The Ten-Generation Phone Call


As I climbed from the baptismal font that evening in late September 1973, I had a warm feeling that people beyond the veil had seen and approved of what I had done. The impression and feeling lingered on into the night.

“Who are you?” I wondered. “Where are you?” But those feelings and questions didn’t return the next morning and I forgot about them.

Four years later, as I was driving home from work, I was mentally listing the many things I needed to improve on. After listing several goals, I felt a tingle along my spine and the word genealogy popped into my mind. Genealogy. … I’d forgotten that one. It was one thing I hadn’t given any attention to at all since my baptism.

And then I felt a deep feeling of warmth, and then a burning, which often accompany a confirmation of the Spirit.

“OK,” I thought. “I’ll do a few minutes of genealogy each day.”

At that moment the confirmation came, spilling over me as water over a dam, and I knew who it was that had attended my baptism unseen—those who had been hoping and praying in my behalf all these years. In my mind’s eye, I saw my grandmother, whom I could only barely remember. Dad and mom had always said she was a wonderful, spiritual person. I seemed to imagine also her husband, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents—none of whom had joined the Church in this life, but some of whom I believed had accepted the gospel and were waiting for me to perform ordinances in their behalf.

The next morning I got out my entire collection of genealogy papers: two pieces of paper I’d received in a class years before. After asking for Heavenly Father’s help, I phoned my sister, who had joined the Church years before me, and told her of my plans. She said she had begun some preliminary work; she had corresponded with a few people, but getting nowhere, she had put the project aside. She promised to send me a list of people who might know something about our ancestors. When I received it, I, like her, put it aside. It got filed away in a back drawer behind the bills and cancelled checks. I didn’t touch it again for another two years.

Then, one afternoon, six and a half years after baptism, while looking for a pen in a pile of papers on the desk, I spilled a stack of old papers onto the floor. There was the list of people my sister had corresponded with about our genealogy. As I looked at it, the warm feeling started again, and ever so softly a sweet spirit began to permeate the room.

I picked up the list and stared at it. Then, as surely as if someone had taken hold of my hand, I felt prompted to call one of the people on the list, Mrs. White in Vermont. I had no idea who she was, or even if she was alive. “I’ll try tomorrow,” I decided.

“No you won’t,” a voice within me reasoned. “Do it now!”

“But I have to get back to the office!”

“Call now,” the feeling insisted.

“Surely it can wait for a while. I’ll try tonight, when I’ve got time to be in tune,” I told myself.

The response was immediate: “Do it NOW.”

“Oh for pity’s sake, it can’t make that much difference. This has waited for six years; another few minutes …”

“NOW!”

I dug the phone out of the heap on the desk and punched the numbers for Mrs. White.

Click. Click. “Information for what city, please?” answered the operator.

“Oh! Uh, let’s see. It’s, uh, Vermont. No, the city is, uh, Brattleboro, Vermont.” I was full of conviction.

“One moment please.” Click. Click. The wait seemed interminable.

The little voice within me responded quickly: “You will not hang up.”

Another operator came on the line. “Information for what city, please?” she asked with a pleasant New England accent in her voice.

“Oh, uh, is there a Brattleboro?” I asked.

“Yes, sir, there is. Do you have a name?”

“Yes. Is there a Mrs. White, please?” I asked.

“One moment please.” A long pause.

“Still checking … ah, here it is.” And she gave me the number.

After fumbling and missing the numbers three times, I finally made a connection.

“Hello,” said an elderly female voice.

“Hello. I’m Michael Barney from Idaho calling. I was wondering if you could help me out. I’m looking for some ancestors of mine. I’m trying to trace some of my family lines, and the tracing ended up in Brattleboro, Vermont. Does the name Barney ring a bell at all?” I asked.

“Oh yes. The name Barney (she pronounced it BAH-nee) is well known around here.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have anything written down about these people in your area would you?” I asked, holding my breath for the answer.

“Nope. Sure don’t have anything written down,” she said. I was crestfallen. “But that’s because I can’t see a thing hardly, anymore. I can only see shapes. I’ll have my daughter look for something, though, if you’d like. There was a book somebody put together about this area a long time ago, and there are lots of things written about Barneys in the book.”

I couldn’t believe it. In genealogy class they said things like this happened, and it was happening to ME!

Next came the big question: “Where do you suppose I could pick up a copy of the book, Mrs. White?”

“Well, I’ll see if I can find a copy and mail it to you, Mr. Barney.”

I gave her my address and then she began to tell me about her side of the Barney family, beginning with their involvement in the Revolutionary War.

She then asked me my lineage, and I told her that I only could go back as far as my great-grandfather. When she asked me his name, I had to fumble some more to find it in the pile of junk in the drawer.

“My great-grandfather’s name was Andrew Jackson Barney, I think.”

“I know that name,” she said. “He’s from around here someplace. One of the boys that went west, I think. Can’t imagine why.”

That’s when the tears started. As Mrs. White told more stories about the people she thought I was related to, the tears slowly fell. She was talking about my people!

Since Mrs. White promised to send the book, I sent her enough money to cover its cost and the shipping charges, then bought a sheaf of pedigree charts and other supplies. I was going to be ready.

In a week, a little box arrived in the mail. I tore it open like a Christmas present, and there staring up at me was the history of Guilford, Vermont. Guilford, Vermont? I wondered, disappointed. Maybe I hadn’t communicated properly.

I began to casually flip through the pages, not expecting much of anything. I found the name Barney listed among some of the events of the region in days gone by, but there was nothing to link me to them.

And then a familiar voice in the back of my mind said, “Look at the back of the book.”

I flipped to the back pages of the history and found some genealogy listings under family headings. My excitement mounted when I found a Barney section. Knowing that they listed the oldest person first, I turned to the last listing for the name of the last Barney born in Guilford, Vermont. And there, looking up at me was Barney, Andrew Jackson—my great-grandfather, the one that had come west. Mrs. White had been exactly right. The tears streamed down my face.

In a few moments of excited page flipping, I discovered nearly ten generations of Barneys listed in the book. It was almost too much to bear.

“YAHOO!” I shouted. “LOOK AT THIS! LOOK AT THIS!” I was taking it like a man.

My ten-year-old and my wife looked at each other with understanding in their eyes—the dad’ll-be-OK-in-a-minute look.

“Look at this page please,” I said, “and read to me what you see.”

My son picked it up and read: “Andrew Jackson Barney, son of Edward Barney, son of Edward Barney, Jr.” I couldn’t talk through the tears. My father had once mentioned a tradition that the first son of the first son was always named Edward. My brother’s name is Edward. We had found home.

Here, then, were my ancestors who had so patiently waited for me to be receptive to the Spirit. I wanted to thank Mrs. White again and again. I knew that many others hadn’t been so lucky in their search.

A few days later a letter came, postmarked Brattleboro, Vermont. It was a note from my Mrs. White, stating that she hoped the book arrived in good shape, and wanting to know where our ancestors connected. I wanted to preach the gospel to her right then. My heart was full. I quickly composed a letter, thanking her for her kind efforts.

I didn’t hear anything from her after that, even after writing another letter for some further information. But I began the pedigree sheet work in earnest. Then, months later, another letter came from Vermont, but with a different return address.

It was from Mrs. White’s daughter. I read her letter:

“Dear Mr. Barney: It is with extreme sadness that I must tell you that my mother Maude Barney Miller White passed away in her sleep early on the morning of November 27, 1979. … She was thrilled to get your phone call, and one of her last acts was to call and have the History of Guilford sent to you. You certainly called the right person in the nick of time as I don’t believe the other Barney relative is at all well. She’s along in years, too.”

Since then, as we’ve gone to the temple for our ancestors, we’ve been humbled and blessed. My children are proud of who they are. They want to visit Vermont and see where their ancestors were born, lived, and died. The hope of many generations lies with us, and we give thanks to our Heavenly Father for helping us make our connections.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dennis Millard

L. Michael Barney, of Twin Falls, Idaho, is a recent graduate of Officers Candidate School, U.S. Navy, Newport, Rhode Island.