The Inspiration of a Family Record


Your personal history may be one of the most persuasive witnesses of the gospel your family will ever hear.

The Inspiration of a Family Record

Latter-day Saints are widely known for their family solidarity and for the love the parents show for their children. Though we Latter-day Saints live in “the world,” we try not to become part of it. Just the same, in spite of all our efforts, we cannot help but be affected by that which goes on all around us. As a result we sometimes begin to share the opinions and copy the actions of many of those among whom we live. As many of them do, we sometimes think that the best way of showing love for our children is to shower them with material advantages.

Most of us believe our children should have richer and better lives than we had. We want them to have advantages we never had. There is nothing wrong with this desire. The problem, however, lies in what “things” we can give them. It is not a new car which will convince our children that we love them. Nor is that love manifested by the increased material pleasures or advantages we can give them. Love is not manifested by money, clothes, a boat, golf or tennis lessons. But when we begin to share ourselves with our children, then we will manifest our love for them better than by any other means.

When parents spend time with their family, their children will never forget it. Money and other material blessings soon vanish. Children will not long remember the depth of the carpet pile in the home, the color of the drapes, the size of the color television set, or other luxuries. But when a mother and father take time to share a part of their lives with their family, they will find a depth of love returned again which will be a source of never-ending comfort both to them and their children.

Sharing, then, is the basis for awakening, cultivating, and perfecting love. Material blessings are not the “things” we need to pass on to them. We need to pass on to them spiritual advantages perhaps greater than we had. The things we do together as a family are the things which build family solidarity and love. Such joys will never be forgotten, though they may dim with the passing years.

A wonderful method of sharing one’s life with one’s family is to preserve these memories and keep them fresh. By writing a personal history of our lives and sharing our experiences with them we can leave them a constant reminder of the things we did together which are of lasting importance in a family.

Life is soon gone. Grandparents do not live forever. Parents all too soon become grandparents and in turn pass away themselves. They and their influence will then in part be lost as memories begin to fade. All too soon our imprint in the lives of our descendants begins to dwindle. We can keep that flame of love burning brightly if we write down a personal history of our lives and that of our families. By so doing we can pass on to our descendants in a more permanent form the courage, the faith, and the hopes we felt within us as we lived our lives and solved the problems which faced us. Passing an account of these experiences on to them will provide them with vital guidance and direction.

In these personal histories we can express to them our love, our hopes, and our desires. We can pass on to them a knowledge of our family ancestry and express to them the pride we feel in our family heritage and the blessings we have received through those who went before us. In this manner we can keep the flame of love burning brightly in our children long after we have gone. When we reduce to writing those things that have strengthened our own faith and courage, we strengthen faith and courage in our children and grandchildren.

By sharing our aspirations with our children, we give them something to work for and we set goals for them to strive to attain and in turn pass on to their descendants. When we share our faith, our testimony, and our own experiences with them we are in very fact writing a sacred guide for our family. Reading that sacred record in time of stress will strengthen them by recalling to their minds the experiences which they have shared with us.

At this point I might ask, “What is scripture?” We can answer that scripture is the revealed will of God. But to whom is that revelation to be given? You may answer, “Why, to us, of course!” But then once we obtain that information and possess such knowledge in our own minds, why bother to write it down?

There are many passages throughout the scriptures that answer this question, indicating that the scriptures are written not only to keep them fresh in our own memories, but also for the benefit of our descendants. In the very first verses of the Book of Mormon, for example, Nephi writes of his parentage and tells us that he is making this record to preserve a knowledge of the dealings of the Lord with his parents and with himself: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.” (1 Ne. 1:1.)

And then Nephi continues: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. …

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophesies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Ne. 25:23, 26.)

These scriptures, then, are a record of the spiritual experiences these great men had and then recorded to arouse faith and understanding in the minds of their children and children’s children. They are written records, and because these experiences are recorded, those memories are kept fresh in the mind of the reader. Thus they constitute a family history and a record of God’s dealings with our fathers and mothers so that their children might also profit from such knowledge. They are a legacy of faith to be passed on from one generation to another to strengthen each generation in turn in its desire to serve the Lord and to worship the true and living God.

A great story of faith and achievement is told in the opening pages of the Book of Mormon. It is the story of how Lehi sent his sons back to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates which contained a genealogy of their forefathers and a record of the dealings of the Lord with them. The brass plates were nothing more or less than a book of remembrance. It was necessary that Lehi’s descendants have this written information; otherwise they would have lapsed into ignorance and would soon have forgotten the Lord. We learn as the story unfolds how Nephi through faith and in the power of the Holy Ghost obtained those records even though it cost the life of the wicked Laban. Nephi was told: “Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” (1 Ne. 4:13.)

Then, when the brass plates had been delivered to Lehi, he rejoiced to find in them a history of the world from the beginning, including the prophesies given by the Lord to guide his holy prophets in their labors. These plates also contained a genealogy of the Lord’s people which showed that Lehi was a descendant of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Lehi thus found he was a descendant of Abraham and was entitled to all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Those same blessings the Lord promised to all who would remain faithful and true. How could Lehi have discovered these important promises to strengthen his faith unless the families of his progenitors had been listed in the scriptures found on those brass plates? Those plates also helped preserve the language and the faith of the people. It is important for us to note that when one branch of the family (the descendants of Laman and Lemuel) broke away from the main family and no longer had access to the written records, the people quickly dwindled in unbelief.

Thus we want to keep our records in order—not in the spirit of “fables and endless genealogies” for which the Pharisees were chastised (see 1 Tim. 1:4, Titus 3:9, Matt. 3:7–9), but because we have a hope of rising in the same resurrection with our fathers. Therefore we want to know them and be numbered with them and not be cast out as were some of the would-be priests of Ezra’s day. (See Ezra 2:61–63.)

During the past year great efforts have been made by our Church leaders to get members of the Church to write their personal histories. Many have done so and have brought great joy not only to themselves, but to their families as well. Many more have simply refused to take part in this movement. I have heard men say: “I am nobody. I haven’t done anything interesting. Who would ever want to read anything about me?” What such people fail to understand is that their lives are filled with interesting stories.

I urged one good friend to write his history and he replied in much the same language, that no one would be interested in him. At my urging he wrote a very short history of his life, probably just to show me that he hadn’t done anything very interesting. If you were his child, his grandchild, or his great-grandchild, would you be interested in the following, which I have taken word for word from his account?

“In my spare time in the fall, I worked out in the fields for my grandparents getting in the crops. One day I was out in the fields digging potatoes. The lady who had the farm next to ours asked me if I would help her dig her potatoes. As always, I was willing and able to help. After awhile she said she would go back to the house to get us some lunch. The lunch was delicious, but the coffee was so strong that after I drank it, I got very sick, and from that day on I could never drink coffee again.”

Now his grandchild would know why grandpa never drank coffee and why it was easy for him to keep that part of the Word of Wisdom. It is a simple story, yet it interested me, even though I was not one of his descendants.

Another story from his life history provided interesting reading:

“I’ll never forget when Brother Ottosen and I were to go to the Sandman’s home to conduct a bible class. They lived quite a distance from the railroad station, so they gave us instructions on how to take a short cut. We walked a distance and in the moonlight we could see the path very well. All at once a dark cloud passed over the moon and we could see nothing. We tried to walk on, but just couldn’t move, so we turned around. We went back to town and took the regular road. This made us one half hour late. We told them our excuse and conducted the meeting. Afterwards we stayed with them that night. The next morning we retraced our steps. When we got to the place where we had stopped the night before, we saw our footprints leading to the edge of a stone quarry 100 feet below. If something had not stopped us, it would have been the end of us. An angel must have been there to protect us and thus make it possible for us to finish our work here on the earth.”

This is another simple story, but think what it would mean to a grandchild of this good man. Without the intervention of the whisperings of the Holy Spirit to those humble elders, that grandchild would never have come to the family it came to.

How much of the revelations of God would have been lost and how impoverished would the history of the Church have been had not Joseph Smith kept his journal history of the Church? The testimony of any honest investigator will be strengthened as he reads these experiences of Joseph Smith. The book of remembrance referred to in the Pearl of Great Price also was a record of the dealings of God with his children on earth:

“Now this prophecy Adam spake, as he was moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and a genealogy was kept of the children of God. And this was the book of the generations of Adam, saying: In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him.” (Moses 6:8.)

We read a little bit later about this book of remembrance:

“For a book of remembrance we have written among us, according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it is given in our own language.” (Moses 6:46.)

This history of the dealings of God with his people and the experiences they had constitutes our present scripture. It is nothing more or less than sacred family history. Because it was written under the influence of the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, it became scripture.

Most of us fail to understand that we, as children of our Heavenly Father, are entitled to have our Heavenly Father speak at times to us. When he speaks to us it will probably not be with loud thunderings nor with flashes of lightning. He will whisper those things into our minds which we need to know. This is how God spoke to Adam and to his descendants:

“And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration;

“And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled.” (Moses 6:5–6; italics added.)

I have emphasized some important words in these verses of scripture. Not everything we do is important. Not everything we write is important. Not everything we think is important. But occasionally we are in tune with God. Inspiration sometimes comes to us without our even recognizing it. At such times the Lord whispers things into our minds, and what one then writes can become inspirational to one’s descendants. When we write by the Spirit and they read by the Spirit, there is a godly communication between us and them which makes that which we write become meaningful and a source of inspiration to our descendants.

I remember reading one of Grandfather Burton’s little hand journals. He never wrote his own personal history, which I regret, for he was one of the great pioneer personalities among our early Mormon leaders. Yet one day as he was left in Salt Lake City with his men to guard the city, he wrote a little note in that journal. He and his men had been left in Salt Lake City to burn the city if Johnston’s army in passing through the city left their prescribed line of march. Straw had been placed in the houses and barns, and everything had been made ready for the torch in case of need. If the army violated its pledge, there was to be no house, barn, fence, or shed left in the city. All stores and provisions were to be destroyed. A scorched-earth policy would be enforced and the Saints would flee to Mexico to avoid further persecution and destruction.

Grandfather Burton, then, in just a few words, recorded how much he missed and loved his family who had fled south with the rest of the Saints. He recounted how much they had sacrificed in the past. Even his own mother had died as the Saints were driven from Nauvoo and fled to the West. He told how hard they had toiled to build Salt Lake City into a garden spot in the midst of the desert. It was now a beautiful place and represented all they held dear on earth. Yet, he wrote that he would gladly destroy it, if need be, rather than capitulate and give the city into the hands of the enemy or give up his faith and trust in God.

That faith, resolve, courage, and love of God come through to me in that little episode with such force that I can hardly tell the story without shedding a few tears. Now I in turn resolve to stand fast before the Lord. Though times and circumstances have changed, I nevertheless feel compelled from that example to show my own resolve to hold fast to my faith and never capitulate to unrighteousness.

What Grandfather Burton did for me was to write a sacred family record, the small plates of Burton, or, if you will, an inspirational family record. Much of what we now regard as scripture was not anything more or less than men writing of their own spiritual experiences for the benefit of their posterity. These scriptures are family records. Therefore, as a people we ought to write of our own lives and our own experiences to form a sacred record for our descendants. We must provide for them the same uplifting, faith-promoting strength that the ancient scriptures now give us.

The advantage of having records from our own immediate progenitors is that we thus get to know them personally and feel close to them. We can relate our own lives to theirs. They are speaking to us from times close to those in which we live, and naturally we can better understand them and their problems than we can those of ancient Israel. Thus their teachings and experiences become more poignant and meaningful to us, sometimes even more so than when we read the ancient scriptures. Through them we feel their love for God and his love for them and for us. We in turn can pass on to our descendants this same faith and resolve. In this way, a chain of faith builds in us and from us to those who will follow in our footsteps.

Let us respond to the plea which has been made of us by our leaders to write our personal histories and thus pass on to future generations our own resolve to stand steadfast before God because we know and love him. Our descendants, feeling our love for them, will stand firmly and steadfastly in their places as sons and daughters of God. In this way we pass on the torch of faith and love for God and feel in turn his love for us and for those who will follow us.

[illustrations] Illustrated by James Christensen