BYU family history students connect missing soldiers to their families

A group of BYU students has answered the Army’s call for genealogical reinforcements.

With more than 82,000 Americans still missing from conflicts dating back to World War II, students at the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy have been working with the Army and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to return the remains of missing soldiers to their family members.

“Normally in our family history work, we are going as far back through as many generations as we can,” said Sydney Bjork, one of the students who worked on the project this past year. “But this sort of feels like reverse family history work. We start with a soldier and then look for the closest living relative they have.”

The Army sought help with this project from BYU, which has the only family history degree in the nation. Other partners in this project include historians who research where there might be remains of missing soldiers. Archaeology units take that information and get digging. And it’s BYU’s job to find the relatives.

Since starting on the project, the students have been assigned just more than 65 cases and have finished about 48 of them. After the cases are complete, students submit a report to the Army with the results of their research, the potential DNA donors and the contact information of the soldier’s relatives.

Professor Jill Crandell standing amid her two students in the JFSB courtyard
From left: Student Melanie Torres, Professor Jill Crandell, and student Kimberly Brown.

“Family history is something that’s really tender to all of us because it’s about family and we know how much our own families mean to us,” said Professor Jill Crandell, director of BYU’s Center. “We actually become attached to those families and there is a certain amount of inspiration involved when working on these cases.”

Not all cases are created equally. Some cases take three hours to solve. Some cases take three weeks to solve. However long it takes, the students on the project always feel an overwhelming sense of joy that they were able to help in the process of bringing families closer together.

For these students, this project is more than names and dates; it’s not just casework, each one is a meaningful story. Here’s a sample of the stories they’ve learned and worked on:

  • One mother continued for decades to set an extra place at the dinner table, just in case her son came home.
  • A still-living widow of a WWII soldier still longs to know at age 97 what happened to her husband.
  • One family of Italian immigrants has two brothers missing in action.

Melanie Torres and some of her fellow students who worked on these cases have close family members who have served in the military so this work really hits home for them.

“My grandfather was in the military, my great-grandfather was in World War II and my husband is in the Air Force. It is something that just really connects to my heart,” said Torres.

-Joe Hadfield, University Communications

FamilySearch CEO to Discuss Family History Innovations and Future

Family history is not a stagnant field, as we discussed in last year’s Connections. Research and technology over the years have transformed the field into an interactive activity that anyone can do from almost anywhere in the world- and it’s still moving forward. Steven T. Rockwood, FamilySearch CEO and guest speaker at BYU’s 2017 Family History Week,  is one of the individuals heading these innovations.

Rockwood, who previously worked at creating unique service opportunities for MasterCard International, AT&T, Disney, Office Depot, and Citibank international customers, has applied his knowledge and ingenuity to family history and genealogy. As the President and CEO of FamilySearch, which owns the largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world, and managing director of the family history department for the LDS church, Rockwood has seen both organizations through major changes. Recent additions and transformations to FamilySearch include, but are not limited to:

  • the creation of family trees that are more user-friendly, with interactive online pedigree charts and fan chartsfhweek2017
  • an increase in the ability of users to search millions of historical records and catalogs
  • the creation of an indexing system to make historical records and documents searchable online
  • the move to mobile-friendly versions of FamilySearch and various associated family history resources
  • the ability for users to share photograph, stories, recipes, and other information about ancestors


The ability to share recipes is something that Rockwood is passionate about, in particular. At a 2017 rootstech speech, Rockwood shared his own personal memories of his mother’s fudge at Christmas and of drinking rootbeer with his grandparents. Because family history is more than putting names and dates on a page; many say that it is the ability to link memories and experiences with certain ancestors that has increased the popularity of genealogy exponentially in the last several years.

Steven Rockwood will address the importance of family history and its development and future at BYU Family History Week’s guest speaker event Thursday, September 28 at 11 am in JKB room 1102. Learn about new ways to do your family history and find the motivation to do it.




Students: Attend the Cousin Reunion & Save the World?

“‘Genealogical consciousness’ means seeing how past, present, and future are connected,” said Amy Harris, a BYU History professor in a recent BYU devotional. “Because developing genealogical consciousness requires that we think about strangers in the past, it develops the possibility of thinking about strangers in the present, and strangers in the future, to think about how our relationships and actions will last beyond death, will echo into future strangers’ lives.” In that sense, she asserts that family history, or the kind of awareness and activity one develops while doing it, just might “save the world.” And, “in a world of turmoil and uncertainty,” said L. Tom Perry, “it is more important than ever to make our families the center of our lives and the top of our priorities.” Thus, there is reason aplenty to attend Family History Week activities, and the Cousin Reunion in particular!

What and When is the Cousin Reunion?

The Cousin Reunion will take place on Tuesday the 26th at noon in the Brigham’s Square Quad between the ASB, HFAC, HBLL, and JKB. Participants will be able to use their cell phones to find extended family members through Those interested in attending should, before the even:

  • know or get their account login credentials
  • go to,
  • find and join the group BYU FHWEEK17 (password: BYU)

There will be prizes, and participants’ chances of winning will increase by logging into RelativeFinder and joining the group. Follow BYUFHProgram on Facebook if you have questions about the event, or problems with logging in.

How Will You Benefit From Attending?


At last year’s Family History Conference, keynote speaker Paul Cardall spoke on the connection between family history and missionary work. “As for those whose hearts have turned, I believe we will see greater faith among people if we do the family history work,” he said. Beyond developing greater faith, though, there is the benefit, as Dr. Harris said, of “building lasting relationships and connections with other people, [which is] is the only way to live happy and meaningful lives. We are built to cooperate with and belong to not just our kin, but all humanity.” Check out for more information about this event, and others during that week that can help students live happier, more connected lives.


Think Fast: Family History Week’s Got a Lightning Round Question Corner

Did you know that Princess Diana had her own royal blood and wasn’t just grafted onto the queen’s family tree? Did you know that Robert Pattinson, Twilight‘s star vampire, has family connections to Vlad the Impaler, the man who inspired Dracula? There might be equally interesting stories and fun facts on your own tree, but you’ll never know until you’ve done more family history work. The History Department and Center for Family History and Genealogy are sponsors of BYU’s Family History Week, which is when you’ll have the chance to ask questions and learn more about genealogy. This event is open to all FHSS majors and students across campus.


Family History Week runs from Tuesday, September 26, to Thursday, September 28. Wednesday’s event — the Lightning Round Question Corner — will give you a safe place to ask questions about family history. You’ll hear new ideas and information about available courses at BYU, and there will even be free food at the event.

The Lightning Round Question Corner begins at 5 p.m., but you can come and go as you please. The Q&A session is an open house, so drop by any time before 7 p.m.

lightning round
Courtesy of BYU Family History Week.

And if you’ve got questions about family history careers, you can also attend the Family History Fall Reception and Mini Job Fair later that night, between 7 and 8 p.m., to find out what it takes to be a family historian.

What would you like to ask a family history expert?

Comment below to give our experts an idea of how they should prepare for the big event.

Family History: Are You Doing it? Get Involved at BYU Family History Week 2017

No matter how many miles separate us and the personalities of the individuals involved, we all have family, and those families help define who we are. Our family helps explain who we look or act like, who we spend time with, what languages we speak, and where we call home. But “family” isn’t just the people we take selfies with at reunions; they include our ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago. At BYU’s annual Family History Week, discover new family members and ancestors, learn new ideas and genealogical guidance, and find inspiration and motivation to do your own family history work.

Here’s what’s happening during family History Week to help you do just these things:

Tuesday September 26- Cousin Reunion

phone searchFor those individuals with less than 15 first cousins, you may feel a little left out when talking to friends about their most recent family gathering. On Tuesday, however, discover cousins that you’ve had all along! Using your cell phone, explore your family line to find family members through Join this new kind of family reunion at the Brigham Square Quad at 12 noon to find your cousins and win prizes.

Wednesday September 27- Lightning Round Question Corner

Wanting to become involved in family history, but feeling overwhelmed, intimidated, or stumped? For some “guilt-free family history guidance,” head to the WSC terrace for a Q and A from 5-7pm to learn more about new family history ideas and information on family history courses. Expand your knowledge and desire for family history as you enjoy free refreshments. If you are interested in family history careers, a Family History Fall Reception/ Mini Job fair will be held from 7-8pm at the terrace.

Thursday September 28- Guest Speaker FamilySearch CEO, Steven T. Rockwood

Finish the week inspired by hearing a guest lecture by FamilySearch CEO and BYU graduate, Steven T. Rockwood at 11 am in room 1102 JKB. Learn about the opportunities available to family historians and the passion behind the growing field.

“Family History Week events are open to all who want to experience the excitement of family history” says Amy Harris of the BYU History Department. “Activities are designed to appeal to people with various family history backgrounds. Beginners will enjoy the great Cousin Reunion on Tuesday. Those who want help taking the next step to learn more about their deceased ancestors will benefit from Wednesday’s open house question corner. And everyone will enjoy Thursday’s talk by FamilySearch CEO, Steve Rockwood.”

Regardless of your current family history interest or experience, see what the family history buzz is all about at BYU at Family History Week.

Rootstech: What is it and Why Should BYU Students Care?

Family history is not exclusively a Latter-day Saint phenomenon–in fact, it’s a common interest among the world’s population, as we noted in Connections a few months ago. And nowhere on earth is genealogy a bigger deal than Rootstech, the biggest family history conference on the planet. That being said, the LDS Church is a heavy proponent of connecting to our ancestors, so it’s no surprise that students and faculty at BYU are getting involved in Rootstech like never before.


This isn’t the first year BYU has been involved in the conference, nor is BYU’s involvement consigned to only one department. The school’s History department, Center for Family History and Genealogy, Family History Library, Computer Science, Bachelor of General Studies program, Independent Study, and Economics will all be represented in a large booth in the expo hall, “so they can talk to people about the various family history resources here on campus,” according to Lenore Carrier of the Center for Family History and Genealogy.

“Any students that are interested in family history would benefit from attending the conference,” Carrier continues. “There are lectures for beginner to advanced researchers, as well as fantastic general sessions with high-profile celebrities like LeVar Burton, the Scott Brothers, and Buddy ‘Cake Boss’ Valastro.” Last year, nearly 30,000 people attended the conference.

Discounts for Rootstech are available for students who are registered at an accredited high school, college, university, or online program, and who have some form of valid credentials proving their status as a student (student ID, registration letter, valid class schedule, etc.).  You can receive the discount by emailing your documentation to Although faculty and staff unfortunately do not qualify for the student discount, they are still encouraged to come!

In the April 2010 LDS general conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “When our hearts turn to our ancestors, something changes inside us. We feel part of something greater than ourselves. Our inborn yearnings for family connections are fulfilled when we are linked to our ancestors.”


Family photo courtesy of Flickr.


52 Stories and FHSS: How Will You Be Remembered?

How will you be remembered? In answering that question, think not about your accomplishments or the people by whom you’ll be admired, but of the ways in which your descendants will learn about you. They won’t be able to follow you on social media, and even if they could, what you like and follow today may not reflect what you like and follow tomorrow, or who you are as an actual person. If you don’t keep a journal, once you and those who know you pass, your only lingering mark in this world might be a small rock on a plot of land in the local cemetery. FamilySearch is looking to change that. With their new social media campaign, #52Stories, the LDS-owned genealogy site provides users with a series of writing prompts, in the form of questions, for their personal journals or family history projects–one for every week of the year. The idea is to help people not only write in their journals, but write meaningfully–thus providing their life stories with more enriching and fulfilling details.



The questions so far have been simple. This week’s question is: what is something you taught yourself without any help from someone else? In answering that particular question, it might be useful to read the example of alumni Christopher Wilms, who taught himself how to start a successful soda and sweets shop called Pop ‘n Sweets. In other weeks, you might be invited to write about your most important and valued friendships, or your childhood home. The whole list of questions is available here. But don’t feel restricted to only these questions if you want to take part. As college students, you could tailor the experience more specifically to your needs and life circumstances. For instance, you could write a post about your academic goals for this semester. (For help on this, check out this blog post.) Or maybe you could write an entry about your favorite professor or a faculty member who’s been particularly meaningful in your life. If you’re more determined, check out the resources available to you through

Dennis B. Neuenschwander, in a 1999 LDS general conference address, said: “A life that is not documented is a life that within a generation or two will largely be lost to memory. What a tragedy this can be in the history of a family. Knowledge of our ancestors shapes us and instills within us values that give direction and meaning to our lives.” Whatever rules and goals you set for yourself, be sure to make #52Stories a meaningful experience for you so that you can be remembered accurately and fully by your descendants. Make the time–it’s well worth it!



Research Logs: Essential When Doing Your Family History


These days, family history, as we’ve mentioned here, is less about finding information about people and more about organizing the amazing amount of information available to anyone who looks. Access to records has greatly increased in recent years, but it might be a challenge for some to keep track of the research they do to find a particular person or straighten out a particularly convoluted limb of the family tree, even with the many online tools and apps available. One tool that has proven useful for many in past years is logbooks. At their most basic level, logbooks are a simple means whereby people looking for their ancestors can record what searches have been done, what results have been found, and which documents are relevant to the question at hand. Peg A. Ivanyo, in her 2016 Family History Conference class for genealogy beginners said that they can contain notes, citations, stories, and even links to blog posts. But how exactly can they be helpful?

Research logs serve to make things easier. Jill Crandell, a history professor at BYU, says that research logs help to decrease duplication of effort and make one’s searches more efficient. Her own research log website,, serves to help people plan their research, catalogue their findings, and record their interpretations. Of research logs, she says, “[they] logs need to be detailed and kept consistently. If they are, the logs will prevent researchers from searching the same sources multiple times, documents will be organized and accessible, and research analysis will be higher quality. Find a research log format that works for you, one that you are actually willing to use to record your work, then use it.”

Many years ago, she was working on tracing a nomadic family who had lived in New York, Canada, and Scotland, with a common name. The man she was researching never identified his parents in any of his documents. To solve the mystery of who his parents were, Dr. Crandell turned to her research log. Through it, she was able to learn that this man had been traveling with other people who had moved to all of the same places as him. By studying the documents saved in her log, Dr.Crandell was able to further this genealogy.

The benefits of doing genealogy, to both the doer and the ancestor, are plentiful, and logbooks are some of the many tools available to anyone who has a desire to connect with those ancestors. Paul Cardall, the noted pianist who spoke at BYU’s most recent Conference on Family History and Genealogy, spoke of the relationship between family history and missionary work. As Mormons, we believe that families can be together after this life. Therefore, it is essential to strengthen relationships with all family members, both those who are alive and those who have died…for Mormons, genealogical research or family history is the essential forerunner for temple work for the dead.”



What Tips to You Have for Doing Family History?

Family History as a Tool for Missionary Work


Often when we think of missionary work, we picture knocking on doors, handing out Books of Mormon, and teaching investigators. Family history isn’t the first thing that comes to our minds. While explaining the Restoration is one key way to bringing people to the Gospel, helping them explore their family history can help them to love it. As many who have done genealogy can attest, researching our ancestors gives us a feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. Nothing illustrates this better than the story of pianist Paul Cardall, whose own genealogical experience expanded both his horizons and those of the family members he didn’t know he had.

Cardall’s Experience

Cardall, as the keynote speaker at BYU’s recent Family History Conference, said: “As for those whose hearts have turned, I believe we will see greater faith among people if we do the family history work.” When people do it, their hearts open and they become more receptive to the love and blessings the Gospel provides. It is from there that the change of heart Alma spoke of in Alma 5:26-27 can begin to take place.

As part of his concert tour and family history undertaking, Cardall was invited by President Grant to share his thoughts on changing hearts and his spiritual experiences.

He and wife Tina experienced that effect as they worked on her family history. Through their efforts to find her ancestors, which proved difficult due to the fact that she was from Slovenia, Cardall and his wife were able to meet and connect with family they had not known they had. Tina’s mother was also able to reunite with kin she had not seen in forty-three years. Together, they had the opportunity to introduce more than fifty of Tina’s family members to the Gospel.

Family History Can Bridge the Gap

Families, being one of the core tenets of the Church and of society, have the potential to be instrumental in converting others, in a broader sense than ever before. Of this, Cardall says, “I told the young missionaries who come here from foreign lands that I believe the key to having a meaningful conversation is by turning the hearts of the children to the deceased fathers and mothers.” Family is something everyone understands.


Not only is it a way to bridge the gap between the secular and the spiritual, but also brings together people of all ages. Elder Bednar in the 2011 October General Conference, as quoted in the 2016 Connections, in regards to the youth of the LDS church said, “Many of you may think family history work is to be performed primarily by older people. But I know of no age limit described in the scriptures or guidelines announced by Church leaders restricting this important service to mature adults. You are sons and daughters of God, children of the covenant, and builders of the kingdom. You need not wait until you reach an arbitrary age to fulfill your responsibility to assist in the work of salvation for the human family.” In addition to those remarks, Bednar also highlights some of the amazing tools available now days for genealogy work such as


Family history is a means to bring people together, bridge spiritual and secular gaps, and connect with people you might not know otherwise. It’s about helping people understand both their familial and spiritual roots.

Do you know who’s in your family history?



Upcoming Youth Family History Camp at BYU

Conference organizers invite youth ages 14-18 to come to attend a five-day camp at BYU to be taught the fundamentals of family history research, gain hands on experience, and acquire an understanding of the importance of this work.

Catered to Young People

“We are thrilled to see so many family history enthusiasts among the youth. When we kept seeing steady growth in the number of teenage participants at the conference we decided it was time to give them a conference experience of their own. This year will be the second year for the myFamily History Youth Camp,” said Alisse Frandsen, from BYU Conferences and Workshops.

The camp will build upon the success of last year’s first annual conference, which included the attendance of sixty two young people from around the world. One of the favorite activities, which will be continued this year, was the trip to Salt Lake City to tour the Family History Library, Temple Square, the Church History Library and The Discovery Center at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The Discovery Center particularly can show campers a new side to family history work that they may not have known existed. The booths are high-tech, uniqu,e and very interactive. They’re perfect for young people whose “fingers have been trained to text and tweet to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord…” as Elder Bednar said in a recent conference. 

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 12.02.41 PM

A BYU Experience

The camp offers a genuine BYU experience for youth. There will be a lot of fun involved, including a combined dance with Especially for Youth, free time to spend playing ping pong or bowling with new friends, amazing counselors, and a pizza party. Prior experience with family history research is not a requirement to attend.


Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 12.02.14 PM

Goal of the Camp

Camp organizers hope that participants will leave the camp prepared to serve as family history consultants, if called to do so. They also hope that the camp will help participants be independently motivated to continue working on their own family history and to inspire and assist those around them.

“The Church puts a lot of emphasis on family history work,” John Best, conference organizer, told the Daily Universe. “We’re just glad to assist them in helping people find better ways to find their ancestors.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 12.05.38 PM.png

What To Do Now

Watch the video below to hear from last year’s youth attendees and see some of the activities. Follow the conference on Instagram and Facebook to view more photos and posts from last year and to see new posts as this year’s camp gets closer. Visit to register!

Photos Courtesy of MyFamily History Youth Camp Photographers 2015