I want to unveil a mystery that defies logic. It has to do with the Lord’s tendency to get involved, open doors, and pour out blessings when we take the smallest steps in family history work. In spite of this easy-to-document fact, most of us find a multitude of excuses for avoiding it.
I’m a prime example. Although I’ve had so many good (even inspiring) experiences in the past, I’m just barely breaking through the procrastination barrier to get involved again after a dry spell of not months, but years. I’ve made a lot of progress in hard copy picture histories, but have been afraid of the computer.
When my husband and I served as family history consultants a decade ago, we felt that our most important “mission” was to help people quit procrastinating (beginning with ourselves!). The most common lament we heard was: “I want to do family history; I really do. But every time I look at that box bulging with papers, or think of the research that needs to be done, the stories that need to be written, and the temple work that is waiting on me, I feel totally overwhelmed.”
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Most people procrastinate when they encounter feelings of overwhelm-and family history is so likely to seem overwhelming. The job just looks too big and too nebulous. To avoid facing how much there is to do and our own feelings of ineptness, we do nothing.
Here’s the only solution I’ve found: Instead of being intimidated by the immensity of the project, start small, but START. Begin wherever your interest leads you and do whatever looks easiest at the moment. It really doesn’t matter where you start. What matters is that you start! If you don’t start, nothing will happen. Any number, when multiplied by zero, is zero. But even a small effort persistently added to can become a large accomplishment. For instance, one page a week on a life history could result in 52 pages completed by the end of a year! A little at a time, whenever you can squeeze it in is like an investment that yields great dividends.
Those who put forth a little effort in family history can reap an amazing result because the Lord magnifies our efforts. God truly does work in mysterious ways when it comes to family history.
I’d like to suggest some totally enjoyable approaches to eating the elephant of family history “one bite at a time.”
1.If you don’t have a computer, or are not computer savvy, but live close to a family history center, go there. Take whatever information you have on just one name, or just a few names, and have them help you. In the “olden days” of having to go out of our homes to get family names temple ready.
I wrote about a couple who spent just one hour at the family history library and left with some names ready to take to the temple. They didn’t try to get ten generations of research done. They simply found a few people on their pedigree with sufficient documentation and brought the information into the family history library. They didn’t need to know the computer programs. The staff at the library were delighted to help with any part of the process they weren’t familiar with. They simply took one bite of their family history elephant and got fabulous results! They experienced large rewards for their small efforts.
That was ten years ago, and so much has changed. Expert help is still available at regional family history centers and of course at the downtown Salt Lake Family History Library, and even though things are so much easier now, many people still prefer to have an expert guide them through the process. If you are one of those, follow the above example.
2.If you do have a computer, and have some basic computer skills, log onto familysearch.org, set up an account (which requires your membership number if you are a member of the Church) and see what you can find. Because of the amazing resources now available online you can now do so much family history work at home, in your pajamas.
For example, one morning this week at 4:30 a.m. I logged onto familysearch.org for about twenty minutes. I didn’t figure out how to access what I have been looking for in my husband’s maternal line, and had to ask for help later, but I did find two sealing ordinances in my own family line that Doug and I can do right away! Now that is truly an example of large rewards from small efforts. I’m talking minutes!
Since I knew I needed help, in that same time period I found the phone number (1-800-406-1830) and email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for Family Search help, have accessed both and been impressed with the immediate assistance I received. Try these help lines and ask any question you have and you will find caring, knowledgeable people who will help you make the best use of the amazing resources now available.
Sometimes we just make family history work harder and more complicated than it needs to be. If we just do what we can, move ahead in one small way, the Spirit will guide us and open the way to the next thing. However, the Spirit can’t guide us if we are doing nothing. Riding a bike is a good analogy; we won’t get anywhere if we don’t climb on and push the pedals. But we may find breath-taking scenery rather quickly when we start moving!
Still, Satan works against us every step of the way. He tries to keep us off the family history bicycle by creating resistance to every phase of this important activity. The most common way he does this is to convince us that we don’t have time to fit one more thing into our already full schedules. But I know people who have burst that “time barrier” and consequently experience the mystery of large reward for small efforts.
For example, one family found a solution that resulted in great blessings. The mother, Kathy, said, “For the space of a couple of years my husband Mark and I made family history work our weekly date. We would alternate on Friday nights between going to the temple and going to the Family History Library [this was a decade ago].
It was overwhelming at first to figure out where to start. Family history seemed like this huge knot with no visible entry point. What we did was to simplify it. Instead of looking at everything there was to do, we just each chose a name and started there. The people at the library would steer us to the sources where we could find out what we wanted to know about the person, and then sometimes they would help us make sense out of what we found. From that one initial name we just kept moving forward. Finding out about each name led us to the next name to find out about. Each time we found someone we would go ahead and clear that name and start doing the temple work. We never did a huge submission-we just did what we found, one or two names at a time.
“As we went to the temple to do the work for family names we had found, our experiences became so much richer. The joy we felt as we performed ordinances was multiplied. One of the great blessings was that not only did Mark and I have the opportunities to feel that joy, but also our children, as they served as proxies in the baptistry for these family members. The experiences they had of being taught by the Spirit while performing ordinances far outweighed anything that Mark or I could have said on the subject.”
Voices from Beyond the Veil
Kathy continued, “I have learned that our loved ones on the other side of the veil are very real and very anxious to have this work done on their behalf. One day I was doing the endowment for my great aunt, Sarah Hodges. As I spoke her name inside that holy temple the Spirit filled me with a certainty that she and Heavenly Father had been longing for many years to have her name spoken in that place, for that purpose, and there was joy in heaven that it had finally happened. As I went down to the locker room to change, I kept hearing the words Uncle Diddy, Uncle Diddy going excitedly through my mind. It was a little annoying because I didn’t know anyone who had that name. Finally, in exasperation, I said to myself, Who in the world is Uncle Diddy?’ As soon as I said that, the words stopped. A few seconds later, in a more subdued tone, the words “Darius Hodges” came to my mind. At that point I realized that I had been receiving revelation. Darius Hodges was Aunt Sarah’s husband.
“Now that her work was done she was anxious for her husband to also have that blessing. I am so grateful for participating in family history work. If I never had, I never would have had the experiences with Aunt Sarah, and many other sacred experiences that have strengthened my testimony and those of my family. I know that family history is an absolutely key activity. I know that however much we invest in it, the returns will be far greater than we can imagine. There are few things that we can do that have more worth and that we will have more help with from the other side of the veil.”
Boyd K. Packer said, “The Lord will bless us as we attend to the sacred ordinance work of the temples. Blessings there will not be limited to our temple service. We will be blessed in all of our affairs . . . Our labors in the temple cover us with a shield and a protection, both individually and as a people.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Holy Temple,” Ensign, October, 2010.)
So many people have found that interest in family history work, and a “one step at a time” attitude can bring families closer together in amazing ways. And there’s no mystery to that!
My husband Doug gives an example from his family, “Soon after Darla and I were called as ward family history consultants, we were visiting my aunt (who is not a member) at her summer cabin in the mountains above Schofield, Utah. With us were my parents (also nonmembers), my Uncle Nard, and his wife, the only other Church members on my mother’s family line. This was a momentous reunion; Nard, had been estranged from his sisters for many years, partly because he had joined the Church. They had not been one bit pleased when I joined the Church, either. Darla and I had been married for eight years by then and this was the first time she had met my uncle.
“As we ate dinner together we brought up the subject of the colorful family history and stories of their ancestors. At once, the three siblings became engrossed in a lively discussion. Questions such as, which version of this story do you think is accurate?’ flowed into remember when?’ and kept them going for a long time as Darla took notes on the stranger-than-fiction stories in the family’s past. The enthusiasm was intense, and they admitted that no one had ever written any of these stories down.
“When it was time to leave, they decided on dates to meet and continue the discussion. A bond has been reestablished because of that cabin visit. Uncle Nard has written and distributed not one but two books about our family’s history and uncovered the names and dates for many who need their work done. Darla and I would never have guessed all the good things that would happen because we became more interested in family history.”
Again, large rewards for small efforts.
Doors Will Be Opened, Blessings Poured Out
Harold B. Lee said, “The Lord will help open doors as we do genealogy. I have a conviction born of a little experience to which I bear testimony that there are forces beyond this life that are working with us. I have the simple faith that when you do everything you can, researching to the last of your opportunity, the Lord will help you to open doors to go further with your genealogies, and heaven will cooperate, I am sure.” (Seventh Annual Priesthood Genealogical Research Seminar Address, 4 August 1972, p. 3.)
My husband Doug joined the Church when he was 39, just before I met him. I had anticipated that he would join me in the temple the next year, but this did not happen. As I review the years Doug and I spent as family history consultants (2000-2006), I find deep gratitude for an inspired calling, even though Doug was the only consultant I knew who had not yet been to the temple himself at the time he was called. This work has brought us blessings that I never could have anticipated.
For instance, one day Doug’s mother called me and said she had just found an envelope with information that might interest us. Did it ever! Part of that documentation made it possible for me to do Doug’s great-grandmother’s work. This woman was an anti-Mormon bootlegger in Salt Lake during prohibition days and I’d heard many spicy stories about her life. Consequently, I had no expectations when I did her work. But in the fifty some years since her death, she had obviously been busy on the Other Side learning the gospel. I know she was anxious and ready for her work to be done because when I went through the temple for her I knew she was there; I felt her joy!
I was able to come home from the temple after doing her work and tell Doug of my experiences with his great-grandmother. I suspect that the Spirit of Elijah strengthened his testimony of the importance of the temple because he chose to get his recommend and take out his own endowment shortly thereafter. I had waited nearly fourteen years for that day, not always patiently. What a sweet experience.
Doug has since done the work for several other members of his family. We participated in a sealing session where his grandparents and great-grandparents were sealed to each other and to their children. The Spirit again bore witness to both of us of the importance of this work. I personally believe that temple experiences can strengthen us in a unique way. When we receive a personal witness that those on the Other Side of the veil have accepted the ordinance we are participating in, it is as though they are standing there personally bearing witness to the truthfulness of the gospel and the validity of the Restoration. No other experience has ever been more spiritually powerful to me than feeling such a witness.
Everyone Can Do Something!
It behooves each of us to examine the excuses we make and the other priorities we place ahead of family history work. I’ve recently been doing that all over again. I know that if we are willing to take the first step, there IS a way for each of us to incorporate family history into our busy lives. There is so much to learn and so much that needs to be done. However, it is so much easier than it’s ever been.
Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley said, “If temple ordinances are an essential part of the restored gospel, and I testify that they are, then we must provide the means by which they can be accomplished. All of our vast family history endeavor is directed to temple work. There is no other purpose for it. The temple ordinances become the crowning blessings the Church has to offer.” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “New Temples to Provide Crowning Blessings’ of the Gospel,” April, 1998 General Conference.)
Elder David B. Haight said, “The turning of the hearts of the fathers in the spirit world to the children on earth provides for the gathering of ancestral data of their deceased fathers in order that ordinances might be performed in the temples of the Lord. Thus, the living having their hearts turned to their fathers is in accordance with the premortal agreement we made before the earth was formed.”
The Lord knows each of our current situations, and that there is a “time and season” for all things. But almost any time and season will allow an hour here and there for some phase of family history and temple work. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “The first principle is that our efforts to promote temple and family history work should be such as to accomplish the work of the Lord, not to impose guilt on his children. Members of the Church have many individual circumstances . . . The second principle that we should understand is that in the work of redeeming the dead there are many tasks to be performed, and that all members should participate by prayerfully selecting those ways that fit their personal circumstances at a particular time . . . Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something.” (“In Wisdom and Order,” Ensign, June 1989.)
Prayerfully choose your “something” today and get started! When you are on the Lord’s errand you can expect His help. As we provide the opportunity for our ancestors to have temple ordinances done in their behalf, our lives are greatly blessed. In fact, this seems to be one of those rare uses of time where we sometimes see large rewards from small efforts! The Lord does work in mysterious ways to move His work along!
Author note: Do you know someone whose life has been impacted by the suicide of a loved one? The common pattern is to avoid the subject and avoid processing the grief, but there is a better way. Help them find “the peace that surpasses understanding” by pointing them to one of the following: If they are LDS, direct them to After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Faith to Go On. If they are not LDS, direct them to: Finding Hope while Grieving Suicide: Opening Your Heart to the Healing Only God Can Give. For more information go to my website: <darlaisackson.com>.