When Elder Richard G. Maynes of the Seventy (now of the Presidency of the Seventy) left a meeting of local stake presidents in Sacramento, California, USA, in March 2011, he couldn’t have imagined how one of his brief comments would affect one of the stakes represented there.
That comment—that wards should not have any members without callings because they could all be called as FamilySearch indexers—would prove to be the key to a major success that would have far-reaching effects on the members of the Sacramento California Stake.
In October 2011, after four months of preparing and training, members of the Sacramento California Stake indexed more than one million records using the Church’s FamilySearch indexing program.
While stake president John Cassinat acknowledged that the number of records stake members were able to index wasastounding, he emphasized that if people focus on those numbers, they will miss the more important story.
As stake members responded to the call of their priesthood leaders and involved themselves in indexing, they were blessed with greater unity and greater testimonies of the Lord, His chosen leaders, and family history and temple work.
Immediately after Elder Maynes’s visit, President Cassinat began indexing to familiarize himself with the process. Shortly thereafter, in a stake training meeting for bishops, he shared Elder Maynes’s counsel and encouraged bishops to begin calling members without callings as indexers.
“I wanted them to see what it is,” President Cassinat said. “And so we brought the laptops into bishops’ training meeting and had the high councilor actually do a presentation—‘Here’s how you do it.’”
Within two months, President Cassinat was astonished to see approximately a 10-fold increase in indexing for the stake (to 37,000 records) since the beginning of the year. At that time, he received an impression: one million names.
The impression led to an idea—to challenge his stake to index one million names in the month of October. It was now early July, and after counseling with the other members of the stake presidency, they decided to launch the OMNI project—“one million names indexed.”
Kicking it off at the stake’s July youth pioneer trek, President Cassinat announced a goal to have 1,000 stake members index 1,000 names each during the 31 days of October. Though some were silently doubtful, they exercised faith and accepted the challenge.
Working with the Church Family History Department, stake leaders decided the 1871 United Kingdom Census project would provide enough data to carry them through the month.
From the beginning, President Cassinat knew the support, example, and focus of Church leaders would be essential to motivating members. In addition to involving bishops and other Church leaders in indexing, the stake offered support through workshops, training opportunities, and social media.
Youth class presidents used combined Mutual activities centered on indexing as a way to involve their 12- to 18-year-old peers. Bishop Loren D. Smemoe of the Laguna Creek Fourth Ward reported that his youth came together on one night with some 20 computers for an indexing “party.”
Leaders scheduled meetings to offer indexing helps for all levels of expertise. In September, a significant portion of the stake conference was dedicated to discussing the challenge. The stake also organized an all-day workshop to teach indexing fundamentals.
Ward leaders enlisted the support of those who were already familiar with family history and the FamilySearch indexing program—whether unofficially or as family history consultants.
John McKinney, now second counselor in the stake presidency, was the stake high councilor over family history. He helped create a social media page where members throughout the stake could collaborate.
“Because we were all working on the same project … it gave us the ability to help one another out,” President Cassinat explained. “People could cut and paste a problem name that they had, post it up on the website, and within minutes, they would get five or six people coming back. … And then as people encountered things and had spiritual experiences, those kinds of things were being shared as well.”
Each day of October, President Cassinat used the indexing software’s messaging system to communicate messages of encouragement and send helpful information to every stake member who was signed up to index.
The biggest help, though, according to President Cassinat, came through members of the various ward councils.
“There is a certain amount of direct contact and ability that the bishop has to reach out to his individual ward members,” he said, “but it is those ward council members who really have to carry the message to their auxiliaries.”
Anyone Can Do It
Before October many stake members were new to computer use, and most were totally unfamiliar with indexing. Yet stake members—busy families, elderly members, youth, children, leaders, and others—enthusiastically responded to the call to index.
The Sacramento stake had the additional challenge of being geographically large and diverse—its 13 units include Hmong, Marshallese, and Spanish branches, as well as a Tongan ward.
With the indexing software available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Swedish, Polish, Russian, German, Dutch, and Japanese, however, all could participate.
By the end of the project, 748 individuals, ranging in age from 9 to 79 years, had contributed. More than 400 indexers completed 1,000 records, and some indexed considerably more.
Poulivaati Katavake of the Tongan-speaking Liahona Ward sacrificed a great amount of time during the month to index more than 30,000 records—even when her computer crashed midway through the challenge. Though skeptical at first, Sister Katavake said she relied on the words of Nephi that the Lord only gives commandments where He also provides a way to accomplish those commandments (see 1 Nephi 3:7).
One older sister had never touched a computer. Family members gave her some training and left her to do some indexing one evening. She enjoyed it so much that she stayed up until early the next morning, entering names. The following day, family members asked how much she had been able to accomplish.
“She said, ‘Three.’ And they thought she was talking about batches. [But] in that time she’d only done three names,” President Cassinat said. “She loved it, and that sister went on to index more than a thousand names in the month of October.”
Seventeen-year-old Kataline Havea’s computer also crashed halfway through October, but she was still able to index 5,000 names by using her aunt’s and others’ computers.
Other examples of the faith and enthusiasm with which members went about their task include a woman with macular degeneration who would type while someone else read the records to her, and a soldier deployed to Iraq who still managed to add 2,000 names to the project.
Many members with children managed to schedule time so that nearly every member of the family was able to meet the 1,000-record challenge. Bishop Smemoe commented that the most success came when parents and children worked together to be involved with indexing.
“We can push from our side and invite [youth and children] but if their family unit wasn’t involved with it, then it seems like they weren’t as likely to be involved either,” he said.
In many instances, pairing a younger person with an adult was mutually beneficial.
“What I found with my own children is that they know how to use computers, but some of them weren’t too good with the cursive writing … and it was good for them to work with an adult,” said Laguna Creek FIfth Ward bishop David Phillips.
Many members of every age and language said that as they worked on the project, they felt a strong desire to research their own ancestors. As they participated in OMNI, many gained a clearer understanding and could easily articulate how what they were doing was adding to the work of salvation for deceased individuals.
“As I was indexing, I felt more like they were real people, not just spirits, and I felt like I knew them personally and like they were there while I was indexing their names,” 15-year-old Erica Suggs said.
A Greater Purpose in Mind
El Stone and her family were in the middle of a busy work season, were renovating their home, and were often taking children to soccer practices and games. Nevertheless, Sister Stone said, they caught “OMNIvision.”
“As a mom, [it] was really easy for me to internalize that these [names in the census] were parents who wanted to be with their children and children who wanted to be with their parents,” she said. “It was a very natural thing to help make it possible. It was the first time I really understood deeply what it means to be saviors—to help save, to help connect.”
The “vision” stake leaders wanted members to catch was that indexing allows more records to be preserved and opens the way for those who have gone before to partake of the full blessings of the gospel through the ordinances of the temple.
Siblings Lokeni, age 12; Heilani, age 13; and Haili Hoeft, age 15, each participated in the OMNI project.
“Once the youth leaders and my parents started stressing the importance of it, I took counsel and thought about it, and I knew that I was basically doing missionary work for those that have passed on,” Haili said. “I realized then that the numbers didn’t really matter, and when I realized that indexing was for me and for others, I started doing more and more each day.”
Indexing may be a lesser-known aspect of family history work, but priesthood leaders in the Sacramento California Stake have learned that it, like all family history efforts, can dramatically help to accomplish many types of seemingly unrelated priesthood objectives.
Over the 31 days of October, leaders saw indexing help activate members, give struggling members a sense of belonging and worth, strengthen families, create opportunities to share the gospel, effectively bridge generations, strengthen bonds between ward and stake members, create friendships, generate interest in family history, and strengthen faith in the Lord and His chosen leaders.
“It kind of made those little talks in the foyers or in the hallways or whatever a little more personable, and people who weren’t talking to each other as much before, [now] were,” Bishop Phillips said.
Brother McKinney recognized that it can be difficult to motivate members in the area of family history work, but said that seeing indexing as a steppingstone to the temple is key.
President Cassinat echoed that thought, emphasizing that individuals, wards, and stakes don’t need to index a million names to change people’s lives.
“The person who did the most indexing in the stake was no more spiritually blessed than the person who struggled to do the two or three names or however many names they did,” he said. “It’s these small and simple things that bring about great things” (see Alma 37:6).