It all started with a tie. On a vacation in 1980, my wife and I motored up the beautiful California coast to the Monterey Peninsula. We spent a day in the lovely little town of Carmel. We were typical tourists, looking in all the windows but buying only a few postcards and a couple of T-shirts so people would know where we had been.
On this trip, however, we came across a unique Scottish shop on the main street of Carmel. Since my father’s ancestors came from Scotland, I was immediately intrigued. We went inside and were greeted by a pleasant man who introduced himself as Mr. Robertson, the proprietor. What a coincidence! The two of us shared the same surname. As we looked at all the interesting items from the land of my ancestors, my heart began to beat faster.
These are clan plaids—tartans, I thought. There must be a Robertson tartan here somewhere.
When I asked, the proprietor graciously showed us the tie rack in the back of the store. “Wow!” was all I could say as he showed me not one, but five of the most beautiful plaid ties I had ever seen, and all of them from the Robertson clan.
I had no idea that a clan tartan could vary in color combination. Mr. Robertson explained that two were ancient plaids, with colors just as they appeared when they were made from the berries of the field—one in soft red and another in soft blue. The modern tartans were darker and more vibrant; again I marveled at the exquisite colors. The fifth tie was called a “weathered” tartan; it had gray and red tones, faded somewhat, but was as attractive as the others.
My thoughts went back to stories my father had told me about the kilt my grandpa wore. Although I had never seen the kilt, I could now visualize it clearly. Naturally, I bought five ties—one each of the color combinations. I was thrilled with the treasures I had found.
Then we looked around at the other ties representing tartans from numerous Scottish families. There must have been hundreds of them. I realized what a blessing it was that this bit of ancestral culture had been preserved over the years to be handed down from generation to generation.
When we returned to the motel, I took the ties from the package to examine them more closely. I noticed that each tie had a paper band around it. I opened one band and found on the back a brief history of the Robertson family.
I was thrilled as I read the history of some of the Robertson clan. As I read, I realized that not only was the information about the family priceless to me, but it would also be of great interest to others with my surname.
I have included the information from those little papers in a package containing my four-generation sheet, a letter introducing myself and explaining my interest in family history, and a copy of the Book of Mormon containing my testimony. I have sent that package to Robertsons all over the country. (I get the mailing lists from phone books.)
The response has been rewarding. Most recipients send thanks, and many even include their own family histories. Often they ask questions. Best of all, in each of those homes is a copy of the Book of Mormon.
In the Right Place at the Right Time
I awoke one morning with a thought I knew came from the Lord. “Sarah, if you will arise early today and read your scriptures, the Lord will give you a gift.”
I followed the prompting, got up, read the scriptures, and said my morning prayer. I began my morning chores in anticipation of receiving guidance from the Spirit, and soon I received a strong feeling that I should visit my parents in Tennessee.
We were living in Utah at the time. I had seen my parents only a year earlier, but I called the travel agency anyway. I explained to the agent that I wanted roundtrip airfare but had only a small amount of money. I asked her if she could find a discounted airplane ticket. She laughed. In order to meet my request, she would have to find something less than half the regular price.
“I really don’t think anything like that is available,” she said, “but I will check the computer.”
All day long I awaited her call. Finally, she called that evening.
“I don’t know how this happened,” she exclaimed, “but there are a few tickets available for the price you quoted me.”
I was able to make the trip to Tennessee. My parents and I had a joyous reunion, but after a few days I began to wonder, “For what purpose did I come here?”
I explained my feelings to my mother, who was a not a member of the Church at the time. She told me about a woman whom she had met at the beauty parlor a few weeks earlier. The woman’s married name was Street, which is my maiden name, and her husband had done extensive research on the Street family line.
I went to visit Clay and Martha Street. They met me with gentle graciousness. Clay showed me his family history, and I learned that we had the same family line. He gave me vital information about more than one hundred of our common ancestors. All of the dates necessary to perform their temple work had been carefully documented.
I was amazed as Clay, who was not a member of the Church, shared with me his desire to search out his family line. He told me of an experience he had had that was similar to my own. One day he had felt impressed to drive sixty miles to North Carolina to visit his aunt. There he copied all the names and information he found in the little local family cemetery. He suspected that some of the information dated back 130 years and that it was the only known source for the birth and death dates of these ancestors. When he arrived at his aunt’s house that evening, he prepared his materials so he could return to the cemetery early the next morning.
That night, heavy rain began to fall, and Clay found he could not sleep. He became more and more anxious to get back to the cemetery. Finally, tired of fighting his feelings, he jumped out of bed, threw on his aunt’s yellow raincoat and rain boots, grabbed her umbrella, and headed for the cemetery.
Using a flashlight, Clay guided his way through the downpour to the tombstones and copied down the names and dates he needed. Feeling satisfied, he returned to his aunt’s house and slept through the night.
The next morning, he arose to a beautiful sunrise. The rainclouds were gone. Clay decided to drive over to the cemetery again and take one more look around. When he arrived at the cemetery, bulldozers were there. A house was being constructed nearby, and, without knowing it, the bulldozer operators were pushing dirt onto the little cemetery, covering it. He then understood why he had felt such a strong desire to go there the night before.
As I left the Streets’ house to find a copy machine, Clay advised me to go to the one in the university library a few blocks away. I went there and copied all the materials. As I was paying the librarian, she said, “Oh, it looks like you are doing genealogy. What line are you working on?”
“Well, this is the Street line, but the line I really need is the Garland line from Carter County, Tennessee,” I explained.
“Did you say ‘the Garland line from Carter County’?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered, somewhat startled.
“There is a lady in the back room who is president of the Garland Family Research Club. Her main lines run out of Carter County, Tennessee,” she said.
After talking to the woman in the back room, I left with information on more than one hundred of my ancestors—with everything documented and verified.
This all happened in one afternoon. I was thrilled and humbled at this great gift the Lord had given me. My husband and I, with the help of friends and family, eventually were able to do the temple work for more than two hundred of my ancestors.
This experience has been one of the highlights of my life. I know that many of my ancestors were ready and eager to have their temple work done. I felt them near me in the temple as I was doing their work. I had many sacred experiences in the temple, and doing the work for my ancestors brought a rich renewal of my faith in the power of the Lord.
The story of Tai Kwok Yuen’s great-great-grandfather had been passed down for generations. Among family members, the tale of the fourteen-year-old Chinese orphan who sold himself into slavery to work in the gold fields of Australia was a favorite. The elders in the boy’s former village heard nothing from the young man for forty years. Just as they decided to sell his house and divide up his property, they received a letter from the long-lost man informing them he was coming home. He did just that, married, and had two children.
When Kwok Yuen began studying at Sydney University in Australia, he jumped at the opportunity to verify the story and find out more about this well-known ancestor. Kwok Yuen had more than the usual interest the Chinese have in their ancestry. He had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a teenager and understood the eternal ramifications of locating his progenitors. Although he was unable to find any information about his great-great-grandfather, Kwok Yuen developed an even deeper interest in his family history. He began to collect information about all his ancestors, asking family members to share their memories and records.
Upon learning about Kwok Yuen’s interest, an elderly aunt presented him with a family history record going back twenty generations. The young man was thrilled. This was much more than he had ever expected. Although the story of his great-great-grandfather remained unconfirmed, the record contained important dates in his life and in the lives of hundreds more of his ancestors.
The gift created a dismaying problem for Kwok Yuen. He had been excited about family history. But now, with this gift, how could he possibly expect to find any additional information? Still, he refused to stop researching, feeling that there was more that he could do.
One day, while waiting for transportation, Kwok Yuen struck up a conversation with a man standing nearby. After exchanging pleasantries, the two discovered they shared the same family name. They immediately began discussing family histories. The stranger assured Kwok Yuen that his ancestors came from a different geographical area, but he agreed to share what family information he had.
When the two began comparing family records, they were amazed to discover a point where the names began to be the same. The records connected beautifully. Kwok Yuen was overjoyed to learn that now he could add an additional seventy generations to his pedigree charts. His family history now extended back some five hundred years before Christ!
When the Taiwan Temple opened for ordinance work, the first 150 names were from the Tai family. Their work is still being done today. Kwok Yuen, now serving as mission president in Hong Kong, is a living testimony that miracles can happen to those who do not say, “I can’t find any more information on my family history.”
Book with a Past
“Books with a Past” read the sign in front of the store in Concord, Massachusetts.
“Linda, let’s go in and look for that encyclopedia we’ve been trying to find,” I suggested to my ten-year-old daughter.
When the store clerk said they didn’t have one, I decided to browse through the shelves. To my amazement, I found The Walcott Book, a family history book published in 1925. My grandmother had owned a book just like it. Over the years, she had stuffed notes and clippings into her copy and had cracked the binding. My Aunt Fran wouldn’t let me take it out of her apartment, so I had carefully copied all the information I needed from it. We made sure the temple work had been done for all the names we had on our direct lines, and then filed the sheets away.
“Let’s find Grammie’s name,” I suggested. But as we opened to the familiar page, my eyes fell not on my mother’s name, but on her Aunt Sonia’s. “Isn’t it silly? They called her ‘a lady of foreign birth.’ Didn’t they want to say she was Russian?”
I had loved my Aunt Sonia, the little I had seen of her. She was a jolly woman with a wonderful accent. Her gentle husband, Uncle Dana, was a linguist who had begun working as an estate manager after he had gone deaf. It was sad that they had never had any children, and I hadn’t even arranged for their sealing in the temple. Was Uncle Dana all alone in the spirit world?
We bought the book and brought it home. Later that evening, as our son was flipping through it, an idea came to me. “I wonder who used to own this book?” I said suddenly.
My son turned to the front of the book. “Dana L. Walcott,” he read. His words electrified me.
Was that Uncle Dana’s signature? How had the book traveled across the country, twenty years after his death, to end up in a used-book store within five miles of my house? Was it just chance that I had walked into that store, or was the Spirit prompting me to do something?
I decided to write to Long Island, New York, for Aunt Sonia’s and Uncle Dana’s marriage record. Not only did I find Uncle Dana’s signature, which was a perfect match with the one in the book, but I also discovered that Aunt Sonia had been divorced from her first husband in Istanbul. With the information from the marriage certificate, combined with the notes I had gathered from the book in Aunt Fran’s apartment containing Sonia’s birth date and place and her Russian parents’ names, we had enough information to do the temple work for Aunt Sonia and Uncle Dana.
But to my surprise, events did not stop there. A year later Aunt Fran passed away. In her little apartment, surrounded by the chaos of estate appraisers and my eager relatives, I gathered every scrap of paper. On a tiny piece was a note that read, “Uncle Dana had a child who died at birth.” It was an electric moment for me once more. I telephoned New York state; birth records were confidential in the 1920s, but we could get the death certificate. In a few weeks we had the information. A baby girl had been born to Aunt Sonia and Uncle Dana. The baby had had spina bifida and had lived for only twenty minutes.
A few months later, in the Washington Temple, I represented Aunt Sonia in the sealing of that unnamed baby to her parents. I felt an intense burning in my bosom unlike anything I had ever experienced; I couldn’t contain my tears. Surely that is why The Walcott Book had traveled across the country.