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Immigrants and Family History
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 • Posted April 10, 2013 2:47 PM

While attending a recent meeting in Bulverde, Texas, I found myself sitting next to Dean and Betty Dowd. They informed me that they were Family History consultants and would be staying after the meeting ended in order to help people interested in tracing their ancestry. I informed them of my interest in tracing my family tree but that I had no information with me. No problem. I gave them the names of my parents and grandparents and their approximate birthdates and in no time at all, their names appeared on the computer screen—along with their ancestors going back several generations. I was impressed.

During the month of March, 2013, FamilySearch, the largest genealogical organization in the world, hosted its annual conference, “RootsTech 2013,” in Salt Lake City. It was attended by 6,700 people from throughout the United States and many parts of the world. 10,000 others viewed selected sessions of the conference via live streaming on the internet. (Some previously broadcast sessions can be viewed for free now by going to the website www.rootsearch.org). FamilySearch CEO Dennis Brimhall said that if all goes well, “we will next year run that to 600 locations, which will bring 120,000 attendees to RootsTech next year worldwide.”

FamilySearch and its predecessor organizations have been collecting family history since 1894. “It took us from 1921 to 2006--85 years, starting with typewriters and then with computers—to get our first billion records,” said Mr. Brimhall. “But thanks to hundreds of thousands of volunteers and enabling partners, we now have 3.2 billion searchable names online.” 1.7 million names are being added every day.

“Genealogy is an important subset of family history,” said Allan F. Packer. “Family history includes genealogy but is much broader in scope and time. It is not limited to the past, but includes the present and the future. We research the past, create history in the present and shape history in the future.”

Mr. Brimhall said a turning point in saving priceless memories in his family occurred when his daughter, seeing my father’s war memorabilia, asked her grandmother to tell her his story. In 1943 the elder Brimhall had become an Army Air Corps cadet and was assigned as a bomber co-pilot and flew nine bombing raids over Germany and other targets. On his ninth mission, his plane was hit by flak that separated the left wing. The plane burst into flame.

Escaping by parachute, he saw the plane’s navigator fall past him in a partially torn parachute. “Hi ya, buddy,” he said as the man fell past him. The two of them ended up in a famous prisoner of war camp in Germany from which they were later liberated. It turns out that an airman in another plane on the same bombing run had taken photos of his father’s plane being shot down and those photos are now a part of his father’s legacy. “There are people all over this country and the world who are finding ways to tell their own family stories and save them for generations to come.”

“When in 1920, Irving Berlin wrote of America as a ‘land that I love,’ he reminded us that wherever we live today, the land where we live is the land that we come to love,” said Allen F. Packer. “And when many of our ancestors have come from other places, those places become lands that we yearn to know about and love.”

One immigrant whose life was portrayed during the conference said, “I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I found out three things: First, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all; and third, I was expected to pave them.”

Irving Berlin came to the United States at age five in 1893. He made a name for himself on New York’s Tin Pan Alley and later on Broadway beginning in 1911 with the hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” He penned “God Bless America, land that I love,” not “we love.” It was a very personal song to him because this country allowed him to become what he became.

An interesting development in family history research is the use of DNA testing to discover one’s ethnicity. It is the key to discovering where your family is from and learning all about the places and cultures that make you who you are.

With emerging technology, more and more birth records, obituaries, photos, classified ads, passenger lists and military records are now available. These records help researchers begin to build stories about their ancestors. One company called “Stories in Stone” in Salt Lake City, for a fee, will provide a QR-coded piece of porcelain, aluminum, glass or vinyl that can be attached to a headstone at the cemetery. With a mobile device and scanning software, an individual can visit a gravesite and scan the QR code to look at an obituary, video, music, photo or story about the deceased.

The sheer numbers of records being digitized is amazing. Because of the incredible work of volunteers, 400 million new records are being added each year. The most remarkable development for 2012 was the release and digitizing of the 1940 census records.

Speakers at the RootsTech conference invited those in attendance “to create your history as you live in the present, discover the past by learning the stories of your ancestors, and shape the future by sharing your own stories.

In this country we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. We all have a story to tell. I am grateful to volunteers such as the Dowd’s who are willing to share their expertise for free in order to enrich my life and the lives of those whom I love most. (Source: R. Scott Lloyd, Deseret News, Week of March 31, 2013)

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