LDS Church Hosts Family Discovery Day

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 - by Phil Smartt
From left, Gloria Smartt, Jim Ison and Jim Barrott
From left, Gloria Smartt, Jim Ison and Jim Barrott

Over 100 participants from the greater Chattanooga area attended Family Discovery Day at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held on Saturday.  Nationally and internationally renowned genealogist Jim Ison was the featured speaker.  Much of Mr. Ison’s research focuses on African American Research so his participation at Family Discovery Day was intended to also be a celebration of Black History Month.   

Mr. Ison was formerly a manager at FamilySearch – the largest genealogy organization in the world.  FamilySearch is “a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  At, users may access for free billions of historical records from around the world, including records from the Freedmen’s Bureau Records Project.  According to the National Archives and Records Administration, Freedmen’s Bureau records contain “some of the most valuable records of the black experience in the second half of the 1800s” ( 

As previously reported by Mrs. Gloria Smartt – family history consultant for the Chattanooga Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – about 19,000 volunteers from the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society’s nationwide chapters, the Smithsonian, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints partnered in 2015 with the NARA to digitally index the Freedmen’s Bureau Records.  The indexing effort was unprecedented.  

At Family Discovery Day, Mr. Ison spoke about the Freedmen’s Bureau Records Project and also presented Four Key Resources for African-American Research – including Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree; Discovering Your African-American Ancestors: Slave Ancestral Research: It’s Something Else; and Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity.   

Mr. Ison also recommended reading His Promised Land – a book about a man named John Parker who was a slave, sold at age eight.  John Parker eventually rescued 440 runaways from Kentucky between 1845-1860.  By 1870, he was one of the wealthiest persons in America.  He owned and operated an Iron foundry.  John Parker’s story is a beautiful story of the resilience and glory of the human spirit. 

“Everyone has a story,” Mrs. Smartt said.  “All of us are children of God.  And, exploring our roots helps us discover who we are, why we are here and what our purpose is in life.  Genealogy connects us.  That’s why at this years RootsTech conference to be held in Salt Lake City, from Wednesday, Feb. 28, through Saturday, March 3, emphasis will be placed on strengthening our sense of belonging by connecting to our families – both living and deceased.” 

RootsTech is said to be “the largest family history event in the world.  More than 70,000 people from all 50 states and at least 50 countries are expected to attend in person or stream events online,” according to Deseret News (2/26/18).  RootsTech is organized by FamilySearch. 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard professor and host of the PBS Television program, “Finding Your Roots,” will be a prominent keynote speaker at RootTechs 2018.  According to Mr. Gates, one of the “pivotal” events that led to him becoming the host of “Finding Your Roots” was his own experience at the LDS Church’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  “I feel strong, warm connections to the Family History Library and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for all the amazing work they have done to make possible the study of genealogy,” he said in a recent interview with the Deseret News (“Everything you need to know about RootsTech 2018,” 2/26/18). 

Whether in Chattanooga or Salt Lake City, Utah, anyone can participate in the livestream events offered at RootTechs 2018.  For further information, visit

“And for anyone interested in learning more or following up after our successful Family Discovery Day in Chattanooga,” Mrs. Smartt continued, “please visit our Chattanooga Tennessee Family History Center located at 3067 Ooltewah Ringgold Road.  Our hours of operation are Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30 p.m.  Specialists will be on hand to help you sign up for a free online FamilySearch account.  Visitors will also learn how to save family photos, stories, documents and audio.  We look forward to welcoming you.” 

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