“Deaf Attend Family History Workshop,” Ensign, Sept. 2006, 75–76
An occasional laugh from the audience broke the silence as full-time missionary Robert Powers explained different family history resources at the Church’s Family History Library.
Elder Powers’s library orientation class was one of 50 classes taught at the fourth biennial genealogical workshop for the deaf and hard of hearing June 19–23, 2006, in Salt Lake City.
“It’s probably the quietest conference you’ll ever go to,” remarked an observer as Elder Powers communicated through sign language to his audience.
“The goal of this workshop is to have the deaf community and the deaf patrons come here and take these classes the same as hearing people,” said Dulane Woodhouse, chairperson for the workshop.
Twenty-five instructors, 17 of whom are deaf, taught genealogical classes on 40 topics to 135 registered participants in classrooms at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Workshop participants learned everything from family history basics, such as using PAF or TempleReady, to more advanced information such as the Napoleonic Civil Registration. Many participants practiced their newfound skills a block away at the Family History Library.
Elder Robert and Sister Virginia Powers have been serving as full-time missionaries in the deaf zone of the Family History Library for more than two years. They helped organize and coordinate the event.
“I’m at a loss for words right now to describe the spirit that is here,” Sister Powers said. “It’s very touching.”
Although they left 14 grandchildren behind when they left their home in Riverside, California, to serve a mission, Elder and Sister Powers have been influential in making Family History Library resources more accessible to deaf patrons.
With a force of about 14 Church service missionaries helping in the library, Sister Powers said deaf people comment that it is easier to come to the library because they know someone can communicate with them.
In addition to classes and family history work, workshop attendees participated in activities such as going on an interpreted field trip to the Humanitarian Center, watching the film Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration in an ASL-interpreted and closed-captioned session, touring the Lion House and Museum of Church History and Art, and visiting This Is the Place Heritage Park. Some participants attended a special temple session for the deaf in the Salt Lake Temple as well.
About 50 percent of workshop attendees came from outside Utah, across the United States and Canada. Although three-fourths of the participants are Latter-day Saints, a fourth are not members of the Church but are actively interested in genealogy.
The weeklong activities and workshops culminated on June 25, 2006, when all the deaf wards and branches from Utah gathered in the Conference Center Theater on Sunday morning for a family history regional conference.