Climb the Family Tree
How Scouts can break down walls between generations.
SCOUTER GARY PACK, from Layton, Utah, knows that “What’s for dinner?” and “Are we there yet?” rank as the most commonly asked questions in many families. But he also knows the power of deeper queries, including “What’s your earliest childhood memory?” and “What was school like for you?”
By asking those questions, Scouts can earn the Genealogy merit badge, which Pack taught at last summer’s national Scout jamboree. Boys can also break down walls between generations. “It becomes a life-expanding experience,” Pack says. “That’s what I love about genealogy.”
Interviewing a relative or family member satisfies the merit badge’s third requirement. It also provides basic information for requirements 2, 6, and 7, where the Scout builds time lines, family trees, and family group records. That’s the hardest part of the badge, says Brent Summerhays, a merit badge counselor from American Fork, Utah, who also taught the badge at the jamboree.
“For a lot of these kids, that’s new—coming out of [their shells] and talking to somebody else to find out these things,” Summerhays says.
Counselors can help by providing Scouts with an initial set of questions to ask. They also can find a good list in the Genealogy merit badge pamphlet. The key, says Pack, is to ensure the questions are open-ended, although a few closed-ended questions like “When and where were you born?” can serve as icebreakers.
If interviewing relatives is hard for some Scouts, genealogical research is easy, especially now that they can do so much online. But that’s not to say that Scouts don’t need help from experts. To the uninitiated, for example, a birth certificate might show little more than a name and a date of birth. To an expert, though, it contains information such as parents’ names that can extend their search to other generations.
“If you show them how to look at clues, they can actually open new doors to records they didn’t know about,” Summerhays says.
The Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints houses many of those records. The library stores more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilm in its Granite Mountain Records Vault near Salt Lake City. Scouts don’t have to travel to Utah, though. The library’s holdings are accessible through more than 4,600 local Family History Centers around the world. Each is open to the public.
Scouts also can access Family History Library records through familysearch.org, the Web site of the LDS-affiliated FamilySearch International, where Pack and Summerhays both work.
Scouts should be able to do much of their merit badge work at no cost, Pack says. “Sometimes you have to pay for some of the information. But there are so many good resources available for free, you can start without having to pay.”
Free, perhaps. Priceless, for sure. Pack recalls one Bolivian-born Scout who worked on the merit badge at the jamboree. “He not only found things from La Paz, Bolivia, but he found that his grandmother had poems published on the Internet,” he says. “He couldn’t believe it. He was just giddy over this stuff.”
Although most Scouts won’t discover famous or infamous relatives, the research will make their ancestors more than just names on a piece of paper. And they’ll learn another fact about genealogy: “As soon as you nibble on it a little bit,” Pack says, “it hooks you good.”