The Heavens Were As Brass

by G.G. Vandagriff

If you want to be close to the spirit, if you want to have miracles happen in your life, turn your mind and your heart to your family history.

When Gale Tampico Boyd took a genealogy class as an undergraduate at BYU in 1967, she was only able to complete three generations on her pedigree chart. A Jewish convert, she was seriously concerned about the lack of available records on her ancestors. She wrote to the genealogy department in Salt Lake, explaining her problem and requesting direction. She was told, “Those Jewish records in Germany and Russia just aren’t available. You are just going to have to wait. Maybe someday you will be able to find them, but not now. Pursue the lines you can in the United States and leave the rest for another day.”

Discouraged, Gale did not do any more genealogy for years. Her mother was openly antagonistic to her new faith and her father was an atheist. She concentrated on building her own family with her husband and six children. For many years they lived abroad and she didn’t think much about her genealogy. When they returned to the states several years ago, however, she began a correspondence with her mother’s brother, who had turned into an avid genealogist. He gave her more information on her mother’s family. Dutifully entering it into the computer, she put the names through Temple Ready and took them to the temple.

“It was as though the heavens were as brass,” she says. “I didn’t feel any response. I felt nothing was going on up there and that these people could care less.”

Gale’s parents had been divorced and her mother remarried. After her mother’s death, her stepfather, Sheldon, joined the church. In his confirmation blessing he was told “those on the other side of the veil are watching and learning from your example.” From that time on, Gale sensed a change. It was as though the “brassy feeling” was gone. Suddenly things began to move genealogy-wise.

She had never found a record of her family anywhere, assuming it would be impossible. One day, I introduced her to the delights of the U.S. Census. Armed with a small notebook containing a rough pedigree of her father, we went to the BYU library and looked for her great grandfather on the census records. We didn’t locate him, but we found his widow. What really excited Gale, however, was that we located her in an apartment house surrounded by relatives. A writer by profession, Gale immediately built a scenario in her mind with that apartment house as the center and her ancestors as the characters. For the first time they seemed real. For the first time she felt connected. For the first time she had found a real record of her people.

Appetite whetted, she went on to haunt the BYU library finding more and more relatives on the census. Very patient in her research, she once searched the soundex (census index) for every state starting with the A’s for a lost aunt. She finally found her in New York. From her census research alone over the last year, she has found and submitted over four hundred people for temple ordinances.

Her Uncle Mike had gone to the German village of Voerrstat where his family originated and copied the names of all the Sternbergers in the registers. Gale entered all of these in the computer, sensing that she needed to do the work even for those to whom she did not precisely know how she was related. They had all witnessed each other’s marriages, so she knew they were all family. While in the temple doing work for one of these tangential family members, she received a sacred spiritual witness that that person was definitely present and aware of the proceedings. From that point on, it was as though the heavens opened and genealogical blessings began to rain down upon her head.

She was given a blessing that she would receive help in her genealogy in ways she couldn’t imagine. A short time later, her Uncle Mike e-mailed her the address of a lady who said she was somehow connected with his mother’s line. Gale got in touch with her by e-mail and found that this woman had been researching Gale’s Hoexter line for years, even though she did not know how she herself was related! All Gale had known was her grandmother and great grandparent’s names. This woman not only knew where they were from in Germany, but she had transcribed the German records back to 1750! For Jewish records, it is not possible to go much earlier because there were no surnames. She sent Gale a chart composed of computer paper pasted end to end. It was four and a half feet wide! From that record alone, Gale was able to glean three hundred names.

At a Jewish genealogical conference she learned that records will soon be available from Lithuania where her father’s family originated. Suddenly, there is so much work for her to do that she sees no end to it! As she puts it, “Things are definitely moving on the other side of the veil.”

Gale’s story proves what I know to be the major truth about genealogy. If you want to be close to the spirit, if you want to have miracles happen in your life, turn your mind and your heart to your family history. Once those on the other side of the veil become involved, nothing can stop the work from going forward. We may have to be patient like Gale. But when the time is right, the heavens will no longer be as brass, but will open and shine brightly upon us. And we will bask in the glow.

2006 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.