“Doing ‘Homework’ for the Lord,” Ensign, Mar. 1991, 54
Don Tidwell lived an active life in the military before coming down with chronic lung disease. Now he has time on his hands.
“I was willing to help with the Family Record Extraction Program for a couple of reasons,” says Don, who has not been active in the Church. “I thought it would be something constructive to do with my time, which I seem to have quite a bit of, and I thought it would be interesting.” Now Don is one of the most dedicated workers in the Bountiful Eighteenth Ward’s program.
Created in 1987, the Family Record Extraction Program combines the work of thousands of volunteers like Don Tidwell with modern computer technology. The Bountiful Eighteenth Ward, Bountiful Utah Heights Stake, is only one ward among thousands in more than eight hundred stakes Churchwide that are participating in this program.
The program is designed to have workers extract a copy of all the temple work done prior to 1970 from the temple records. Workers then type this information into a computer system. Eventually, this information will be merged into a larger system that will be available for everyone, not just members of the Church, to use as a tool in researching their family histories.
Each ward has the option of having two extractors extract the same information to assure accuracy or to use one extractor and one checker. The Bountiful Eighteenth Ward has chosen the second option. For them, the process begins when the ward program coordinator gives the extractor a packet containing photocopied pages of original temple records containing about two hundred entries, blank data-entry cards, and a black pen. The extractor agrees to do about two hours of work each week.
Next, the volunteer carefully extracts the vital information from the original record onto the data-entry cards, one entry per card. The work can be done at home.
When all the information in the packet has been extracted, the ward coordinator takes the packet to a checker, who reviews the extractions for accuracy. After the checker corrects any errors on the cards, the ward program coordinator takes the checked cards back to the extractor and reviews the corrections. At this point, the data entry cards are given to the stake coordinator, who supervises the stake volunteers who type the information into the computer system.
In some stakes, extractors who own IBM-compatible personal computers may enter the information directly onto the computer system. They then make a disk, which is sent to the stake volunteers for checking.
A closer look at how the Bountiful Eighteenth Ward has implemented the program reveals that a combination of enthusiastic leadership and the right people for the job have contributed to the program’s success.
Bishop Kelly Neil Farmer; Norm and Donna Bowen, ward coordinators of the Family Record Extraction Program; and Reed Christiansen, assistant coordinator, are the heart of the ward’s extraction effort. Their optimism, encouragement, and good humor permeate the program.
“Our bishop caught the vision of the program immediately,” says Brother Christiansen. “He took the initiative and quickly implemented it in our ward. His enthusiasm and love for people have given it extra momentum.”
“I saw this program as a great opportunity,” says Bishop Farmer. “Not only could active members of the ward make a contribution to an important work, but so could members who were homebound with health problems, less-active members, and even members of other faiths.
“It is like frosting on the cake for me to be able to go out and visit these people in their homes,” continues Bishop Farmer. “I come right out and say, ‘We’re here to call you to a Church calling in the ward.’ To someone who belongs to another church, that almost knocks him off his chair, but then we laugh and joke a little bit. Then I explain the program. Once they see that the program is part of a larger program to benefit those searching for their ancestors, they are happy to help. It’s a delightful experience.”
The twenty-five extractors currently in the Bountiful Eighteenth Ward program come from a wide variety of situations: some are young and healthy, while others are homebound because of health problems; some are active ward members, and others are not members of the Church; some are single men and women who enjoy the challenge, and others are retired married couples who enjoy the slower pace. Whatever the personal situation of the extractor, the Family Record Extraction Program seems to fulfill a need in their lives.
Nelda Wylie is severely restricted by arthritis. When Bishop Farmer asked her to participate in the program, she said she didn’t know if she could because her hands were so crippled. However, her love for family history motivated her to try.
“I haven’t written anything in years,” says Nelda, “not even a check. The thing that amazed me was that I did the first packet about as fast as anybody else.”
Nelda loved the work, and because of her past experience researching her own family history, she learned the program procedures quickly. After completing that first packet, Norm Bowen asked Nelda to check the work of others so that she wouldn’t have to do so much writing.
“I think this program is marvelous for people like me who can’t do other things but want to help,” continues Nelda. “I wish I could do this twenty-four hours a day.”
Bernell and Eva Wrigley have served in leadership positions in the Church all of their lives. Now retired, the Wrigleys enjoy caring for their large garden and flowers, part of which is an outstanding neighborhood attraction.
“It makes you feel good to know there is something you can do when you have some health problems,” says Eva, “especially when you can’t do what you’ve always done. But anytime you serve, you feel closer to your Father in Heaven.”
The Wrigleys also enjoy visiting with their children and grandchildren. “In our case, we go to California for the winter to visit our daughter and her family,” says Bernell. “We take our packets with us and work on them when we have time. We enjoy it because we feel that we are fulfilling a Church calling even though we are away from home.”
The Wrigleys have also noticed that they are more interested now in making sure their own family records are accurate.
Larry Stewart is a young single adult who enjoys art and writing and is good at detail work. After some thought, Larry decided to give the program a try.
“I think the most interesting part of this work is learning about new places,” says Larry. “I like to look up the locations in an atlas and in the encyclopedia. I’ve learned a lot about many places in England, the Netherlands, and the United States, including some extremely small towns.”
Larry grew up in the Bountiful Eighteenth Ward, and his father, Charles Stewart, was a good friend of Norm Bowen. “Larry was young when his father died,” says Norm. “I was close to Charlie, and I wanted to be able to help his son. There are rewards with this work, and I think of Charlie every time I work with Larry.”
Although Larry has moved from the Bountiful Eighteenth Ward, this program keeps him in touch with the ward and with those who love him.
Norm and Donna Bowen have done everything they can to make extraction work easier for the volunteers. For example, they enlarged the copies of the records so that they are easier to read. Bishop Farmer also approved the purchase of a magnifying ruler for each extractor to use with the enlarged copies. Not only does this make it easier on the extractor’s eyes, but it helps reduce errors caused by misreading small type.
The Bowens also provide a training session for new extractors. They explain the basic program and give the extractors booklets prepared by the Church that discuss the program in detail. Class members have the opportunity to practice making data entry cards during the training session. The Bowens also show a video made especially for use in Family Record Extraction Program training sessions.
“President Ezra Taft Benson’s message in the video really impressed me,” remembers Nelda Wylie. “I knew how important this program was after I heard the prophet explain it.”
Another thing the Bowens do to make the program easier for the extractors is to pick up and deliver the packets to the volunteers’ homes.
“It’s a little more work,” says Brother Bowen, “but I enjoy visiting with our workers. I tell them to give me a call when they are finished with a packet, and then I go over and pick it up. While I’m there, I ask them if they want to do another. If they do, I give a new packet to them. If they need to wait a while before taking another packet, that’s okay, too. I give them a call every month to see how they are doing. It’s the personal contact that is most important.”
The Family Record Extraction Program has many advantages and rewards, such as working in your own home at your own pace. Beyond that, however, the rewards become more personal.
For Joseph W. Tingey, an extractor and stake missionary, the work has brought spiritual rewards. “Some may think this is ‘busy work,’ but as you do the work, it becomes tremendously exciting,” he says. “I found myself getting very involved with the names on the sheets. I must say that I have had several experiences I would certainly consider spiritual experiences. They are too sacred to relate, but I believe some of the individuals whose names we are extracting are aware of what we are doing.”
Others, like Marjorie Dawes, enjoy the challenge of the work.
“At first I simply couldn’t do the work—the handwriting was too hard for me to read,” remembers Marjorie, who is one of the most productive workers in the program, and who has the full support of her nonmember husband, Keith. “But I took it on as a personal challenge. Now I can read not only the English handwriting, but the Swedish and German as well.”
Extractor Sherrill Lowe adds, “I have felt a constant drive within me for accuracy. I have also felt a desire to continue my work in this program. I receive satisfaction knowing that I am playing a small part in an important work that will affect current and future generations.”
John Stephens, stake coordinator of the Family Record Extraction Program, sums up the unique reasons for the Bountiful Eighteenth Ward’s success: “Bishop Farmer got enthusiastic about the program, and it just rippled down. I think that’s the key to their success. He gave people an opportunity to serve who might not have been able to serve in other callings. And Norm and Donna Bowen have been very positive and encouraging. They make regular visits and show their appreciation to those extracting the records.”
Following the example of the Bountiful Eighteenth Ward, other wards in the Bountiful Utah Heights Stake now have successful programs. And that success is being repeated in hundreds of wards throughout the Church.
Norm Bowen sums up the success of the program Churchwide when he says: “There’s no pressure. You do it simply because of your love of the Lord.”