Discovering a Closeness to Ancestors through Family History

Contributed By By R. David Harrison, Church News contributor

  • 9 June 2014

“The headstone included [Virgina’s] birth and death dates, both correct, for this wonderful ancestor whom I never had the privilege of knowing personally. But suddenly I felt a closeness to her never before realized.”

Recently my sister and brother and I made a pilgrimage to a large cemetery in Southern California where several of our ancestors were buried. We approached the sexton with 12 names of ancestors we thought had been buried there. Eventually we were given maps for 7 of the 12 ancestors and we set out to find them—we were so pleased to hear that we would be able to find that many of the graves.

The maps made it relatively easy to find six of the seven graves, but the seventh proved both difficult and, eventually, amazing.

Our grandmother, born Virginia David O’Cull, must have had a unique childhood. As discovered on census records and her first marriage certificate, she regularly went by her middle name, David. Both my father and I were given that same middle name. Because she, through divorce and husbands’ deaths, had five husbands, we were not sure under which name she had been buried. The sexton told us she was buried as Virginia Lanier, the surname of her last husband.

Sure enough, our grandmother’s grave proved difficult to find, partially because of her series of last names and because she was in an older section of the cemetery, where grave locations were not as precise. The sexton dispatched a cemetery worker to help us find her grave.

The map was specific, but the grave was not there. After half an hour’s search the worker called for an additional, more experienced, man to help us. By this time my brother and sister had to return to our hotel.

The two workers and I continued for nearly an hour, searching the location from the map and proximate areas. Virginia Lanier was the only name the workers had—but as it would turn out, they would never have found her with that name. As the workers continued to search near the location on the map, I wandered further from that site.

Approximately 200 feet from the designated site, I felt inspired to pray. As I raised my eyes I found—not six feet from me—our grandmother’s grave. The headstone was engraved with the name “Virginia Harrison,” the surname of her first husband, our father’s father.

Chills of gratitude swelled in my soul as I thought, “Thank you, Heavenly Father, for this special blessing!”

The headstone included her birth and death dates, both correct, for this wonderful ancestor whom I never had the privilege of knowing personally. But suddenly I felt a closeness to her never before realized.