Youth Respond to Invitation from Apostle
By Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events
“Family history work is really personal, and it has brought me a lot of joy.” Sarra Erb, 17
For Sarra Erb, 17, of Oklahoma, USA, it really began in the spring of 2011, when she was called to serve on the youth conference committee for her stake’s 2012 pioneer trek in Nauvoo, Illinois. The youth of the stake were to prepare family history names to take to the temple, which meant that all of the youth would be introduced to family history work.
Then in October things really accelerated. For starters, Sarra heard a conference address directed to her and the other youth of the Church around the world. In his talk “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught youth that they “need not wait until … an arbitrary age to fulfill [their] responsibility to assist in the work of salvation for the human family.”
Just two weeks later, Sarra herself gave a talk at a stake youth fireside introducing the theme of her stake’s 2012 youth conference. In that talk she told of an ancestor, Robert, she had just learned about from her grandparents. This ancestor lived in South Africa, where he owned 17,000 acres of land, a bed-and-breakfast, a blacksmith shop, and a wheelwright shop. Later, upon hearing an invitation from a living prophet, he left it all behind and moved to Utah, using his vast resources to help others make the journey too.
Sarra realizes that, like Robert, she too has the opportunity to respond to the invitation of a prophet, seer, and revelator—by taking Elder Bednar’s challenge seriously. “When he said that his talk was for the youth, that got me excited,” she said. And she has an opportunity to help others along the way. She and her peers are taking advantage of opportunities to attend family history classes after Mutual and often find themselves talking about what they’re doing at firesides, dances, and other youth events.
“This is more than just sitting down for a few hours,” Sarra said. “You can’t really go in halfheartedly. It’s looking up the stories and really getting into it. Family history work is really personal, and it has brought me a lot of joy.”
Youth around the world are responding in similar ways. Across the globe, young men and young women are finding that many blessings come from their involvement in the work of salvation.
Like a lot of teenagers, Brandyn Young, 16, of Arkansas, USA, is busy. He attends early-morning seminary, plays on a state champion football team, takes advanced-placement classes, performs in the school choir, and serves in student government positions. But he hasn’t let any of that be an excuse for not responding to direction from Church leaders.
One Saturday morning, after returning home from his routine run, he listened to a general conference talk on his phone. It was Elder Bednar’s message.
“He started by inviting the youth specifically to listen,” Brandyn explains. “And then he went on to talk about how we have been prepared with technology. It’s our generation’s tech savvy that has prepared us to be involved in family history work.
“That really hit me. I have often wondered why Heavenly Father sent me to earth at this time, and here was an answer: one of the reasons was to be involved in family history work.”
Brandyn recognized that what he was feeling was a prompting from the Holy Ghost. He went upstairs and logged onto the Church’s family history website, FamilySearch.org, and spent some time looking around. Then, because he had a lot of homework to do, Brandyn bookmarked the site and determined to come back later.
He did. He knew his ward would be going on one of its semiannual youth temple trips in a few weeks, and he wanted to take a family name for his brother Benjamin, who would be going to the temple for the first time. Brandyn made time for family history research and found an ancestor—also named Benjamin. With his father’s help, Brandyn prepared the name for temple work.
Two weeks later, Brandyn returned home at 2:00 on a Saturday morning following a championship football game on Friday night. Just three hours later, at 5:00 a.m., he left with his ward to go to the temple. Even though the trip meant multiple sacrifices on his part, Brandyn said that he was grateful for the opportunity to have prepared a name for his brother and to have been able to go to the temple with him.
“There is no way to describe the feeling I got when I found my ancestor Benjamin,” he said. “Before this, the names were just names. But because this name was my ancestor, it helped me realize that all of the names we do work for are real people.
“Whenever I get this certain feeling, I know I need to go and do it,” he added. “I had that feeling when I heard Elder Bednar’s talk. I knew there would be enough time to do everything if I obeyed the prompting I felt.”
When Madison Lee, 17, of Utah, USA, learned that each of the youth in her ward were invited to find a family name before their trek in the summer of 2011, she thought, “Oh, great. They’re going to make us do family history.”
But her attitude changed when her parents invited a ward member to their home one Sunday after church. The neighbor taught Madison how to navigate and use new.FamilySearch.org, and within 10 minutes, they had found one of Madison’s ancestors who hadn’t had temple work done on his behalf.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is kind of neat,’” Madison said. “After that, our neighbor left but told me I could call him if I found any more names.”
Half an hour later, she had found a dozen more.
Madison was intrigued. The next day was a holiday, and because she didn’t have school, she spent four or five hours continuing to search, often focusing on “horizontal” rather than “vertical” research. (In effect, rather than going back another generation, Madison was looking for people’s siblings and spouses.) The result: 400 more names.
“I did a lot of sideways searching,” she said. “I wasn’t going straight back. So these people were still related to me—just through marriage or other connections.”
When Madison’s neighbors, who had long been praying to find family names that they could take to the temple, learned of Madison’s success, they invited her to search their family tree. Madison quickly found in their line a family who had eight children, all of whom needed ordinances completed.
“This was something I found I had a talent for,” she said. “I could go quickly and find what I needed to. It just seemed like something I was meant to do.”
She has begun pairing her research with temple work, which she and her younger sister, Ashlynn, who just turned 12, plan to do together. “This work is about piecing families back together,” she said. “There’s a very personal connection there.”
“It’s very exciting,” she continued. “I remember the first time I found that name, and I felt utter joy. I was so happy I found it. I feel that every time I find another name. It’s like getting a big hug. I don’t know that I can really describe it, so I am trying to help my family and everybody else go out and try it so they can feel that feeling too.”
A lot of people now turn to Madison for help with their research. “We’ve grown up with technology,” Madison says of herself and her peers. “We do our schoolwork on it. We write papers on it. We play games with it. Elder Bednar said that we were prepared for this work, and I’ve seen that that’s true. It makes so much sense for us to be involved.”
When Kylie Treadwell of Texas, USA, first turned 12 and saw older teenagers in her ward take their own family names to the temple for baptisms and confirmations, she wanted to do the same thing. As she grew older and received her patriarchal blessing, which talks about her contributions to family history efforts, she knew that this work would be an important part of her life.
Now 16, Kylie has continued to participate in family history. With the help of family history specialists in her ward, she was able to look at members of 16 generations of her family tree and make corrections to errors she found. She was even able to use that as a catalyst for a family tree project she was doing as part of an extracurricular organization she participates in.
But her research entailed more than finding names and dates. Using both FamilySearch and commercial programs, she starting piecing their stories together too. For instance, she learned that one of her ancestors had been a blacksmith before the United States Civil War and a farmer afterward. That information has led her to believe that he may have been injured in the war.
Knowing details about their lives and stories about their experiences is helping Kylie feel more acquainted with her ancestors. “I am discovering that my ancestors are part of me,” she said. “I am here because of them, and I am who I am because of them.”
Forebears aren’t the only family members Kylie is connecting with. She said that family history has brought her the opportunity to connect with her contemporary relatives too.
“I’ve talked to my extended family—my grandparents and aunts and uncles—about the family history they’ve done,” Kylie said. “They aren’t part of the Church, but one night over the Thanksgiving break, we spent the whole night talking about our family.”
Kylie said she has particularly appreciated the opportunity to connect with her grandfather, who pulled out all kinds of binders containing genealogical information. “I definitely feel like I know him better,” she said. “We have a stronger kind of bond now than we did before.”
Kylie knows that living in an information age makes searching a common task. But family history searching, she said, is markedly different.
“This is different than a Google search,” she said. “It’s more personal than that because it’s your ancestors, your family, that you’re finding. They’ve waited for you to do the work on their behalf. And when you really get into it, the Spirit … helps you do what you need to do to find them.”