News Release

Church Assists Family History in South Africa

From early in its history, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as The Mormons) encouraged its members to research their family history. In 1894 the Genealogical Society of Utah was established for that purpose.

Recognizing that millions of people throughout the world have their own reasons to be interested in family history, the Church makes its collections of microfilmed and digitized records freely available to everyone.

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, is the largest genealogical library in the world and provides access to many collections of records, with more than two billion names of deceased people. Over 700 staff and volunteers assist patrons with family history work. Approximately 1,900 people visit the library each day.

The Church also operates one of the most popular genealogical services on the Internet free of charge at www.familysearch.org.  The site contains a billion names from over 110 countries and territories including the 1880 United States Census, the 1881 Canadian Census, the 1881 British Census, the Ellis Island database and the Freedman’s Bank Records.  However, most of the Church’s vast collection of genealogical resources is yet to come online. The Church is undertaking a massive digitization project to bring most of the additional collection of the Family History Library, worldwide, online over the next few years.

Recently the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actively participated in two events to help the people of South Africa understand the importance of Family History. 

A Family History Conference was held in Bloemfontein on 6 April 2013 to help people of the community know the importance of learning their family History.  Nontuli Makhetha hosted the event and invited several key speakers, each of which brought interest and excitement to those attending to do research on their families.

President Moroole, Second Counsellor of the Bloemfontein District  of the Church, stated that the objective of the Family History Conference was to know what Family History is, why we should do it, and how do we get started.  We do it for spiritual reasons, cultural reasons, or to find out who we are and where we came from.  Whatever reason we do it, the method is the same and we are here to help each other succeed.   Knowing who you are, where you came from, or what clan you originated from is like finding a piece of a puzzle – it gives you identity.

Dominic Tshabalala, National Director of Public Affairs in South Africa, introduced Dr. Mathole Motshekga as the African National Congress' Chief Whip and member of the African National Congress' Department of Legal and Constitutional Affairs.  Mr. Tshabalala also addressed him as a guardian of South African ancestors.

Dr. Motshekga began his speech by saying, “What you are doing as Church (Family History) is something we should be doing as a nation and a continent as a whole.”  He stated that many wars have been fought because of problems of identity.  Wars are started because others think we do not have a right to our identity, religion, or a culture of our own.  Everyone wants to know their identity, not to disturb society, but to find out who we are and where we came from so we can feel a purpose in our lives.  He concluded by saying that we “all need to look for our identity at a spiritual level, and that makes us all brothers and sisters.”

Vicky Heunis, from the War Museum in Bloemfontein thanked the Church for helping them to digitize their records.  Full time Senior Missionaries for the Church worked in the museum for 4 months digitizing 3000 journals and books about the wars, 10,000 documents, scrapbooks and diaries, plus over 20,000 photographs and other collections.

The role of the Blacks in the Anglo Boer war of 1899 was discussed by Rodney Constantine.  He continues to search and compile records of those who served and suffered during the war times, including compiling records from century old African Cemeteries.

A second presentation was held at the House of David Jewish Centre in Johannesburg on 2 June 2013.  Full-time Senior Missionaries from the Family History Centre of the Church in Johannesburg were asked to give the presentation.  Sister Naylor led the discussion with a short video and slide show on the importance of family history and the world-wide interest, specifically in Jewish history.  She instructed the group on how to access Jewish records by way of FamilySearch.org and other genealogy websites and welcomed them to come to the Family History Centre in Johannesburg to search the thousands of records available there.  The centre provides free access to subscription genealogical websites and, for a small fee for shipping, visitors can also access the vast circulation collection of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which includes 2.5 million microfilms from over 100 countries.   Sister Taylor and Sister Klingler assisted in the discussion. 

The presentation was very well received, with a question and answer period following.

If you would like more information on researching your family history, you can call the Family History Centre at 001 645 1461 or visit the Centre at 5A Jubilee Road in Parktown.

On Saturday, 29 June 2013, a Family History Conference will be held in Durban, South Africa, at the Hillcrest Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 18 Old Main Road.  For more information concerning this Conference, please call Sipho at 083 439 7280 or Elder Kyle at 078 741 2153. 

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