“Who Was My Great Grandfather?”

  • 30 January 2012

Joseph Schwenke wondered about his German name.

“Why do I have a German name?”

Even as a youth Joseph Schwenke wanted to know about his ancestors. He heard that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the largest genealogical library in the world and that if he really wanted to find out about his ancestors, he should contact them.

Near his home in New Zealand there was a Family History Centre of the Church, which he visited in 1973. Since then he has documented 40,000 names of family members. His goal is to locate another 50,000 in the next five years.

“Our ancestry really is a tree,” says Joseph. “It branches everywhere, and names just fall off it!”

What began as a curiosity about his German name grew into a hobby and has now become a passion. He and his wife, Leai, devote hours each week to researching their roots. “Sometimes I sit up working until 3:00 in the morning,” admits Joseph.

The German ancestral line that incited Joseph's curiosity is full of acclaimed musicians (one a friend of Ludwig Von Beethoven), bold adventurers, and novel-like mysteries. His Samoan heritage is equally fascinating.

To others interested in starting family history research, Joseph advises getting help from living relatives, documenting every bit of discovered information, searching books on family lines, and actively corresponding with others involved in research or who have records on your family lines.

“People help if you just ask,” he says.

Joseph's visits to the Family History Centre in New Zealand eventually led him and Leai to join the Church. As Latter-day Saints, they not only catalogue their findings, but they also prepare the names for proxy temple ordinance work. In 2010 Joseph submitted nearly 7,000 names from his family lines for temple ordinances.

“Realizing the importance of temple ordinances gives a new meaning to this work,” says Joseph. “Most of my ancestors have been waiting for these ordinances for a long, long time. In the temple I have felt their great joy as their work is done.”

“They (our ancestors) are around us all the time,” says Joseph. “They have definitely helped with the work and want me to continue it.” Last year he facilitated the temple ordinance work for 20,000 people in his family tree.