A Series of Chance Events Connects Relatives at RootsTech

Contributed By By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer

  • 5 March 2014

Lorie Cox and Hayley Elizabeth Heineken stand side by side at RootsTech 2014 after finding out they are relatives.  Photo by Ryan Morgenegg.

Article Highlights

  • A series of fortunate events helped a recent convert connect with a relative she never knew existed at RootsTech.

Hayley Elizabeth Heineken of Carlsbad, California, joined the Church four years ago. She is the only Latter-day Saint in her family. Just a few weeks ago she decided to get going on her family history work, which led to her attendance at RootsTech 2014. Her journey to the conference unfolded as a series of fortunate events that eventually connected her with a relative she never knew existed.

Thinking that if anyone was going to do her ancestors’ genealogy it better be her, Sister Heineken started some family history research in January of this year. “I was very blessed to find 150 names in about two days,” said Sister Heineken. “A week later, I took 40 of those names to the temple for baptisms and confirmations. I was able to be a part of the baptism for my great-grandmother, and I witnessed the baptism for my grandfather. It was amazing.”

Shortly after her successful launch, Sister Heineken got stuck and needed help. She reached out to one of her friends, Elain McMahan, who suggested she speak with her cousin. “Listen, I don’t know a ton about family history, but my cousin, Connie Ward, is essentially a professional genealogist, and she is coming into town,” said Sister McMahan. “I’ll set it up where you can meet.”

Sister Heineken said, “Connie and I hit it off instantly. I could see myself in the future through her. She taught me so much, and I shared with her that I had just gotten an email about the RootsTech genealogy conference. She said she went every year and that if I could find a way to go, I could stay with her.”

Not sure if she could afford a flight to Salt Lake City, Sister Heineken pondered what to do. Out of the blue she received her needed blessing—she landed a job in Washington State that would include a return flight stop-over in Salt Lake City. She could attend RootsTech. With the logistics secure, Sister Heineken called her new friend Connie and told her she was coming.

The day before Sister Heineken was to leave for her trip, she got a text from a Church employee named Effie Olsen. Sister Olsen said her aunt, Connie Ward, told her about Sister Heineken and her recent genealogy experiences. The Church needed a recent convert and beginner genealogist to help with a presentation at RootsTech. Unfortunately, the person they had chosen had come down with pneumonia and was unable to attend. Would she be willing to participate? “Of course,” said Sister Heineken.

Shortly after landing in Salt Lake City, Sister Heineken and Sister Olsen met and discussed the conference. “Effie explained to me that I’d be helping with three of four presentations for new family history consultants,” said Sister Heineken.

By the next day, the person scheduled to help in the fourth presentation had canceled and Sister Heineken was asked to fill in. It was this fourth presentation that would create family history magic.

During Sister Heineken’s presentation on Friday, February 7, her personal fan chart was displayed on a large screen for the audience to see. Suddenly, a woman in the crowd stood and called out, “We are related!”

That created a positive stir. Members of the audience applauded. With the audience listening in, Sister Heineken and Lorie Harris, the woman who had called out, arranged to get together after that session of RootsTech.

“The name on Hayley’s fan chart that caught my eye was Talmage Cox, a common ancestor,” said Sister Harris, who is from Oceanside, California. “I told some people seated around me that I thought I was related to the presenter. They encouraged me to stand up and say something. I’m so glad I did.”

After the RootsTech presentation, the two relatives met each other and hugged. Sister Harris told her newfound relative, “Did you know you are related to Edgar Allan Poe?” Sister Heineken screamed out, “I’m related to Edgar Allan Poe? That’s so amazing because I am a writer by profession.”

Sister Harris told Sister Heineken that some of their ancestors were sharecroppers from South Carolina. They migrated across the United States and eventually settled in California. Sister Heineken grinned as the information about her ancestors flowed. It was an exciting moment.

The two spoke for about 30 minutes like old friends and exchanged contact information. A new family connection was made.

“It’s hard to believe all of this happened by chance,” said Sister Heineken. “It was a conference I couldn’t afford to go to, but I made it anyway. I stayed with a woman I met by chance, who just happened to have a niece who started working for the Church a few months ago. I was invited to speak because someone else got sick, and then the one session I wasn’t supposed to speak at, I did because the person [scheduled] couldn’t do it at the last minute. At that session, Lorie saw my fan chart, stood up, and announced we were related. The rest is family history.”