Extending the Family

By Wendel K. Walton

Print Share

    A look at how families and individuals are doing family history.

    Wendel K. Walton of the Dublin Ward, Columbus Ohio Stake, uses FamilySearch® to help him compile his family records. Velma Skidmore of the Manhattan Second Ward, Salina Kansas Stake, submitted names of more than 650 of her ancestors for temple ordinances. Gerald Haslam of the Pleasant Grove Ninth Ward, Pleasant Grove Utah Stake, plans a family reunion every year. Winona Palmer of the Picture Butte Ward, Fort Macleod Alberta Stake, loves to do name extraction. Boyd E. and Elaine Ferguson of the Monterey Ward, Monterey California Stake, served in a full-time family history calling—in their own stake family history center. Jeanette Greenfield of the West Bend Ward, Milwaukee Wisconsin Stake, created a family calendar to help her family remember their ancestors. And Kathleen Hedberg of the Burley Third Ward, Burley Idaho West Stake, traveled to Sweden to find the records of her ancestors.

    So it is with family history; we can get involved in a wide variety of ways. As we read the following stories, we notice that the details are different, but the message is the same: peace, joy, and spiritual experiences come as a result of being involved with family history and the redemption of the dead.

    FamilySearch Got Me Started

    I know well the feelings of being overwhelmed at the task of family history research and how difficult it is to maintain enthusiasm. Thirty years ago when the Church requested that we submit the names of three generations of our ancestors, I responded. Some years later when four generations were requested, I again responded. But in each instance I stopped short. Each time I submitted what I had copied from others—never verifying the information or even filling in missing information. It seemed such an effort just to type up the forms that when I finished I couldn’t wait to return the genealogical binders to their places on a dusty shelf. But now this has all changed.

    When I was called to serve as the director of a stake family history center, I was amazed at the power provided by two computer programs: Personal Ancestral File® (the Church’s family history software program designed to help organize family history on home computers) and FamilySearch (a massive database of family history work and research aids).

    Gone are the days when I would labor over preparing a family group sheet or a pedigree chart on a typewriter. Gone is the need to copy information more than once. Using Personal Ancestral File, I typed the information once and it was readily available to make corrections or copies simply by using a few keystrokes.

    With my own records organized on Personal Ancestral File at home, I began to use FamilySearch at our family history center. The computer searched the more than fifteen million names on Ancestral File™ (a database of family histories available on FamilySearch) for my family and found many individuals related to me. I quickly copied information about these individuals from Ancestral File to a diskette and from the diskette to my own database, which I had organized using Personal Ancestral File. Then, following the straightforward instructions, I combined the new information with what I had entered previously.

    As I worked with Ancestral File, I noted that while it contained information of which I was previously unaware, there was much information in my possession that Ancestral File did not contain. Noting how I benefited from the labors of those who submitted information to Ancestral File, I became keenly aware of my responsibility to contribute to Ancestral File and subsequently submitted more than fifteen thousand names for inclusion.

    Because of the many information gaps in my records, particularly regarding Latter-day Saint temple work, I searched the International Genealogical Index™ to help determine what work remained to be done. This file, also included as part of FamilySearch, contains information on more than two hundred million deceased individuals—information accessible in a few seconds.

    With the help of Ancestral File and the International Genealogical Index, I quickly came to the end of the research that had been done on my family. Now it was time to examine primary sources such as vital statistics, parish registers, census records, and cemetery records. So I turned to another tool of FamilySearch, the Family History Library Catalog. With this index to almost every record in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I quickly learned what records might provide additional information on my family. Because most of the holdings are on microfilm, I made arrangements to rent the films from the library so I could examine them in our family history center.

    Now the time I spend doing family history is spent doing research and temple ordinances instead of simply copying someone else’s work. I owe my enthusiasm for family history to FamilySearch. Without it, I might never have started.

    Two Old Notebooks

    As far back as I can remember, my mother and father did family history research. After they died, within two weeks of each other, I inherited part of their family records and I put them in a box in my basement storeroom. The box sat there for fifteen years.

    One day I brought the box upstairs. I knew that my parents had not been able to work on family history during the last ten years of their lives so it had been a quarter of a century since anything had been done with these records. In the box were two thick notebooks stuffed with family group sheets, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other notes, all of them neatly organized. I wondered if there would be any temple ordinances left for me to do.

    I found my mother’s patriarchal blessing. It said, “Many of thine ancestors are waiting anxiously in the spirit world for thee to liberate them through thy work in the temple.” I was determined to help fulfill this blessing.

    My daughter and I took the notebooks to the family history center. We searched for hours for the dates of the temple ordinances of my ancestors but found that temple ordinances had been performed for only a few of them. I was shocked.

    With the help of our family and the members of the Salina Kansas Stake, we completed the temple ordinances in the Denver Colorado Temple for 653 of my ancestors whose names my daughter and I had found between the covers of the two old notebooks.

    Keeping Reunions Simple

    Does planning a family reunion every year seem too complicated? We have been holding the Rynearson-Atkinson family reunion since 1974, and I attribute its success to the fact that we keep things simple.

    We hold our reunions during the first week of November, usually on a weeknight and in a location that is convenient for the majority of family members. We have a potluck dinner with no fancy decorations, and family members help set up and clean up.

    At our reunion this year, we took pictures of the various family groups and a picture of the entire group. After the picture taking, one member from each family group updated the group on the activities of their family. Then we observed a moment of silence for a family member who had died during the past year.

    Many times we have devoted part of the reunion time to interviewing older relatives who are in attendance. Several of the family members take notes as the older people recount family history about their lives and the lives of their parents and grandparents. I like to compare these sessions with the story of Nephi’s obtaining the brass plates from Laban in the Book of Mormon: oral history needs to be preserved in writing so that future generations can find inspiration in the life stories of their ancestors and relate to their forebears on a personal level.

    We have a treasurer, and everyone contributes to the family organization to cover the minimal costs of research and printing. This year, one of our family members typed the recipes from Great-Grandmother Rynearson’s faded old cookbook. The typed pages were copied, spiral bound, and given to family members when they made their contribution to the treasurer. We also provide our family members with updated or new family group sheets and pedigree charts. And we have been fortunate enough to have a genealogist do on-the-spot research in England, partly supported by family funds. One of his most exciting finds has been an ancestral tombstone in the overgrown parish churchyard of Humbleton, Yorkshire.

    The important duties of research and temple work are divided among the family members. Fortunately, in our family we have a professional genealogist who oversees the research, and a temple worker who oversees the temple work; family members help in both areas. Combined efforts result in our performing the temple ordinances for an average of one thousand of our deceased relatives each year, for a total of about nineteen thousand ancestors over the years.

    The research and temple work is what motivates us and keeps our reunions going. Visiting with one another and being together is what brings us joy. Keeping our reunions simple makes it all possible.

    Excited about Extraction

    My day isn’t complete unless I spend a few hours in our stake center doing name extraction. I receive a sense of fulfillment from it. I have served in the Fort Macleod Alberta Stake program extracting French records since July 1986.

    Most mornings I get to the building at about the same time as the young people who are coming for early-morning seminary. I work three or four hours and then go back home. After dinner, I usually go back to the library and work for another two or three hours. I am a widow, and I enjoy the work I do here.

    Throughout my life, family history work has been important. I served for ten years in the family history center in Lethbridge. I always felt a thrill when I was able to help someone find their ancestors. Temple attendance also has a high priority with me. I love to attend the Alberta Temple in Cardston as often as I can.

    I find family history work very satisfying. Every time I sit down at the microfilm reader, begin to read another film, and extract names, I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved in such a rewarding and valuable project.

    Our Family History Service

    My wife, Elaine, and I have loved family history work for a long time. When we decided to serve in the Church full-time, we both wanted to do family history somewhere. But when the news came from our doctor that Elaine’s health would not permit her to serve away from home, we were extremely disappointed. However, we have a large, busy family history center right here in the Monterey California Stake. After talking it over with our bishop, our stake president, and our doctor, we realized that we could perform full-time family history service right here at home. We were called to serve as family history workers in our own stake.

    There is an excitement about being in this center. We love to be a part of it. Morning prayer really sets the tone. That’s one of the things we look forward to. Even though many on our staff are of other faiths, we are comfortable praying together.

    Because we have people who work here in two-hour or four-hour shifts, it helps to have my wife and me here to provide continuity. We are here every day and can help people anytime. We talk to the patrons about their family history and their ancestors. We love the feeling of satisfaction we get from working with them. Often their excitement is overwhelming. It is a reminder to us of the eternal significance of families in the Lord’s plan.

    We know it isn’t just by accident that we are serving where we are. We are learning more about life, love, patience, and compassion than ever before. We know our work is appreciated, and we are grateful to be here.

    An Ancestor a Day

    When my husband and I moved from California to Wisconsin, I missed my family. At age forty-one, I was a first-time bride. My husband had been married before, so I became a stepmother to five grown children in the blink of an eye. In our new apartment, the sheer numbers of my new relatives seemed to outweigh the influence of my own family in California.

    It was then that I got the idea to create a calendar featuring my own family and ancestors. Where store-bought calendars have pictures of birds or mountains, mine would have biographies of some of my favorite ancestors. As I began, I felt close to these loved ones who shared a commitment to the gospel and who had also moved away from extended family.

    I filled the date boxes on my calendar with birth dates, marriage dates, and death dates of many of my living and deceased family members, and then included notes about minor events and important occasions for everyone. Before long, it became a long-distance family project. My mom, dad, brothers, aunts, and uncles began sending me information—dates on which they proposed marriage or lost a job or experienced other events. The whole experience brought us closer together as families and helped dissolve my homesickness. The calendar became my Christmas present to them.

    Every day I look at my own copy of the calendar and remember some important event or story about my family. This has had a great influence on us as well as on our grown children and grandchildren. When we are reminded of our roots, we feel a part of an army of ancestors. We know we are not alone.

    Ancestors at My Fingertips

    The clear, moonless night was filled with stars. As I gazed into the sky, I was aware again of spiritual promptings that had come to me at various times throughout my life. I sensed my Swedish ancestors were there, somewhere, waiting for me. I had wanted to find them since I was sixteen years old, but at that time there were not many helps for beginning researchers.

    As I stood there, I thought, Maybe I should try again to find my Swedish ancestors. After all, I do have a cousin in Sweden who could help me. So I decided to try one more time.

    Before long I had the opportunity to go to Sweden, and I found myself in the village church in Sibbo, part of the Karlskoga Parish. My cousin and I followed the old, white-haired Swedish minister down a narrow flight of stairs. The minister unlocked the door, and we followed him into a small room. Rows of brown leather-covered volumes lined the shelves from floor to ceiling.

    My cousin translated for me as I told the minister my grandmother’s birth date. He pulled a book from the shelf, opened it, and pointed to an entry. It was my grandmother’s birth record. With mounting excitement, I watched as he pulled other books from the shelves showing the records of my grandmother’s and my great-grandparents’ families. In five minutes, I had in front of me information that I had not been able to find in ten years.

    The minister smiled at me, said I could stay and copy the records, and then left. My cousin helped me translate some Swedish words, then left too. The minute I was alone, I began copying as fast as my fingers would allow. My heart was singing. My pen flew across the page.

    I quickly copied all the records the minister had found for me. I wondered what I should do next. I knew I had only a short time to work in the church. I picked up the book for the next five-year period. What appeared to be an index was in the front, but I could not figure it out. I turned the page to where my family had been in the other book. They were not there. I flipped through the book, trying to find some kind of pattern. With mounting panic and desperation, I gazed at the books lining the shelves. Here at my fingertips were the records I had been wanting for so long, and I didn’t know how to use them! Each book was too thick to go through page by page. I opened the book again and flipped over a few pages. What could I do? I simply sat there, numb with disappointment.

    Gradually, I became aware of the book that I had just opened. The names on the page looked familiar. Despair gave way to joy as I recognized the names of my great-great-grandparents. There were 417 pages in the book, but completely at random, I had opened it to the one page that had the records of my family.

    I looked again at the index. Now it made sense to me. Now I could use it, and others like it in all the other books. I paused long enough to give silent thanks and then began copying again.

    As I copied the precious information, I remembered those star-filled nights. I had known then that someone was waiting. Now they would wait no longer.

    [photo] Photo of girl by Steve Bunderson

    [photo] Photo by Steve Bunderson

    [photo] Photo by Steve Bunderson