Family History: Called to be Treasure Hunters

Contributed by  Jessica Coupe of the Lethbridge Alberta Stake

  • 22 March 2013

Doing family history enriches my life as I learn of my ancestors whom the Saviour holds so dear. So dear, He calls them His ‘peculiar treasure’ (Exodus 19:5). So dear, they are ‘graven upon the palms of His hands’ (Isaiah 49:16). So dear, He has commissioned me, as their descendant, to hunt for them ‘out of the holes of the rocks’ (Jeremiah 16:16).

Treasure should be sparkly. The remains of my ancestors--their names and dates attached to places and relationships--are not. They are rather dull looking actually. But then gold ore--dusty lumps of rock--is also a very peculiar treasure.

Generally, we are reluctant to find His precious treasure, but the Lord has opened the way for us to catch the ‘sparkly’ quality in our long dead ancestors’ lives. We find it when we shift our purpose from doing genealogy to discovering our family’s stories. Everyone loves a story--stories entertain, teach, inform and expand our worldview. Stories paint word pictures allowing us to vicariously experience different cultures and viewpoints. The Lord chose to deliver the messages of the scriptures through stories.

My ancestor’s stories have not come all at once, but in many pieces hidden in many places. I love the serendipitous nature of family history research--the little bits of story that bring a splash of colour and life to what at first seems to be just dusty names and dates. For example, Eliza Kendrick married my distant cousin Jeremiah Hanmer at the Methodist chapel in Bottle, Lancashire in 1866. She was 25. They had two children. One died in infancy. Her husband died ten years later and she remained a widow for the rest of her life.

Not much story there yet, is there? Here’s where serendipity comes into play. When I posted my family tree, including Eliza Kendrick’s name online, I received an email from a man in Australia. His sister had recently died and, in going through her possessions, he came across a small, well-used white Bible. On the flyleaf was the inscription “Presented to my dear mother-in-law Mary Hanmer upon returning from my wedding tour as a token of my affectionate regard.” It was dated September 26, 1866 and signed by Eliza Hanmer.

Why his sister who had lived only briefly in Lancashire had this Bible in her possession, he did not know, as they weren’t related to the Hanmer family. I verified through the names and date that this was the Eliza Kendrick of my records. Now I not only knew Eliza’s mother-in-law’s name, but also that Eliza was fond of her and that religion was valued by this family. A little colour had touched the details.

The next remarkable coincidence occurred when another man contacted me about Eliza Kendrick. He said that years ago in Wales, he had found some things tucked away in the corner of the cottage attic. Instead of disposing of them, he decided to do an online search and try to find a living descendant who would be interested in having the papers. The closest match at the time (and it was distant) was me. He has since found direct descendants living in Canada to whom he has given the papers and with whom I am now in contact.

Among the old papers was this 1923 letter found in a metal box. It was written by Eliza Kendrick when she was 82 to her 55-year old daughter who was working as a nurse in Lancashire.

My dear Dora,

I wish you very many happy returns of the day sincerely hoping every year may be happier than the previous one and before another year your hearing may be ever so much better, we know that there is nothing impossible to Almighty God. I am sending you £2 with fond love and the very best of wishes. God bless you my dear Dora.

I do hope you will buy a pair of boots, as they are most necessary by keeping the feet dry, saves many colds...£1 for your birthday & £1 for Xmas.

...Now for every happiness and dear love from your every loving, Mother

Sometimes it is the simple things that are the most poignant, such as a mother’s testimony echoing across decades and continents giving vibrancy to the outline of a life.

Before the advent of computers, family history research took a lot in time, effort and money. Like miners hunting for gold, finding our ancestors’ stories was difficult. Ordering a microfilm from the Family History Centre in Salt Lake and reading through it was a long, slow process. Today, it is much easier to find our ancestors! Just like advanced technology helped miners of the last century find and extract gold faster, modern technology helps us hunt and find our ancestors and their stories with greater speed and convenience.

Here are six ways to more easily search for your ancestors and share their stories with family members:

1) Pray and Plan: Your ancestors are the Lord’s peculiar treasures. He knows your lives are busy. Pray to know who He wants you to find. Ask how to prioritize your time and energy to search for His treasure. Pray to be strengthened by the search.

2) Educate yourself: FamilySearch.org has lots of direction for beginners to ease the frustration that can result from learning a new task. Check out the Learn tab to view interactive classes and tutorials. Try research wiki to learn more about what records are available for your ancestor’s country of origin.

3) Consult an Expert: Each ward has one or more family history consultants who can help you get started. These are experienced researchers who have received training in helping new researchers. Check the online ward directory at canada.lds.org to learn who your ward consultants are.

4) Hunt from Home: FamilySearch.org gives instant access to the two million plus rolls of microfilm that are stored in the Granite Mountain Record Vault near Salt Lake City. Now it’s possible to search from the comfort of your own home and on your own schedule.

5) Collaborate: If it is too overwhelming to research on your own, encourage other family members to work with you. Perhaps they can do the research and you can write the stories. Or you can fix the photos and they can interview older family members.

6) Share the Stories: Stories are our windows to the world. Sharing them strengthens families, gives them roots and insight into their heritage.

Search out your own family tree on FamilySearch.org and perhaps your will find some delightful surprises awaiting you that give colour and life to the outline of your ancestors’ lives!

Jessica Coupe is a ward family history consultant and has been involved in family history for the past ten years.