Family History: Why Do We Resist the Blessings?
By Darla Isackson
I have an abiding testimony of family history; yet I still struggle to make time for it. My husband and I are ward and stake family history consultants and we staff at the multi-stake library. We have fed our ward members a steady diet of quotes from the Brethren encouraging our participation in this great work and reminding us of rich blessings promised. I have experienced those blessings when I move ahead in the work. I know for myself. Yet there is still the constant temptation to let a multitude of other good and worthy priorities distract me from it. I’m not alone.
Many Opportunities to Hear Inspired Counsel
For years we’ve all been hearing counsel from apostles and prophets concerning the importance of moving ahead on our family history. We’ve all heard numerous lessons on the subject in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. We’ve read articles about it in the Ensign, and heard talks about it in stake and general conferences and Sacrament meetings. How well have we heeded the counsel? A couple of years ago Brother Richard Turley, who heads the Family History Department for the Church, spoke to our library staff members and told us they estimate only 5% of Church membership make family history a high priority in their lives. But a new day is dawning. Thousands of hearts of the children are turning to the fathers. More and more of us are feeling the spirit of Elijah. More and more of us are heeding the counsel we are hearing.
The Challenge of Communication
I have a real desire to communicate some important things that our Church leaders are telling us about Family History. The hardest thing about communication is that the words we speak don’t always mean the same thing to the listener as to the person speaking. For instance, when genealogy was still kept on the standard forms instead of computers, one woman went to the information desk of a large Salt Lake department store and asked if they sold family group sheets. The clerk looked at her strangely, then slowly said: “I don’t think so—-we only have twin, regular, queen, and king.” I hope the words you read today will be correctly interpreted in your hearts because the Spirit confirms them.
The Words of the Brethren Are the Words of the Lord to Us
I want to preface the quotes I will share with a scripture in D&C 1:38 ” Whether by my own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same . . .” That idea is very sobering to me. When we hear the words of our apostles and prophets, we are hearing the very words of the Lord to us.
We Choose Our Response to Inspired Counsel
I am going to present in first person two opposite reactions to the counsel in the quotes. The responses are composite of true experiences I have either had myself or heard from others.
Elder Packer in his excellent article “Your Family History: Getting Started” in the August 2003 Ensign, suggests you start with you. He says, “Get a cardboard box and put it in the way and begin to put things in it . . And you will sense something spiritual happening.
“The Lord will bless you once you begin this work. This has been very evident to my family. Since the time we decided that we would start where we were, with what we had, many things have opened to us. It is my testimony that if we start where we are–each of us with ourselves, with such records as we have–and begin putting those in order, things will fall into place as they should.
“It is a matter of getting started. You may come to know the principle that Nephi knew when he said, “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.’ Once you begin this project, very interesting and inspiring things will happen.”
First response: My name is Brother Forester. I’m the father of a growing family of five. When I read this article I ran out of excuses. That day I got a cardboard box and put it right in the middle of the living room floor. I called a family council and told everyone to start gathering into this box any piece of paper containing family information, any record, certificate or picture they could find. Heaven only knows they were scattered in every drawer and closet in the whole house. We decided to have a contest that week to see who could put the most things in the box and report at family home evening. The winner wouldn’t have to help with dishes for a whole week. It was that bribe and not the Spirit of Elijah that excited the interest! I can’t explain the feeling that came over us when we all participated in this project, but that was the beginning of something that has drawn us closer together as a family. I had always felt that we were all too busy to do anything with family history, but now I apply Nephi’s words to myself and this work, “I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded. For I know that the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they might accomplish the things which he has commanded” . . . You know the scripture. We only spent a few minutes here and there, and we didn’t neglect anything else important, but the Lord has provided a way. I’ve been so grateful that after I read that article I decided to DO something about Elder Packer’s counsel.
Here’s quite a different response.
My name is Sister Beck. When I read the article by Elder Packer, I wanted to scream. He has ten kids and is a General Authority, and all I could figure is that the Lord gives him special strength that He doesn’t give me. If I try to fit one more thing into my schedule I’m sure it will push me over the edge. Anyway, this just isn’t my season of life to do one thing in that area. I have a full calendar of practices and lessons and activities to drive my kids to or attend with them, I have season tickets to plays and sports events, and many other involvements in church and my kid’s schools. I know I should see that my older kids get to the temple to do baptisms, but they just have too many other activities. And I know my husband and I should at least attend the temple now and then–but we do try to go when they have the temple dinners because my husband loves that food! As far as all that other stuff–forget it!
Do either of those responses strike a chord? For those of you who cringe at the idea of research, Elder Packer actually suggests we start on our own history first–because no one else can really write it. Write down the spiritual experiences and special memories you would most like your children and grandchildren to know about. Written, recorded, or video-taped histories, or picture histories of yourself, your children, your parents, grandparents, and so on, can be really fun parts of family history.
Year ago my friend Dorothy, who still had all her children at home, told me about her five-minute plan to work on her personal history. This was in the days before computers, and she had a card file separated with tabs into various time period of her life. Whenever she had five minutes, she jotted an experience on a 3×5 card and tucked it into the proper place in the file–such as “early childhood” or “grade school days. She unexpectedly died in her fifties, and had she not written those special memories in 5 minute increments along the way, some of her great legacy would have been lost to her family.
Overwhelm has truly been my biggest deterrent. I have a big desk and table downstairs and have gathered and done a lot of sorting of more than sixty years of personal and family pictures and mementos. I have a book started for each of my children, myself, my husband, and now my grandchildren. The task is so overwhelming when I look at it all at once that I want to sit down and cry. However, I do make progress when I divide out a few things into bite-sized chunks so that I can grab a folder or page and focus just on that. I get paralyzed if I worry all at once about the impossible mass of everything that needs to be done. Eating the elephant one bite at a time is the only way it gets eaten.
0 x 0 = 0 but 1x 52 = 52. If I finish just one picture page or write just one page of my history a week for a year, I would have 52 pages at the end of the year! Even if I only did one a month 1x 12 = 12, and twelve pages is a lot better than 0. If I work one hour a month at the library, I might come up with a few names to take to the temple by the end of the year. But if I work 0 hours, no progress will be made!
President Hinckley puts into wonderful words the answer to the problem of overwhelm: ” When looking at the vast sea of possibilities for family history work we need to quit walking along the beach thinking the ocean is just too big to cross. We need to dive in, get wet, enjoy. Family history is not drudgery. It is an invitation to joy. In D&C 64:33 we read, ‘Be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” In no area of our lives does this apply more than in family history. Start now. Do small things; and I promise great things will happen!’
Here are some possible reactions to President Hinckley’s words:
My name is Sister Overland. When I heard President Hinckley’s words, my heart was troubled. I knew I had been one of those who was completely overwhelmed with that vast sea of possibilities and consequently had done nothing. I just didn’t had the Spirit of Elijah. I didn’t FEEL anything for family history work. I guess you could say I didn’t have a testimony of it. But one day I was reading my scriptures and a verse jumped out at me. It was John 7:17. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself.” I pondered the sequence of the words: “Do . . . And then you shall know . . .” I recognized that I had been wanting to KNOW before I made any effort to DO. That is kind of like saying to my fireplace, give me warmth, and then I will give you wood.
I had also been reading in Alma that morning about trying an experiment on the word, planting the seed and seeing if it is a good seed by the results. I just didn’t want to do it, but I decided that morning that the only way to get this heavy feeling out of my heart was to try to experiment, to DO something, to plant a seed and see what happened. The things I decided to do were very small.
That first year I never spent more than an hour a month on family history, but I found out right away that the promise was true. When I moved ahead in the smallest way–typing one date into the computer, spending ten minutes asking our ward consultant for advice, making a 5 minute phone call to a relative, my heart did swell within me. Sometimes it felt like I had a whole cheering section inside saying “Hooray! You did something! Now do a little more.” The feelings are so good that I just keep moving ahead a tiny step at a time. And President Hinckley’s promises are true–it has been an invitation to joy. I’m finally feeling it!”
Now for the opposite reaction:
My name is Brother Pike. When I heard President Hinckley’s words I thought “He obviously doesn’t understand my situation. I’m hardly spending my time walking along the beach. I haven’t even got time to think about the big ocean of family history and I certainly haven’t had any spiritual feelings to motivate me to do it. Maybe when I’m retired I’ll have time to walk along that beach. Then I will jump in and get wet.”
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
It is rare thing to feel the spirit of Elijah UNTIL we obey, until we begin, until we act, until start now and do something. The Spirit of Elijah is a real and powerful motivation–but it seems we have to choose to put one foot in front of another be able to feel it.
Choosing Present Priorities by the Spirit
Elder Dallin Oaks in the June 1989 Ensign, said, “Members of this church have many individual circumstances–age, health, education, and many others. If we encourage members in this work without taking these individual circumstances into account, we may do more to impose guilt than to further the work.”
Our leaders are NOT trying to impose guilt, but to enlighten our minds to possibilities.
Elder Oaks continues, “In the work of redeeming the dead there are many tasks to be performed. . . All members should participate by prayerfully selecting those ways that fit their personal circumstances at a particular time. This should be done under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord . . . Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something.
“Leaders should encourage members to determine, according to the promptings of the Spirit, what temple and family history work they can do’ ‘in wisdom and order’; consistent with their own “strength and means.” There are many different things our members can do to help in the redeeming of the dead, in temple and family history work. Some involve callings, others are personal. [Many things can be done at home.] All are expressions of devotion and discipleship. All present opportunities for sacrifice and service.” end of quote.
Now let’s hear some more responses:
My name is Sister Jones. When I read Elder Oak’s article I was afraid to pray about it, afraid the Lord will add more bricks to my already too-heavy load. Besides, I am the world’s biggest dummy when it comes to computers and everything is computerized today. So I put the article aside and refused to even think about it.
My name is Sister Green. When I read Elder Oak’s article I was encouraged by the idea that we didn’t need to do everything, just ask the Lord to direct us to the Something that would be reasonable in our current circumstances. I really prayed about it and asked the Lord to help me see what I could do without neglecting my family or my other important responsibilities. The idea came to my mind that we could focus a lot of our family home evenings on various aspects of family history. Then I could be fulfilling two responsibilities at once.
My husband was totally supportive–especially since I was willing to do most of the preparation work! One week we talked about journal keeping and presented each child with their own journal and decided on a time each fast Sunday to work on them. Another week we talked about recording our best family memories and I typed away on my laptop as each person recounted their favorite memory. Another week we shared stories of their ancestors and decided we needed to go as a family and video tape their grandparents and great-grandparents telling about their lives. These activities led us on to many more.
I’m so glad I didn’t swat at Elder Oaks words as though they were pesky flies. I’m so glad I took his challenge seriously to pray to know what to do. Eventually the way was open for us to find a few family names to take to the temple and we found out that the staff at the family history library were delighted to walk us through the process of getting a disk temple ready. I still don’t know all that computer stuff–but it doesn’t matter. The younger children did the baptisms, and when our son John got his mission call, he was able to do an endowment for an ancestor before he entered the mission home. We all began to feel that these names in our family history are real people, people who love us and are depending on us. This family history focus has truly brought our family closer together and closer to the Lord.
When we DO, we shall KNOW. When we take a step into the darkness, the light comes. When we give the fireplace wood and light the match, it gives us warmth.
Consider the thoughts and promises in the following four quotes:
Elder John A. Widtsoe promised: “If those who wish to secure genealogies will work in the temple for those whose names they can obtain, the Lord will open the way to obtain more names. . . I testify to you that the way will be opened and we shall find ways of accomplishing the work we desire to accomplish, and that the things that make our days dark and dreary will be lifted from us if we go to the House of the Lord to perform holy work therein.”
Elder Bryant S. Hinckley said, “The spirit and influence of your dead will guide those who are interested in finding those records. If there is anywhere on the earth anything concerning them, you will find it.”
Elder Packer said, “Revelation comes to individual members as they are led to discover their family records in ways that are miraculous indeed. And there is a feeling of inspiration attending this work that can be found in no other. When we have done all that we can do, we shall be given the rest. The way will be opened up.”
Brigham Young said, “What do you suppose the fathers would say if they could speak from the dead? Would they not say, “We have lain here thousands of years, here in the prison house, waiting for this dispensation to come? . . . What would they whisper in our ear? Why, it they had the power the very thunders of heaven would be in our ears, if we could realize the importance of the work we are engaged in. All the angels in heaven are looking at this little handful of people, and stimulating them to the salvation of the human family.” Are we listening?
“Whether by the voice of my servants or my own voice it is the same.” If the Lord himself appeared today and we heard from his own mouth the counsel and wonderful promises I have read today from his servants, the apostles and prophets, would we pay more attention? Would we prayerfully ask for the Lord to help us know what little ways we could move ahead today? Would we apply Nephi’s “I will go and do” philosophy? “Whether by the voice of my servants, or by my own voice, it is the same.”
President Hinckley Sums it Up
Last October conference, in President Hinckley’s closing address, he stressed the importance of temple work and said in regard to providing ordinance work for the dead, “We literally become saviours on Mount Zion. What does this mean? Just as our Redeemer gave His life as a vicarious sacrifice for all men, and in so doing became our Savior, even so we, in a small measure, when we engage in proxy work in the temple, become as saviors to those on the other side who have no means of advancing unless something is done in their behalf by those on earth. And so, my brothers and sisters, I encourage you to take greater advantage of this blessed privilege. It will refine your natures. It will peel off the selfish shell in which most of us live. It will literally bring a sanctifying element into our lives and make us better men and better women. . . And so I urge you, my brothers and sisters, do it while you have strength to do it.” (Ensign November 2004, p. 105)
No one has ever said it better. So, like Nephi, let’s say ” Except he shall provide the way to accomplish the thing which he has commanded.” The Lord will provide the way, but each of us must take the first step before the way is known. Start now! Do something!
Family Hist Talk–Doug
Many people don’t realize that the Multi-stake Family History Center in the Heritage chapel which is located just blocks from here on 32nd West and 7330 South has thirteen fully equipped computers with high-speed Internet access to all the Church programs, and many more.
At the family history libraries you can log onto several websites for free that require a paid subscription to use at home. For instance, Ancestry.com, where you can now access all census records. Finding census records on film and tediously searching them on microfilm readers is a thing of the past. You can now find out in seconds on the computer whether the name you are looking for appears on a certain census record.
Another example of a paid-for program available on all computers at the library is Paf Insight, which allows you to automatically search the Internet IGI for temple ordinances–going directly from the information on your personal PAF file and not having to retype any of it. When Ordinances and other information appears on the screen that applies to the person you are searching, by simply clicking “update” the computer transfers it directly to your file–again with no typing, no possibility for errors in the transfer.
The program “GenSmart” is another example, which makes basic research easy and possible even for those of us who know nothing about research. Again, you begin with the information already on your personal PAF file, and with a couple of clicks, GenSmart tells you what resources available on the computer are most likely to offer information on the name you have selected, and you are directed step by step in checking them out.
One brother who lives just two blocks from our Center was going all the way downtown to access these programs because he didn’t realize they were available right here!
If you have Internet access at home, there is much that you can do there, but it is necessary to go to a Center to make a Temple Ready disk. Another advantage of coming to the Center is that there is always a staff member willing to walk you through any process you need help with, and, if they don’t know, find answers to your questions. There are also many helpful resource books in the Center which offer information that can speed your work along. Our center is open Mondays and Friday 10 to 6, Tues through Thurs 10 to 9 and Sat. From 10 to 2.
On April 19th, our ward is having an open house at the Heritage Multi-Stake Family History center. You can come over anytime between 6 and 9 and be introduced to some of these resources in a hands-on way. When you arrive, you will choose between four different demonstrations, and choose which you want to observe or learn. For instance, if you want to register for access to IGI–the Church’s temple ordinance index, you can bring your membership number and confirmation date ( they are available from the ward membership clerk if you don’t have them) and a staff member will walk you through the registration process right then and there. If you want to get started on inputting information on PAF and don’t know how, bring the information and a staff member will show you how to get started. If you have a name you want to make temple ready, you will be shown how. Of course you can do any of these things any time at the library, but the open house is a great time to get started.
2005 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.