There somehow seems to be the feeling that genealogical work is an all-or-nothing responsibility. Genealogical work is another responsibility for every Latter-day Saint. And we may do it successfully along with all the other callings and responsibilities that rest upon us.
The bishop can do it without neglecting his flock. A stake missionary can do it without abandoning his mission. A Sunday School teacher can accomplish it without forgetting his lesson. A Relief Society president can do it without forsaking her sisters.
You can fulfill your obligation to your kindred dead and to the Lord without forsaking your other Church callings. You can do it without abandoning your family responsibilities. You can do this work. You can do it without becoming a so-called “expert” in it.
Many members live far from a temple. Some are not able to attend, ever, and others only rarely. And yet Latter-day Saints have a feeling for the word temple and are drawn to it. Somehow temples and temple work are such a part of us that we find very few, if any, who object to the work, who resist it, or who are against it.
It is not likely that you need to be converted to genealogical work. There are very few in the Church who need to be converted to it. Most of us really don’t understand the procedures, but somehow we sense that it is an inspired, spiritual work.
We may never have done any and may not really know how to get started. We just don’t quite know how to take hold of it, or where to begin. Those who have become experts in it sometimes are not wise in the way they introduce this work to the beginners.
Many a beginner has gone to a class with the feeling that he wants to start in this work. There he has been confronted with a pedigree extending across the blackboard or taped to the wall, and stacks of forms with blanks and numbers and spaces, lists of procedures and regulations. He has been overwhelmed. “Surely this is too difficult for me,” he decides. “I could never be expert at that.”
Genealogical work has, I fear, sometimes been made to appear too difficult, too involved, and too time consuming to really be inviting to the average Church member. Elder John A. Widtsoe said on one occasion:
“In many a science, the beginning courses are so taught, as if the whole class were intending to become candidates for the Ph.D. degree in that subject. Students fall out in despair.
“… the beginning courses … are crowded with difficult, remote problems … until the freshman loses interest in the whole subject.”
Brother Widtsoe concluded,
“It took some time to make them understand that a good teacher does such work as to enable his students to pass, with ordinary diligence.” (John A. Widtsoe, In a Sunlit Land, pp. 150, 90.)
It is so very easy for one teaching a subject as involved as genealogy can be to assume that because he understands it, everyone else understands it. There is the tendency to want everybody to know everything all at once. But the beginner sometimes doesn’t see it. As the little girl said, it becomes complicateder and complicatededer.
There is a way that it can be done. And there is a place to begin. You don’t need to begin with the pedigree charts or the stacks of forms, or the blank spaces, or the numbers, the procedures, or the regulations. You can begin with you, with who you are and with what you have right now.
It is a matter of getting started. You may come to know the principle that Nephi knew when he said, “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (1 Ne. 4:6.)
If you don’t know where to start, start with yourself. If you don’t know what records to get, and how to get them, start with what you’ve got.
If you can start with what you’ve got and with what you know, it’s a little hard to refuse to begin genealogical work. And it may be spiritually dangerous to delay it too long.
During the first part of 1976 all of the General Authorities attending stake quarterly conferences carried with them the message that all Latter-day Saints were to prepare a life history and to make a record of events which had transpired in their lives. The responsibility to lead out in this work was placed on the high priests. They are to do it first to set an example, then see that all others are encouraged and helped with this assignment.
There are two very simple instructions. Here’s what you are to do:
Get a cardboard box. Any kind of a box will do. Put it some place where it is in the way, perhaps on the couch or on the counter in the kitchen—anywhere where it cannot go unnoticed. Then, over a period of a few weeks, collect and put into the box every record of your life:
your birth certificate,
your certificates of blessing,
Collect diplomas, all of your photographs, honors, or awards, a diary, if you have kept one, everything that you can find pertaining to your life—anything that is written or registered or recorded that testifies that you are alive and what you have done.
Don’t try to do this in a day. Take your time with it. Most of us have these things scattered around here and there. Some of them are in a box in the garage under that stack of newspapers; others are stored away in drawers or in the attic or one place or another. Perhaps some have been tucked in the leaves of the Bible or elsewhere.
Gather all of these together; put them in the box. Keep it there until you have collected everything you think you have. Then make some space on a table, or even on the floor, and sort out all that you have collected. Divide your life into three periods. The Church does it that way. All of our programming in the Church is divided into three general categories—children, youth, and adult.
Start with the childhood section and begin with your birth certificate. Put together every record in chronological order—the pictures, the record of your baptism, etc., up until the time you were twelve years of age.
Next assemble all that which pertains to your youth, from twelve to eighteen, or up until the time you were married. Put all of that together in chronological order. Line up the records—the certificates, the photographs—and put them in another box or envelope.
Do the same with the records on the rest of your life.
Once you have that accomplished you have what is necessary to complete your life story: Simply take your birth certificate and begin writing: “I was born September 10, 1924, the son of Ira W. Packer and Emma Jensen Packer, at Brigham City, Utah. I was the tenth child and the fifth son in the family.” Etc., etc., etc.
It really won’t take you long to write, or dictate into a tape recorder, the account of your life, and it will have an accuracy because you have collected those records.
Now don’t say that you can’t collect them. All you are asked to do is to collect what information you have and what you know. It is your obligation.
What then? After you’ve made the outline of your life history up to date, what do you do with all of the materials you have collected?
That, of course, brings you to your book of remembrance. Simply paste those records of lasting importance lightly on the pages so that they can be taken out, if necessary, from time to time. You then have your book of remembrance. Keep only important documents.
Once you begin this project, very interesting and inspiring things will happen. You cannot do this much without getting something of the spirit of it and without talking about it, at least in your family circle. Some very interesting things will start to happen once you show some interest in your own genealogical work. It is a very real principle. There are many, many testimonies about it. It will happen to you.
Aunt Clara will tell you that she has a picture of you with your great-grandfather. You know that cannot be so, because he died the year before you were born. But Aunt Clara produces the picture. There is your great-grandfather holding you as a tiny baby. As you check through the records, you find that he died the year after you were born, an important detail in your family history.
That accurate date means something. The middle name written on the back of the picture means something too. You may not know it at the moment, but it is a key, the beginning of ordinance work in the temple for some of your ancestors.
You believe in the resurrection. You must know that baptism for someone who is dead is quite as essential as baptism for someone who is living. There is no difference in the importance of it. One by one it must happen. They must do it here, or it must be done for them here.
The whole New Testament centers on the resurrection of the Lord. The message is that all are resurrected. Every scripture and every motivation that applies to missionary work has its application to ordinance work for the dead.
Now you have your own family history written, you have your book of remembrance assembled. It sounds too easy—well it is, almost. But it does mean that you have to get started. Like Nephi, you will be “led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [you] should do.” (1 Ne. 4:6.)
Several years ago Sister Packer and I determined that we should get our records in order. However, Under the pressure of Church responsibilities with my travels about the world, and the obligations with our large family and a home to keep up both indoors and outdoors, there just was not enough time. We were restless and finally determined that we would have to make more time in the day.
So during the Christmas holidays, when we had a little extra time, we started. Then as we moved back to a regular schedule after the holidays, we adopted the practice of getting up an hour or two earlier each day.
We gathered everything we had together and in the course of a few weeks we were amazed at what we were able to accomplish. The thing that was most impressive, however, was the fact that we began to have experiences that told us somehow that we were being guided, that there were those beyond the veil who were interested in what we were doing. Things began to fall into place.
As we have traveled about the Church and paid particular attention to this subject, many testimonies have come to light. Others who assemble their records together are having similar experiences. It was as though the Lord was waiting for us to begin.
We found things we had wondered about for a long time. It seemed as though they came to us almost too easily. More than this, things that we never dreamed existed began to show up. We began to learn by personal experience that this research into our families is an inspired work. We came to know that an inspiration will follow those who move into it. It is just a matter of getting started.
There is an old Chinese proverb which states, “Man who sit with legs crossed and mouth open, waiting for roast duck to fly in, have long hunger!”
Once we started, we found the time. Somehow we were able to carry on all of the other responsibilities. There seemed to be an increased inspiration in our lives because of this work.
But we must decide, and the Lord will not tamper with our agency. If we want a testimony of genealogical and temple work, we must go about doing something about it.
Someone paraphrased the proverb this way. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. But with all thy getting, get going! Here is an example of what happens when you do.
In January of this year I attended conference in the Hartford Connecticut Stake. The assignment had been made the previous September to all members of the stake presidencies who were to speak on this subject. Brother Lawrence Marostica, who had been a counselor in the stake presidency but became stake patriarch at that conference, told this interesting incident.
He had not been able to get started in genealogical work, although he was “converted” to it. He just didn’t know where to start. When he received the assignment to prepare a life history from his own records, he was unable to find anything about his childhood and youth, except his birth certificate. He was one of eleven children born to Italian immigrants. He is the only member of his family in the Church.
He tried to put together everything he could find on his life, in answer to the assignment. At least he was started, but there just didn’t seem to be anywhere to go. He could get his own life story put together from his own memory and from what few records he had.
Then a very interesting thing happened. His aged mother, who was in a rest home, had a great yearning to return once more to her homeland in Italy. Finally, because she was obsessed with this desire, the doctors felt nothing would be gained by denying her this request, and the family decided to grant their mother her dying wish. And for some reason they all decided that Brother Marostica (the only member of the family in the Church) should be the one to accompany his mother to Italy.
All at once, then, he found himself returning to the ancestral home. A door was opening! While in Italy he visited the parish church where his mother was baptized, and also the parish church where his father was baptized. He met many relatives. He learned that the records in the parish go back for 500 years. He visited the town hall to look into the records and found the people very cooperative there. The town clerk told him that the previous summer a seminarian and a nun had been there together looking for records of the Marostica family, and said that they were collecting the genealogy of the family. He was given the name of the city where they lived and now can follow that lead. He learned also that there is a city of Marostica in Italy.
But this is not all. When he came to general conference in April he returned by way of Colorado, where many of his family live. There, with very little persuasion, a family organization was effected and a family reunion was planned that has now been held.
And then, as always happens, some of his relatives, his aunts and uncles, his brothers and sisters, began to provide pictures and information about his life that he never knew existed. And, as always happens, he learned that this is a work of inspiration.
The Lord will bless you once you begin this work. This has been very evident to us. Since the time we decided that we would start where we were, with what we had, many things have opened to us.
Several months ago I took to the Genealogical Society eight large volumes, manuscript genealogical work, consisting of 6,000 family group sheets of very professional genealogical work, all on the Packer family. All of it was compiled by Warren Packer, originally from Ohio, a school teacher, a Lutheran. He has spent thirty years doing this work, not really knowing why. There are two more volumes that he has yet to finish. He senses now why he has been involved in this work over the years and very much has the spirit of the work.
We have had the opportunity too of locating and visiting the ancestral Packer home in England. Many of the large manor houses in England in recent years have been opened to the public. This one is not. It is about a fifteen-minute drive from the London Temple and is built on the site of an ancient castle, with a moat around it. It stands just as it was finished in the early 1600s. The portraits of our ancestors are hanging where they were placed nearly 300 years ago. On the estate is a little chapel In it is a stained glass window with the Packer coat of arms, put there in 1625.
Things began to emerge once we got to work. We still are not, by any means, experts in genealogical research. We are, however, dedicated to our family. And it is my testimony that if we start where we are, each of us with ourselves, with such records as we have, and begin putting those in order, things will fall into place as they should.
So, go get started now! Find a cardboard box and put it in the way and begin to put things in it, and as the things unfold you will sense something spiritual happening and not be too surprised.
There is an expression common among nonmembers of the Church when some unusual good fortune befalls a person. They respond with, “Someone up there likes me,” and credit to some divine providence the good thing that has come into their lives.
You won’t get very far in putting together your own records and writing your own history until you find things put in your way that could not have been put there by accident, and you are compelled to say, generally to yourself, “Someone over there wants this work done and he is helping me.”
“Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free.
“Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! …
“… Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple … a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.” (D&C 128:22–23, 24.)