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Never-Before-Seen Footage of Late President Ballard Featured at Family Discovery Day

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It wasn’t until the late President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was 11 that he realized his grandfather was “someone very special” to many people.

Family Discovery Session 2024 | President M. Russell Ballard • RootsTech •  FamilySearch

As the young Russell rode in a car in his grandpa’s funeral cortege in 1939 in Salt Lake City, he saw the street near the Tabernacle jammed with people who had come to honor the life of his grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, who had served as an Apostle for the final two decades of his life.

“[I] saw the adoration that the people had for my grandfather,” President Ballard said in a video shown at the RootsTech 2024 Family Discovery Day on Saturday, March 2, 2024. “On both sides of the family, both grandfathers were Apostles. I didn’t understand what that meant because in those days my parents were not active [in the Church].”

His maternal grandfather was Elder Hyrum M. Smith (1872–1918).

From that point on, President Ballard said, “I learned everything I could learn about [grandpa Ballard]. And that stimulated an interest in wanting to learn everything I could about my mother’s father [and] her mother.”

The video, available to view at the bottom of this page, was filmed before President Ballard’s death in November 2023 and shows him at several important Church historical sites. For it was in these places — the Kirtland Temple and Carthage Jail — where his great-great grandfather (Hyrum Smith) and great-great uncle (Joseph Smith) worshipped and lost their lives. 

President Ballard said knowing your roots helps you better grasp your identity — and pay a necessary debt of gratitude.

“It’s very important for people to seek out and know what they can about those who laid the groundwork for them to have what they have in their lives,” President Ballard said. “It’s a wonderful thing to know about your forefathers, many of which paid a big price for our personal existence in this world. I hope when I die there’ll be a few over there that’ll say thank you for maybe a little good I did along the way. That’s what I’m trying to do is to help where I can.”

The 25-minute video of President Ballard (filmed in 2023) was the capstone of the three-day RootsTech family history conference — the largest of its kind in the world. Thousands of people from around the globe gathered in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City — with an estimated 4 million more joining online.

 

One of those who came to Utah was Evelyn Digboh, the national archivist of Nigeria. She came to discover more about keeping genealogy records to help fellow Nigerians discover their roots.

“A whole lot needs to be done. It’s something we can no longer run away from,” Digboh said. “We should pursue it very passionately to make sure no family is cut off and everyone gets connected to their roots. [RootsTech] is indeed a wonderful thing. And it’s kind of an eye-opener for me because my few days of attending this program has opened my understanding and horizon to another realm of opportunities that we can, as a country, embrace to further improve on what we are doing.”

The conference’s keynotes were comedian Henry Cho, Dred Scott descendent Lynne M. Jackson, award-winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth, photographer Nancy Borowick, singer Katie James and FamilySearch President and CEO Steve Rockwood.

Jackson, a great-great granddaughter of civil rights heroes Dred and Harriet Scott, pointed to the conference theme of “Remember,” adding a comment about the importance of inspiration in the journey. She said she shares the story of the Scotts, who fought for freedom from slavery in the mid-1800s, “the story just resonates with people.”

“We will remember things that are hard to hear,” Jackson said. “But we will be inspired by so many things that will bring you to tears and let you know that there is hope for the future. To share the story of my ancestor, Dred Scott and his wife, Harrit, is a privilege beyond compare.”

Among other important topics covered at RootsTech was how generative AI will boost genealogical work. Rockwood said RootsTech is an opportunity to see “how to use generative AI for good — and to do so responsibly.”

“Here at RootsTech, what you’re going to see is what this industry has done for the past several decades,” Rockwood said. “When the internet first came, we showed you how you could use the internet to spread this passion and light around the world. When mobile technology came, we showed you how you can now carry your family’s story 24/7. When DNA came, that was a huge explosion of interest — and we were able to show people where they come from and connect them back to family members they didn’t know. And now with genealogists and others, they’re able to break through [genealogical] brick walls. So, we’ve shown how you can use these new breakthrough technologies responsibly.”

RootsTech Director Jen Allen said generative AI will help the human family tree expand.

“We’re going to see that artificial intelligence come in and help us [answer] the really hard questions or [discover] the records that were destroyed or are really hard to read,” Allen said. “That computer is getting in there and figuring it out for us. It’s going to start with those brick walls, those areas where it’s been really hard for us to penetrate. We’re going to see that human tree just grow because we are able to find more people.”

Visit RootsTech.org for a more detailed look at RootsTech 2024.

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