In this forum address from July 18. 2017, Amy Harris, associate professor of history and family history/genealogy at BYU, examines the concept of genealogical consciousness, which goes beyond mere knowledge or pursuit of personal or group identity. Instead, it requires that we think about strangers in the past, which causes us to think about strangers in the present and strangers in the future and about how our relationships and actions will last beyond death and echo into future strangers’ lives. It demands that we act more compassionately and more Christlike.
To illustrate genealogical consciousness, Harris uses the example of William Dade, a clergyman in eighteenth-century England, who determined that Church of England parish registers should contain more information than they typically did. Dade’s decision did not come from a historical interest in the past so much as a concern for the future, all the more surprising since Dade died childless.