper. She is an adjunct faculty member in the Family History/Genealogy program at Brigham Young University-Idaho and works part-time at the Culpeper County Library.