What do you know about your ancestors? How does your knowledge of your ancestors turn your heart to them? If you could sit down with your ancestors and talk with them, what would you want to ask them? What would you like to have your great-great-grandchildren know about you? The answers to most if not all of these questions are found in doing family history work.
Everyone can do family history work. Making our own personal records and getting to know our family members, both past and present, can be enjoyable and rewarding. Family history records comprise numerous different types: birth, marriage, and death certificates; photographs, family histories, journals, books of remembrance, or scrapbooks.
When we do family history work, we act under the Spirit of Elijah to learn about our ancestors and to prepare records for our posterity. The prophet Elijah was the last prophet before the time of Christ to hold the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood. This priesthood power allows us to be sealed to our family members for eternity. Another Old Testament prophet by the name of Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return in the latter-days.
"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." (See Malachi 4:5-6.)
This passage of scripture contains a prophecy that Elijah would return to the earth to restore the sealing power. This prophecy was fulfilled on April 3, 1836, when Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the
in a succession of
"After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
"Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi - testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come--
"To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse--
"Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors." (See Doctrine and Covenants 110:13-16.)
The phrase "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" means to seal us to all our ancestors - our "fathers" - and to all our posterity - our "children" - forever. Because of the sealing power of the priesthood and temple ordinances for the living and the dead, families can be bound together for eternity. Turning "the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" also refers to the love we feel for our ancestors when we learn about them.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated: "There are millions across the world who are working on family history records. Why? Why are they doing it? I believe it is because they have been touched by the spirit of this work, a thing which we call the spirit of Elijah. It is a turning of the hearts of the children to their fathers" ("A Century of Family History Service," Ensign, Mar. 1995, 62).
The following story about a couple named Fred and Marion illustrates the power of the Spirit of Elijah in bringing family members together. Fred and Marion have a plaque hanging in a prominent spot in their home. The plaque is written in beautiful script and reads, "God is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation." This inscription brings a wonderful spiritual atmosphere into the home. It also aids the family in remembering the story behind the thought.
married Fred, she was very interested in learning about his ancestors and
heritage. Fred's mother had come from Marion as a
young child with her parents, who were the only members of their families to
join the Church. Fred's mother had been
so young when she came that she grew up with little knowledge about her
grandparents. An occasional letter was
the only link between families for many years. England
Marion and Fred wrote to ask relatives in
information about Fred's mother's grandparents and the old family home. They learned of a kind grandmother, very
proper in her black satin dress and gold brooch, and of Sunday visits to a tidy
cottage where children had to remember their manners and sit quietly on the
prickly horsehair-covered chairs. The
family honored the Sabbath by attending church and refraining from any
unnecessary labor. England
One elderly cousin wrote of an inscription, written in an old style of lettering that had hung above the fireplace of his parents' humble cottage. The inscription had remained vivid in his mind, although time had dimmed his recollection of other events.
This simple inscription has helped Marion and her family to feel a closeness to Fred's ancestors. By preserving the inscription on a plaque, this family has developed a new perspective of reverence toward God and appreciation for their ancestors (See Preparing for Exaltation, 262-263).
There are numerous ways to do family history work and learn more about our ancestors. 1) We can ask our living ancestors - parents, grandparents, etc. - to tell us about their parents and grandparents. 2) We can write letters to our grandparents and ask them to share some stories about themselves, their children, their parents, or their grandparents. We would be wise to ask them to include details such as dates, places, and names of people in the stories. Any replies to our requests should be kept in a safe place.
3) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many Family History Centers. Anyone living or traveling near these centers may go there to use the computers and other resources to find the names of more ancestors. 4) We can prepare a pedigree chart of your family. 5) If we have ancestors from a different country, we can read about the customs of that country and learn about how our ancestors lived.
The following story illustrates how each of us can do family history work and reap rich rewards. "Linda was a convert to the Church. She envied her friend's Latter-day Saint pioneer heritage and the many pages of pedigrees, biographies, and stories he had in a book of family records, but she could see nothing very exciting or glamorous in learning about her own ancestors. Then her friend said something that made her look at her situation in a different light.
"`Linda, I envy you!' … My friend closed his book and continued, `All the work that's in here was done by someone else…. But you - you get to start fresh and snoop around for yourself! Just think how close that will bring you to your mothers and fathers! You'll really get to know them!'
"Knowing my mothers and fathers! I had never thought of it that personally before. Mothers and fathers don't have to be glamorous or royal - they just have to be mine and I theirs! I repented of my envy and scurried home with the spirit of Elijah fluttering around me and some blank pedigree charts in my hand.
"I filled in the information for my parents and me but didn't have much beyond names for my grandparents. Then I remembered some old boxes of family things my mother mentioned once. In the basement covered with dust and smelling like the 19th century, two cigar boxes lay wedged in behind some old tires. I had found treasure chests! I sat down on the cold concrete, surrounded by hardware and hoses and mold, and began to get acquainted with my ancestors. In those boxes I found a 1907 newspaper clipping of my great-grandfather's obituary, my granduncle's report card from Sweden in 1883, a 14-inch swatch of my grandmother's golden hair, an envelope with five generations of parents' names diagrammed on the back, lots of unlabeled photographs, and a small, brittle bundle of Swedish letters from my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother when they were courting in the 1860s. I offered a teary prayer of gratitude there in that damp, musty sanctuary, and I knew I was not alone in that prayer or that place.
"I studied those treasures in the months that followed. I pumped my mother for anything she could recall about her family. She helped me label photographs and sort out relationships. I studied old Swedish customs. I examined old maps of the areas where my family had lived. I listened to Swedish folk music. I even learned a little of the language. I discovered what kinds of people my ancestors really were: Gerda, my mother's mother - the sensitive, industrious, beautiful nurse; Carl Johan - the stationmaster with the flowing beard who would give advice and settle disputes like a lawyer; Maria Christina - the sturdy, stocky, devoted wife of Carl Johan and a diligent student of the scriptures; Agnes Sigrid Alfreda who had volunteered for the earliest experimental polio immunizations and was unfortunately left crippled; and my dear great-great-grandfather Anders who wrote in 1880. `If I am now welcome I intend to travel to see you if the Lord will grant me health, and take with me my fishing yarn and the material for wooden clogs.' I love them all as living people, as my parents" (Linda K. Hoffman, "Gerda, I Love You, or The Spirit of Elijah Is for Simple Folk Too" New Era, Aug. 1976, 28-30).
In addition to learning about our ancestors, we can keep our own personal records. The scriptures tell us that we will be judged out of the books that are kept. By keeping our own personal records, we can determine that the records are true. Our own records comprise a very important part of family history work. Our future generations will have a difficult time turning their hearts to us if they know nothing about us, but our own records will help our family members to know more about us in the future.
Have you ever wondered what information you would give to your children and grandchildren? Have you considered that the way you face challenges may help your posterity to face their own challenges better? Could knowing about you and your experiences help your posterity in their lives?
President Spencer W. Kimball stated: "We may think there is little of interest or importance in what we personally say or do - but it is remarkable how many of our families, as we pass on down the line, are interested in all that we do and all that we say. Each of us is important to those who are near and dear to us - and as our posterity read of our life's experiences, they, too, will come to know and love us. And in that glorious day when our families are together in the eternities, we will already be acquainted" (Ensign, Nov. 1979, 5).
Our journals should include a record of our daily lives as well as personal experiences and feelings, testimonies, difficulties, family events, missionary calls, joyful occasions, and funny events in our lives. Our journals do not need to be fancy, and our words in them do not need to be extraordinary. We do however need to record memories that will be valuable to us and to our posterity. Even things that seem insignificant now, like the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the things we do at school, may be important to us and to others in the future.
President Spencer W. Kimball counseled: "Get a notebook my young folks…. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies" ("The Angels May Quote from It," New Era, Oct. 1975, 5).
I have a dear friend who is an outstanding journal keeper who has kept a journal for many years. She often shares passages from her journals that are uplifting to other people, particularly her posterity. She is a great example to me and a great strength to her family.
I have also been influenced by family members who keep journals, and I have kept a daily journal for many years. My journal entries help me to remember my past experiences and my growth and development. My journal is also a place where I can write about experiences and feelings that are difficult to share with other people. I am always amazed how the feelings come back while reading past entries.
My grandchildren often ask me for stories about my childhood. I recently spent several days writing about my life as a child and youth on my family farm. I really enjoyed this experience and feel that I had inspiration from God while doing it. I believe that my Father in Heaven brought past experiences to my memory in order for me to have them in my record. These stories will one day be a gift for my grandchildren.
I know the importance of turning our hearts to our "fathers" and to our "children" and work on my family history and personal records. I encourage you to get a notebook and start keeping a journal. I also encourage you to learn about your ancestors and save any important pieces of information in a book of remembrance, scrapbook, or file. I know that we will all be blessed by turning our hearts to our fathers and to our children.