Elder Ethan Schmidt and Elder Micah Starita from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Jonesville organized a free family history seminar at Hillsdale’s Public Library on Oct. 2. With the assistance of Dorothy Perry, a director for family history at the same church, they assisted those who were new to genealogical searching or already experienced and wanted to expand their own family tree.
The seminar provided brochures, packets, and powerpoint slides about using FamilySearch.org.
Perry said this website, which requires users to make a free account, allows people to update, preserve, and learn more about their family history. Members can input family documents, photos, and audio recordings.
“People have different reasons why they go into family history,” Perry said. “We’re encouraging people to go into family history because our elderly are dying so fast. If we don’t get it written down we may lost it forever.”
While teaching at Hallmark University, Perry said she assigned a genealogy project to her students using this website and one of them discovered that he was related to Perry’s husband.
“Some people do it as hobby, we do it for church reasons,” Perry said. “But DNA is becoming much more important. With DNA and ancestry, you can find medical issues with your family, other relatives.”
Elder Schmidt said while growing up he found genealogy searching boring, but now he enjoys the process ever since he arrived in Jonesville for mission work.
“It wasn’t until I got out here and started doing it that I honestly I found a lot of joy and happiness from doing it,” Elder Schmidt said. “It’s just cool connecting your family. We have our religious reasons and receive blessings for doing it.”
He even shared a story of his great-grandpa traveling to Scotland for his mission and finding a lover there. Elder Schmidt said his grandpa’s family didn’t approve of his girlfriend, but his grandfather saved enough money, sailed back to Scotland, married her, and brought her back to the U.S.
“She was a Wallace and a direct descendant of William Wallace,” Elder Schmidt said. “There’s no record of William Wallace having children, but his brother did.”
Elder Starita is a family history librarian who helps people start exploring and recording their family history and said the whole procedure is like a puzzle.
“Before I came here, I was asked to be a family history consultant when I was 16 and at the time I thought, like Elder Schmidt, this is kind of boring,” Elder Starita said. “I went to our church members’ houses and helped them get started on it. It was a lot of fun seeing where I came from, how my family got here, and finding the cool people you’re related to.”
Elder Starita even helped his adopted sister from China use the website to find her direct parents.
“She still hasn’t found them yet, but China doesn’t have the best records. For her it’s been a quest,” Elder Starita said. “She has found some ancestors, but it’s kind of like a puzzle with a lot of different people.”
Many members from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints use the website, Elder Starita said.
“We all have this massive heritage,” Perry said.
In addition to its free membership, Perry said FamilySearch.org includes mini games, such as jeopardy, testing how well members know their family tree.
“Once you get a family tree in, it’ll create a jeopardy game from it,” Perry said.
Elder Schmidt said the website also has an app people can access on their phones.
“You can click on ‘Relatives Around Me’ and it’ll scan his phone and scan our trees and say we’re 13th cousins,” Elder Schmidt said.
Edler Starita and Elder Schmidt said since it is their first time having this seminar at Hillsdale’s public library, they plan on having another one in a couple of months and host a family research gathering every second and fourth Sundays of each month at Jonesville’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone interested in gaining more access to local family records is welcome to join.