Like the rising sun at dawn, a priesthood leader can light the way for others to follow. Gerald Lindsey, president of the Monterey California Stake, and Roger Hudson, president of the Oshawa Ontario Stake in Canada, are two such leaders. Their vision of family history and temple work has inspired many members of their stakes to become involved in working for the redemption of the dead.
These two stake presidents have also worked to turn vision into reality by surrounding themselves with other effective leaders. The result is active family history centers, consistently high temple attendance, and stronger individuals, families, wards, and stakes.
The Monterey stake is located about 120 miles south of San Francisco, near some of the most dramatic meeting of land and sea along the California coastline. From the white sands of the beach at Carmel to the churning surf at Asilomar, the Monterey Peninsula is a combination of shoreline, farmland, and ranch land. Vineyards with row after row of grapevines, hills with grazing cattle, and fields of artichokes are scattered among areas of gnarled cypress trees or sand dunes draped with ice plant. Seagulls shrill overhead. Each morning and evening, the fog wraps the coastline in a soft gray mist, while in contrast, the inland temperatures soar at midday.
Members of the Monterey stake have been significantly involved in family history work for decades. The family history center, located in the town of Seaside, began in 1966 with one small room. Now it is the hub of family history activity in the Monterey Peninsula. Close ties with groups such as the Monterey County Genealogical Society, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Sons of Italy have resulted in exceptional genealogical conferences, generous donations of books, many willing volunteers, and constant use of the center by hundreds of patrons. Those who visit notice that there is a special spirit in this family history center, where volunteers—both members of the Church and those of other faiths—begin and end each day with prayer.
Many people are responsible for the successful family history and temple program in this stake, but at the center of the success is the enthusiastic and skilled teamwork of President Gerald Lindsey and family history center director Karen Clifford.
“The starting point for me was doing research for my own ancestors,” says President Lindsey. “Once you know the value of the family history center, you do everything you can to support it in terms of people, supplies, and space. You have to give your leaders the resources they need to make it happen. I also encourage our priesthood leaders to gain skills and a testimony of the redemption of the dead by volunteering at the family history center. Gradually the example and testimony of our priesthood leaders become a message to our members.”
Sister Clifford, who teaches family history classes at two local community colleges, says, “President Lindsey has a vision for the people here. He receives inspired guidance for the stake, and we all feel it. For example, he says we should take our stake conferences more seriously, so I do. At one stake conference he encouraged us to magnify our callings. As I looked at my responsibility, I realized we didn’t have enough people to answer research questions, so I encouraged each of our volunteers to specialize in one area.”
Linda Avakian’s specialization in Armenian research led her to the Boston and New York ship passenger lists. “Most of my family came from Armenia prior to the indexed ship lists, which began in 1897,” she says. “The only way I can find my ancestors is to check the ship lists name by name, so I am compiling an index of the thirty thousand Armenians on these lists. I feel close to these people knowing that they were escaping from persecution. With no other records currently available, these passenger lists provide the only glimpse I have of my ancestors’ lives in Armenia. Details such as the picture of the ship on which they came, the fact that they had twenty-five dollars, and the names of others traveling with them become priceless. It gives me a link back.”
Ann Sanford, a volunteer, has submitted more than sixty-five thousand names to Ancestral File™ (a family history database of more than fifteen million names available worldwide as part of FamilySearch®). One day Ann received a letter from a man who had found his father’s name on Ancestral File among the names that Ann had submitted. Immediately, Ann knew this was the half-brother of whom she had only rarely heard. She knew he did not know about her or her sister, so she decided to phone him. “I can’t tell you the excitement I felt when he answered the phone,” says Ann. “‘Hello, this is your sister Ann,’ I said. He was so surprised!” Since that phone call, she and her sister have visited their half-brother, and important family ties have been reestablished.
The family history center, with its hundreds of remarkable stories and with the spiritual experiences of its patrons, is only one part of the family history and temple program in Monterey. A name extraction program, monthly bus trips to the Oakland Temple, and a monthly meeting with the high priests group leaders round out the program.
Speaking of this monthly meeting, President Lindsey says, “We talk on a rotating basis about family history, temple attendance, reactivation, and strengthening our members. We share ideas and discuss our challenges and our successes. It’s one of the best things we do.”
Larry Fischer, high priests group leader in the Carmel Ward, agrees. “Our monthly meetings are an efficient and effective way to coordinate our efforts. Because the meeting is presided over by a member of the stake presidency, our ideas and programs can be easily reviewed.”
There are other advantages to this meeting: new high priests group leaders can be oriented, unity develops within the group, and the high priests group leaders take their enthusiasm and ideas back to the ward level.
“In our high priests group, we had a special meeting to recommit ourselves to the mission of the Church,” says Brother Fischer, a sculptor who believes a combination of commitment and fun brings success. “We invited our wives and met in the art gallery of my foundry. It’s an old, beat-up building, but everyone enjoyed the change of scenery. We put some of the sculptures on the tables and had a potluck dinner. Then we shared a very spiritual meeting.” Since then, other high priests socials in this ward have included trips to the family history center.
Cal Miller, head of a committee for family history in the Carmel Ward high priests group, says, “I think the two most important things priesthood leaders can do is to schedule opportunities for growth and then encourage people to make a conscious decision. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. If you don’t encourage people to make a conscious decision, they won’t be committed. So priesthood leaders need to ask directly and get an answer so that others think about it and make a conscious decision to say yes or no.”
Another dimension of priesthood support takes place daily among the members of the Carmel Ward high priests group as they care for Bud Bartlett, a high priest with multiple sclerosis. “Bud is a great blessing in our quorum,” says Brother Fischer. “He was a policeman in Oakland before he developed MS. Now he is devoting the rest of his life to family history. It is very touching to see the effort he puts into it. His whole living room is just filled with shelves of family history books. We worked out a schedule where one of us assists him every day with cooking and housework.”
Bud, who has submitted about ten thousand names to the temple, starts each day at 7:30 A.M. and works all day at his computer. “I love these men. I couldn’t make it without their help,” says Bud, who lives alone. “When I got out of police work, I didn’t think I could find anything as exciting, but I did.”
Members of the six wards and six branches in the Oshawa Ontario Stake are also making things happen. Forty-five miles east of Toronto, Oshawa is one of many communities that line Highway 401 near the northern shores of Lake Ontario. Twelve lanes across, the 401 is one of the widest highways in the world. Its miles of concrete, steel rails, signs, and congested traffic are a direct contrast to the neat brick homes tucked amid green foliage in the towns along either side. Stake boundaries include a large area of Ontario, so two buildings—the Oshawa stake center and the Peterborough ward meetinghouse—have family history centers.
“We try to rely on the Spirit,” says President Roger Hudson, Oshawa stake president. “But we also run our program by the handbook. When we were called, all three members of the stake presidency read it thoroughly. Then we knew what we needed and whom we could call to meet those needs.”
Mike Cook, a counselor in the stake presidency, says, “We put some of our strongest leaders in family history because they are enthusiastic and committed.” Charles Misseri is one such leader. He serves as the head of the name extraction program. “This is a priesthood-driven program,” he says. “I see myself as a technician who helps the priesthood leaders. I also train ward leaders and those who do extraction.”
Bruce and Gladys Clark are examples of skilled leaders who help turn vision into reality in the Oshawa stake. Both serve as temple workers in addition to serving as directors of the family history center in Oshawa.
“One of our goals is to encourage more attendance at our family history center,” says Sister Clark. “We do all we can to motivate and teach members. We think one of the keys is to get our stake presidency, high councilors, and bishoprics involved in doing their own research. When priesthood leaders are involved, they understand our needs and set a good example for others.”
In an effort to motivate members, the Clarks eagerly respond when asked to speak at sacrament meetings and firesides and conduct a yearly family history seminar. Teaching efforts include a family history starter kit, one-on-one teaching, and tours of the family history center for classes, priesthood quorums, and young people.
“We encourage others to put their family history records on the computer and submit the records to Ancestral File,” says Brother Clark, who specializes in helping others use the computer. “We have had many large family histories submitted.”
As with other family history centers, the center in Oshawa helps patrons in many ways. Sister Clark remembers the day a doctor came to the center and asked to speak with her in private. “With sincere concern, he told me of his wife, who has been on kidney dialysis four times a day for the past three years. He said, ‘Will you help her?’ Of course, I said yes. Now she is a regular patron, and her successful research has given her a new focus in life.”
Harold St. Croix serves as president of the Bowmanville Branch in the Oshawa stake. There are only about ninety adult members, but there is enough family history activity to keep two family history consultants—Marilyn White and Valerie St. Croix—busy. A copy of Personal Ancestral File® (a software program designed to help members organize family history records on a home computer) has been loaded onto the computer in the clerks’ office. Members are able to organize their family history on this computer. (The use of a password protects confidential records and allows access only to Personal Ancestral File.)
“We feel priesthood support,” says President St. Croix. “When you work together as a team, the Spirit increases.”
Sister White agrees. “The only way it can work is if you have priesthood backing; otherwise you don’t have the Spirit.”
Sister White and Sister St. Croix also teach a family history class. “We like to keep the class to about four members so that we can help them one-on-one,” says Sister St. Croix. “Our goal is to have all branch members take the class.”
Members in both the Monterey and the Oshawa stakes attend the temple regularly. The Monterey stake charters a bus each month to take temple recommend holders to the Oakland Temple. Primarily helpful for widows, widowers, and those who prefer not to drive through some of California’s most congested traffic, this service supplements temple trips by individual members. Arrangements are made by the high priests group leaders and coordinated at their monthly meeting.
Members of the Oshawa stake have been active in their temple attendance since the Toronto Ontario Temple was dedicated in 1990. The stake coordinates two temple trips a year, but other temple trips are arranged on the ward level. Many stake members serve as restricted service ordinance workers when their local unit has a temple day. In addition, the stake has arranged with the temple to send a baptismal team of endowed brethren to work at the temple once a month. These brethren usually bring their wives and a group of young people or new members with them to enjoy the blessings of participating in baptisms and confirmations for the dead.
Both stakes enjoy helping members do temple ordinances for their own ancestors. In the Monterey stake, members have an ongoing project to do the temple work for Bud Bartlett’s ancestors.
In the Oshawa stake, Sister White of the Bowmanville Branch usually has a supply of family file names to do on stake temple trips. The week before stake conference, members make a special effort to attend the temple and perform all the ordinances for one ancestor. “Performing ordinances for my own ancestors is exciting,” says Sister White. “It’s a real celebration because there is such a feeling of joy around me. I feel like I have friends in heaven.”
Some families make special arrangements for family members to attend the temple together. Stuart Bourne, who serves on the high council with responsibility for family history, made arrangements with the temple and gathered fourteen of his family together to do baptisms. “A special feeling accompanied us,” says Brother Bourne, who was able to perform the baptisms. “The memories of being in the temple together and the spiritual feelings we shared have united our family.”
Family history and temple work strengthens individuals and families as well as strengthening wards and stakes. President St. Croix has noticed an increased spirituality in the Bowmanville Branch. “Family history gets at the core of life, and people feel the Spirit,” says President St. Croix. “More than half of the adults in our branch are now temple recommend holders who attend regularly. The benefits are worth any effort. The level of unity and harmony among our members has increased. Attitudes have changed. I see more dedication, faithfulness, harmony, and better self-esteem among our members. I can see changes in the relationships among husbands and wives and children. These improvements spread throughout the branch.”
Like the sunlight that floods the day, the blessings of family history and temple service are powerful and available to all. The details of how wards and stakes achieve their goals vary because each ward and stake is different. But one thing is constant: strong priesthood leadership results in strong family history and temple service that bring blessings upon many people.