There was a buzz in the air at the ExCel, London on the 25th of October 2019. RootsTech had come, filling the exhibition hall with family-history partners from Findmypast to ‘Who do you think you are’? Thousands of people were rushing to their chosen family-history seminars, asking questions to help in their genealogical searches and receiving expert advice.
Among them was 17-year-old Rebekah Cooper from Aylesbury Ward, Watford Stake. Along with hundreds of other young men and women, she had received the special commission from Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in his address at the conference to sample as many of the different activities as she could. There was a selfie booth encouraging youth to upload pictures to FamilySearch and compare themselves with ancestors or British royalty. There were several challenges such as ‘time capsule’ questionnaires, family quizzes, family-history ‘twister’ and even an ‘escape’ room.
Amid all this bustle, Rebekah took a quiet moment to study the ‘story graffiti’ wall. “I remember reading the [sticky] notes on the wall and being touched by the vast amount of stories. Some spoke of their achievements and the things that were important to them, others described where they were from. I was surprised and comforted to discover so many stories from an array of different backgrounds. The experience made me feel connected to the people around me, and I felt inspired to share something about myself. I wrote that I was from South Africa, and that I was proud that I had taught myself to play the piano.”
After the activities, the youth came together to reflect on what they had learnt. Elder Bednar was encouraged by the enthusiasm shown. Several young people were inspired to ask their grandparents more questions to understand them better. There were also many who realised the help they could provide, such as indexing handwritten records for digital access. Each made a personal goal to increase their engagement in family history in one way or another.
Rebekah shared her plans: “My goal was to keep adding to my own family history by writing in a journal. Reading others’ stories made me realise that it’s not just about being connected to our past—we are currently creating our own history. I log entries in the memory section of Family Tree when I can, and I have started trying to find more stories about my family.
She went on, “Spending time doing this has allowed me to come closer to my Heavenly Father as I seek to understand my role in this life. … I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I was nervous at first, but it was mixed with feelings of excitement. Soon the day arrived, and I was so happy to get to know the other youth involved—it was wonderful to see so many people there … meeting Elder and Sister Bednar was an amazing experience. I realised that they were just like me, and that they too were there to fulfil their own divine mission of serving our Heavenly Father. Their wisdom and calm attitude reassured me, and I felt reminded to believe in myself. I felt such great love for everyone there and I know that each of us has a purpose and a divinely designed plan that will help us to be the best we can.”
They may not have been clothed in shimmering capes or wielding Thor’s hammer, but these young people went back into the world armed with something stronger. They had a clear sense of their purpose and potential within family history, and the weapons of modern technology with which to accomplish it.