Rare and priceless resources dangle at BYU students’ fingertips, yet many are unaware of some of them — specifically, the family stories waiting to be found through the BYU Family History Center’s genealogy programs.
The Family History Center has acquired many genealogy programs and other resources to help students explore these ancestral stories.
The Family History Library is located on the second level of the Harold B. Lee Library. Free software, 130 missionary consultants, 4.1 million print volumes, three million microforms and thousands of periodical titles, and other resources are there to help individuals uncover their hidden family story.
“People need to know what their roots are and where they came from,” said Rodger Layton, communications manager for the Harold B. Lee Library. “There are great stories you can find that will connect you with your ancestors.”
Students have ample opportunities to learn about those stories now. Karen Hyer, a returning student to BYU and aspiring professional genealogist, encourages other students to do the work at BYU while they can, because once they leave, they will not have the same resources and will literally pay for it later.
BYU has opened its Family History Center to the community as well as BYU students; however, some of the programs offered can only be accessed by current BYU students. FamilySearch, a popular site used for family history, costs a minimum of $200 for a six-month subscription. BYU offers it free to students.
Every day, people set out to develop their own stories in life and obtain a sense of identity. Family history helps record those stories so future generations can benefit, learn and connect with the people who came before them.
Terry Dahlin, family and local history librarian at BYU, said people’s interests in researching their family history often begins by digging into the interesting stories and finding the sorts of things their ancestors did, good and bad.
“Stories throughout the history of the world, from scriptures to ancient cultures to today, capture our attention and make us want to read about our ancestors,” Dahlin said.
Once people find their family’s stories, they delight in sharing them. Carissa Lewis, a BYU graduate, told a story about her great-grandmother she never would have known about if she wouldn’t have had access to proper family history documentation.
Lewis’s great grandmother, Rosetta Bennett, grew up in Midvale, Utah, were she lived in an adobe hut until her family’s “fancy” two-story house was built. Her parents entered her into dressmaking school, where she learned to make the most precise stitches with the finest needles. She made dresses for everyone in the valley, including her own wedding gown. Her sisters were quite jealous of her. She always wore lavish, well-tailored clothing and worked with her father in the post office located in the front room of their home. Bennett wasn’t concerned with getting married like many BYU students are these days. One day, Lorenzo Barns Jenkins came along and asked how he could get Rosetta to go out with him. He was told to rent the fanciest rig and horses then to ask her out. He did, she said yes, they fell in love and were married in 1896.
Many families rejoice in the knowledge they gain as they study their family history. As human beings, people feel a need to develop a sense of self identity and self worth. Family history can help guide individuals to where they came from and help them develop the sense of who they are and where they came from.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strive to follow prophets’ counsel to do family history to obtain a close connection with their ancestors. But more important to the Church is doing temple work for those who have passed on.
According to Dahlin, students get so caught up in other things, they don’t realize they are sitting on a gold mine of information; and they won’t recognize what they had until they are gone and don’t have access to these family history resources anymore.
“We want people to know they are welcome, the staff is friendly, the resources are free and we’re just here to help,” Layton said. “It’s a happy crew that works here that wants to see you succeed.”
Hyer advised students to prepare for the future and collect documents now. Birth certificates, marriage certificates, anything that can be collected and scanned should be collected. This way future generations will not have to try collecting information. It will already be done for them. Hyer expressed her feelings on the importance of documenting life so one day, in the future, life will not be forgotten.
“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten; either write things worthy of reading, or do things worthy of writing,” Benjamin Franklin once said.
For further information, classes are held every second and fourth Sunday of each month in the family history center in the HBLL or visit sites.lib.byu.edu/familyhistory/.
“When Rosetta was about 8 or 9, she went swimming out in the ditch with her friends. They were all wearing little aprons to cover themselves. A man came along, and they didn’t want him to see them. They quickly turned around and hid in the ditch. The problem was all their little bottoms where sticking out for the man to see.” — Interview with Carissa Lewis about her great grandmother, Rosetta Bennett.