Updated: Thursday, 21 Mar 2013, 12:55 PM MDT
Published : Thursday, 21 Mar 2013, 12:55 PM MDT
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Karleen Tutton's 22 grandchildren always perk up when she tells the tale of her 6-foot-6-inch great grandfather who stared down a grizzly bear in the 1800s.
A bear he was hunting in the Utah wilderness attacked him, she recounts, and he survived by jamming his rifle down the bear's throat. The story is based on a journal he kept, which has been passed down through generations of Tutton's family.
"The grandkids love that story," said Tutton, of Springfield, Mo., "Especially the boys."
Tutton is among nearly 7,000 genealogy enthusiasts in Salt Lake City this week at "RootsTech," the largest family history conference in the U.S., now in its third year.
"I really want to learn more about some of the technology available for searching for ancestors," said Tutton, 67, whose family has already traced their roots back to 1500 in England and Scotland.
The three-day conference is hosted by Family Search, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' nonprofit organization dedicated to the research of family history.
The conference brings together genealogy enthusiasts of all levels, from people with decades of experience to others just getting started. The focus is on how websites, software and other technology can help people find, organize, preserve and share family history.
Organizers say the rise of social media and development of new technology has driven more people to dig into their family history.
The growing expo — attendance has more than doubled in three years — is another example of how Salt Lake City has become a mecca for genealogists. The church's Family History Library is considered the world's largest repository of genealogy records and is visited by 700,000 people annually.
The focus on genealogy by Mormons is rooted in their belief that families should be the focal point of their lives, and that family relationships continue into eternity.
Tutton is Mormon, but many attendees are from other religious faiths. Sisters Daisy McConnell and Donna Lupo are non-Mormons from St. Louis, Mo., who are trying to expand their knowledge of where they come from.
McConnell has been doing genealogy for 15 years and traced her father's side of the family back six generations to the early 1800s in Sicily, Italy. She came to the conference to learn how she can use DNA to help her get past a dead end on her mother's side of the family tree, which trails off in 1820.
Lupo is just getting started in genealogy and plans to learn how she can better organize all the documents and photos her sister has compiled that fill up her house. She also hopes to find out which of the stories passed down through generations are true.
The sisters already have found a newspaper article confirming a story about woman from their family who rode a horse to let the men know Indians were attacking.
"These are stories we want our family to know," McConnell, 60, said. "We want our kids and their kids to know where we came from."
Keynote speaker Dennis Brimhall, president of LDS Family Search International, urged attendees to think about what their great-grandchildren would wish they would have done to document family stories. With digital cameras, social media and a bounty of technology, preserving family history is easier than ever, Brimhall said.
He urged people to help promote worldwide efforts to document the lives of people. Family Search volunteers have put 1 billion searchable genealogy records online from around the world in the past seven years. Prior to that, it took 86 years to index the first billion records. Brimhall said UNICEF has found that 40 percent of people in world will live and die with no records.
"We need to remember that people don't really exist until we know their story," Brimhall said.
Brimhall also encouraged people to get their children involved and bring down the average age of family historians. More than 2,000 school-aged children will attend the conference on Saturday and learn how they can get started in genealogy.
Tutton plans to attend a session this week about how to encourage her own children and grandchildren to get involved.
"There are a tremendous amount of stories available," Tutton said. "You learn from the history of your ancestors."
Follow Brady McCombs at https://twitter.com/BradyMcCombs