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Participating in family history research reduces students’ anxiety by 20%, increases self-esteem by 8%

At a time when anxiety is becoming increasingly prevalent among the rising generation, a common question that parents, teachers, professors, government officials and Church leaders are asking is “How do we help the youth and young adults of today?”

While it’s a broad question with several possible answers, researchers at Brigham Young Universityrecently found one that may be surprising to some — family history.

Their study published in The Journal of Genealogy and Family History in April found that those who participate more in family history work have higher self-esteem, reduced anxiety and greater resilience.

“When we find that a family history course — you think about that, one course for three months — improves self-esteem by 8% and reduces anxiety by 20%, that’s huge,” said David A. Wood, BYU accounting professor and co-author of the study.

“Now, obviously, we’re not suggesting that this can solve clinical depression and all ills of life, but it can help. And to that end, the proof is in the pudding. Try it. Try it and see if you’re not happier at the end and if you don’t feel better.”

Wood co-authored the study “Improving Psychological Well-Being of Young Adults by Conducting Family History Research at a Religious University” with Barry M. Lunt, BYU information technology and cybersecurity professor, and Kelly R. Summers, professional genealogist and BYU part-time family history professor.

Reduced Anxiety, Increased Self-esteem

Thinking about the wide-spread challenges of mental health, self-esteem and resilience, Wood said initially it wasn’t obvious to turn to family history. But then he remembered prior research that found a connection between knowing one’s family and better psychological outcomes. He and the other two researchers wondered if doing family history actually improves psychological well-being.

“The three of us just got together and said, ‘We think this is true. We hear about this all the time in general conference. Let’s see if the empirical evidence can support these findings,’” said Wood, who has witnessed firsthand the psychological benefits of family history while serving in a YSA bishopric and other Church callings.