A Celebration of Family History

By Allison Dolan

Some 20,000 people attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints-sponsored Celebration of Family History Thursday night in the LDS Conference Center Auditorium.

It was a spectacular presentation that combined music from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, video shorts showing real people talking about what family history means to them, and talks from LDS president Henry B. Eyring and historian David McCullough. McCullough is the author of the books The Johnstown Flood, 1776, John Adams and others. Each element flowed smoothly into the next, in a seamless and inspiring program.

This is a picture I took with my phone before the celebration got underway:

One of my favorite moments came after a video about a man whose family came to appreciate their Scottish heritage when one young son decided to take up the bagpipes. The video’s sound faded as the choir launched into Amazing Grace and out marched a quartet of bagpipers—including the real live boy in the video, now all grown up.

Hearing McCullough was a real treat. Growing up in Pittsburgh, he said, all the kids would make gravy lakes in their mashed potatoes, use a fork to break the side and say “Johnstown Flood” as the gravy flowed into the peas—having no idea what they were talking about. That tragic flood was the topic of his first book.

At dinner time in the 1940s, his hard-of-hearing dad (who detested president Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and his equally hard-of-hearing grandmother (who believed that next to Jesus, FDR was the best human being to walk the earth) would debate the New Deal at unforgettable levels.

McCullough spoke about the importance of history and the wonderfulness of journals as sources. If you want to be immortal, he advised the audience, keep a journal, and when you think the curtain’s about to come down on your life, give it to the Library of Congress. Your journal will be famous because it will be the only one in existence from this era.

To get to know your ancestors, besides studying their records and reading what they wrote, you should read what they read, McCullough said. There’s no such thing as a self-made man or woman—we’re all made from the people before us and the people before them and the people before them. There’s no such thing as the “forseeable future,” our ancestors no more knew how things were going to turn out that we know.

The phrase shouldn’t be “gone but not forgotten,” he said, but rather, “if not forgotten, then not gone.”

You can read more about the Celebration of Family History here and here , and see a video about it here.