Backstage ‘A Family History Mystery’
Lights, Camera, Action – “A Family History Mystery” this innovative class is not a lecture about family history, it’s an experience. Youth don’t need to be taught how to use technology, they need to be excited about detecting clues, solving puzzles, and uncovering stories about their ancestors. The idea for this presentation arose from a desire to have more for youth at a regional family history conference that we, Adam & Judie Rawlin, co-chaired.
In planning the 2013 Houston Family Search Genealogy Conference we met with a number of youth to get their ideas for youth involvement at the conference. They were excited to have the opportunity to present classes; however, as registrations came in a lot of adults signed up for these classes taught by youth. We knew this was a good problem, because adults have much to learn from their younger technology savvy counterparts. However we had set a goal to have youth make up half of the conference attendees and we needed something more to encourage them to register to attend. And that is where the ideas for “A Family History Mystery” were born, this wasn’t just going to be a class where youth would sit and listen to someone tell them how to do family history, this would be an opportunity for them to roll up their sleeves and get right into it- an immersive experience.
Selecting a mystery to use was a cinch. We had one that had puzzled our family for years, and that after working on it for months we had finally pieced together. It was important to us that the mystery be authentic, that this was not just a made-up story. Using our research notes we wrote a script outlining the process we had followed, the clues we had received which had allowed us to solve a family history mystery.
We had a script, now all we needed was a set, actors, a crew…. We wanted the class to be exciting from the start, to be more like a show than a class and so we enlisted the help of youth who were in their high school’s theater to design and build a set. We ended up with four sets of flats to represent four areas in the mystery as well as several on-stage props. We found youth actors to help bring the documents in the mystery to life. We also enlisted missionaries already helping at the conference to join the youth backstage crew as set movers. The backstage crew operated under the direction of a youth who was the stage manager of her high school’s theater department.
While putting all this together, we were still the co-chairs of the regional family history conference which would end up having 1,000 attendees and as the registrations poured in and we finalized the logistical details of the conference we somehow found time to help the youth build and paint the set – transporting and assembling it the day before the conference and putting the final touches on it during the first session of classes. We’d only fit in a couple of rehearsals and the stage crew had never practiced, but show time came and we pulled it off – the youth were all abuzz about the class and it certainly was a mystery to them and for many was their favorite part of the conference.
We were very satisfied with the end result, the best part being those youth whom we had worked side by side with for several weeks on the final preparations. Jeffrey Stone, one of the youth who helped with the set said, “My favorite experience was working on level with adult leaders. I learned that the spirit of Elijah is strong.”
Because of the tight schedule, we weren’t able to implement all of our ideas and so after it was all over, and Jeffrey asked “what’s next?” we wanted another opportunity to present the class, with more time to plan and prepare for it and thus we submitted a proposal for RootsTech 2014, and began further developing the class.