Viewpoint: Family History Is a Treasure Trove
Contributed By the Church News
- Involving children in family history helps them learn from their predecessors.
- FamilySearch.org is a great resource for getting families into their own history.
“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.” —Doctrine and Covenants 2:1–2
Last Sunday, the day before Memorial Day in the United States, a man noticed a Facebook posting from his sister-in-law: a picture of herself decorating the graves of her parents earlier that day.
“Is this cemetery in Salt Lake?” he asked in a comment post.
“Yes, Wasatch Gardens,” she replied. “We also went to Crescent.”
Ah yes, the man reflected to himself, Crescent Cemetery, just down the street from his home, the burial place of his own beloved parents.
“I need to take my family to Crescent tomorrow,” he replied to his sister-in-law. “It has three generations of my folks. Our kids never knew their grandparents on my side, and I’m afraid they are growing up without a consciousness of them.”
“Between the Browns and the Lloyds, there is a lot of family history at Crescent Cemetery,” remarked the sister-in-law.
“It’s a treasure trove for sure!” the man replied.
By the next evening—Monday and Memorial Day—the man had hatched plans for a family home evening lesson.
In preparation, he logged on to FamilySearch.org, the Church’s family history website, and printed out a fan-style pedigree chart for each member of the family. Each chart was personalized with the respective family member’s name at the center of the chart and showed his or her ancestry fanning out from there, expanding exponentially toward the outer edge of the fan.
On each pedigree chart, the father highlighted names of individuals whose gravestones he knew were in Crescent Cemetery, including his own parents, his grandparents on his father’s side, and a set of great-grandparents.
The family home evening began with the singing of “Families Can Be Together Forever” (Children’s Songbook, 188); even the family dog joined in.
In the lesson, the father related that when the angel Moroni appeared to young Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823, one of the things he did was to quote a passage of scripture a bit differently than it appears in the Bible:
“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.
The father explained that Moroni’s quotation of Malachi foreshadowed the latter-day work whereby our “hearts turn to [our] fathers” as we seek out our kindred dead so that we can vicariously provide them with the saving baptism and temple ordinances. On his laptop computer, he displayed an image he found online depicting the vision in which Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the newly dedicated Kirtland Temple, during which Elijah restored the priesthood keys whereby families are sealed together across generations.
The father expressed his love for his parents. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them. I hope and expect that you will one day meet them and you will come to know and love them as I do.”
Handing out the pedigree charts, the father continued, “Like you, I have grandparents whom I have never met in this life; in fact, all four of them died before I was born. One way my parents helped me get acquainted with them was that we visited Crescent Cemetery each Memorial Day to decorate graves of ancestors on my father’s side. On unusual occasions, we would make a long car trip to southern Utah to decorate graves of ancestors on my mother’s side.”
Turning to the pedigree charts, he pointed out that some of the names had been highlighted.
“We are now going down to the cemetery to do a kind of treasure hunt,” he said. “You are to look for the gravestones of the highlighted names on this chart. When you have checked off all the names, your reward will be a milkshake from a nearby drive-in.“
“But this is not a competition; we’ll help each other find the graves.”
At the cemetery, family members promptly found headstones for all of the highlighted names. In the process, they also viewed the graves of some of their uncles and aunts.
Noting that several potted mums were on the grandparents’ gravestone, one of the children asked where they came from.
“They were placed here by other relatives of Grandma and Grandpa who love and honor them as we do,” the father explained. “You are part of a large, extended family including aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews, most of whom you’ve never met.”
At home, while the family members enjoyed their milkshakes, the father told them about a fun feature on FamilySearch.org called “Memories,” which allows them to view photos of and read stories about many of their ancestors, content that has been uploaded by members of their extended family.
Later, the 14-year-old son remarked, “That was a good home evening lesson, Dad.”
The 11-year-old daughter said, “Thanks, Dad. That was fun.” Moments later, she gave her father a spontaneous hug.
Whether they were feeling the spirit of the Holy Ghost that often accompanies this work or simply the warmth of belonging that comes from knowing one is part of a family—or both—the children had been influenced by the family home evening lesson. The father’s goal, only vaguely defined in his own mind, had been reached.
Whether or not we have an ancestral cemetery near our home or Mormon pioneers among our progenitors, we each have a treasure trove of family history waiting to be explored. FamilySearch.org is a good place to start, but in this cyber age, with genealogy websites abounding, even a simple internet search on the name of an ancestor can yield delightful surprises.
The treasure hunt awaits us; let’s get started.