Family History—Who Can Help Me?


In the Seattle, Washington, area, ward family history consultants are successfully helping members identify their ancestors and provide temple ordinances for them.

“My aunt Maude did all our family history.” “I don’t have a computer. Besides, computers make me nervous.”

“I get confused because it seems like there are too many rules.”

“I don’t have time.”

“I don’t know where to start. I need help!”

Such roadblocks don’t last long in the Seattle, Washington, area, where ward family history consultants are really helping members to overcome them.

“My focus has been to offer two classes on Sunday—one during Sunday School and one in the afternoon, so that people can come to either class,” says Nancy Kirkpatrick, who serves as ward family history consultant in the Seattle Sixth Ward. “It’s working beautifully.”

Sister Kirkpatrick repeats the same six-week class, and former class members often come back and review a specific lesson. “We now have quite a core of people in the ward who are completely independent when using FamilySearch®, preparing TempleReady™ diskettes, and making Ancestral File™ submissions,” she says. “And the best part of the whole program is the overlap between the family history consultant, the family history center, and the temple. As family history consultant, I help members use FamilySearch. As we identify ancestors, we work together to prepare a diskette using TempleReady. Then the members take the diskette to the temple, where they have the joy of seeing the fruits of their labors by serving as proxies for their ancestors. The people get excited about family history work. The whole thing can just happen!”

Sister Kirkpatrick also serves as the stake family history consultant in the Seattle Washington Stake. “I try to share with them everything I’ve learned about how to teach family history so they can become independent,” she says. “I teach them how to use the computer. Then, because it is often difficult to travel to meetings, I also write monthly letters and talk with them on the telephone. I share new information and offer words of advice and encouragement.”

Committed and thorough, Sister Kirkpatrick generates a contagious enthusiasm for family history that stimulates not only the ward family history consultants she trains, but many other members of her ward as well.

Finding Elizabeth Ann’s Parents

Sister Kirkpatrick’s bishop, Mark W. Elder, was one of the members who caught her enthusiasm and decided to attend her family history class. He did not expect to discover any new family history, because his parents and grandparents had done extensive research on their ancestors. Even so, as part of a class assignment, Bishop Elder decided to see if he could find out more about his great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Ann Medley.

“I’d never done anything like this before,” says Bishop Elder, “but Sister Kirkpatrick helped me every step of the way. Using the International Genealogical Index® [IGI] on FamilySearch, we discovered some information about the Medley family. I got excited. Next, using the Family History Library Catalog™ [FHLC], which is also on FamilySearch, we discovered what records were available and requested some of them on microfilm from the main family history library in Salt Lake City.”

To Bishop Elder’s surprise, when the microfilms arrived, he found information on Elizabeth Ann and became more motivated than ever to find her parents. So Sister Kirkpatrick suggested he search the censuses at the National Archives in north Seattle. There he not only found Elizabeth Ann and her husband and children, but he discovered a family he thought might be Elizabeth Ann’s parents and her six brothers and sisters. This would be new information!

“I was fairly confident that John B. and Ellen Medley were Elizabeth Ann’s parents, but I wanted proof,” he says. “Again, Sister Kirkpatrick helped. Through a series of events, I was able to prove the relationship between these two families, and I discovered Elizabeth Ann’s mother’s maiden name in the process. I had opened up a new line to research!”

Not only did Bishop Elder and his family perform the temple ordinances for these families, but, in honor of his great-great-grandmother, he and his wife, Diana, named their newborn daughter Elizabeth Ann.

“I have a stronger testimony of temple and family history work now,” says Bishop Elder. “I know the joy of discovering my ancestors and then serving them by taking their names to the temple.”

“How Did You Find That?”

Strong priesthood leadership and support help every family history program. Harvey Linville serves as high priests group leader in the Seattle Ninth Ward and also volunteers part-time in the family history center. He trained Nancy Kirkpatrick when she first served as a volunteer in the family history center. Now he draws on her expertise as he encourages the high priests in his ward to become involved in family history.

“When I realized I could do my family history work on a computer, I really got interested,” says Brother Linville, a computer enthusiast.

As high priests group leader, Brother Linville often accompanies a group of high priests to the family history center so they can receive hands-on experience. He wants to make sure every one of his high priests knows how to use FamilySearch. “Some people are afraid of computers, but they’ve made everything easy,” he says. “It’s a file cabinet and a typewriter all in one.”

Sometimes Brother Linville goes to a high priest’s home and helps set up Personal Ancestral File® on his personal computer. “Every time I help someone, I learn too,” he says. “I have them sit down at the computer, and I say, ‘You do it.’ Then they learn.”

For the Linvilles, family history is a team effort, with Sister Linville doing the research and Brother Linville putting it onto the computer. Since all of her lines go into Norway, Sister Linville has relied heavily on the microfilms available through the family history center. When a distant relative from Norway who was also interested in family history visited Sister Linville, he showed her his handwritten information and asked her how it compared with hers. Brother Linville stepped in and said, “Just a minute. I’ll get you a copy of our work.” He went to the computer and within a few minutes had printed out a pedigree chart and several family group sheets. The cousin was amazed.

Then, as they compared the information, they were surprised to discover that Sister Linville had taken the line two generations beyond the limit of her cousin’s information. “The church burned and there are no records,” her cousin said to her. “I live in Norway and I’ve looked! How did you find that information?” This gave Sister Linville the opportunity to tell her cousin about the family history center and how she had pieced the line together using the probate records she had found on microfilm.

For the Linvilles, the modern technology of computers and microfilm has made all the difference.

Leading Out

Members in the Greenwood Ward, Seattle Washington Shoreline Stake, are enjoying similar success because the elders quorum is leading out in family history. Roy Hogan, chairman of the temple committee in the elders quorum, is the energy behind this success. When quorum members discovered they would need to generate their own Family File names in order to do baptisms at the Seattle Temple, Brother Hogan began a series of one-on-one meetings with quorum members. First, he gave them a pedigree chart and family group sheets and challenged them to fill out what they could.

The second one-on-one meeting was at the family history center. There, with the help of either Roy or ward family history consultant Lois Vallance, quorum members began to check the information on their family group sheets against FamilySearch. This led to a third one-on-one meeting at the family history center, by which time many elders had enough information to prepare a TempleReady diskette.

“We scheduled a night at the temple for all our quorum members and their wives to do baptisms,” says Brother Hogan. “In all, we did the baptisms for about 170 of our ancestors. What a joy to work together toward this common goal.”

Since that time, the quorum has performed the initiatory ordinances for those deceased persons, and now the ward is helping complete the endowment work. In the end, the elders and their wives will join together to do the sealings. Then they will start the process all over again.

“It’s really fun to see these men who were so apprehensive at first get excited about this work and gain confidence,” says Brother Hogan. “It is a continuing effort. Some are still doing research so that their ancestors can be part of our next batch of names. It’s really brought temple and family history work to a personal level in our quorum, and the spirit of it has filtered throughout our ward.”

Cherishing Our Ancestors

Brother Hogan is not the only family history enthusiast in the Greenwood Ward. Sister Vallance has been involved since she was baptized as a college student. “My responsibility is to get folks started doing their family history,” says Sister Vallance. “Actually, restarted may be a more accurate word because so many people set their family history aside for a few years at a time. Then when they get it out again, they feel lost. I like to be visible so that when members are ready for help, they know who I am.”

An announcement in every ward bulletin, an occasional talk in church, and a class during Sunday School all help keep Sister Vallance “visible” in her ward as one who is willing to help with family history.

“We don’t have a family history center in our building, so we use the computer in the clerks’ office,” says Sister Vallance. “I also go to members’ homes and help them learn to use their own computers for family history work. I helped one young mother learn Personal Ancestral File on her laptop computer at home, and now she is in the process of transferring her family history from paper to computer while her children are napping. It’s wonderful to see someone’s eyes light up with an Is-that-all-there-is-to-it? look when they learn to use FamilySearch or complete a TempleReady diskette. Once members actually find something, they are usually ‘hooked.’”

The only Church member in her family, Sister Vallance has enjoyed the experience of collecting her family history. She has coupled this research with temple attendance to perform the ordinances for her own ancestors.

“It’s important to remember that your ancestors are not just names, but people,” she says. “There is a bonding that goes on as you research your ancestors. You feel like you know them and love them even though you didn’t really know them in life. If you can go to the temple yourself and serve as proxy for one of your family members, then you may really feel the Spirit.”

Named after her grandmother, Sister Lois Vallance always felt a special bond with her. They were close when they both lived in Virginia, and when Lois moved across the country to Washington, they wrote continually and maintained their close relationship. Grandmother Lois gave Lois her first Bible. Grandmother Lois’s engagement ring was passed on to Lois. So when two very special letters about her grandmother surfaced, Lois was thrilled. The letters both discussed the upcoming marriage of her grandparents.

“My grandmother had gone away to school, and she and my grandfather wanted to get married,” she says. But “My great-grandmother was not going to be able to meet this young man before her daughter’s wedding. She wrote: ‘The things Lois said about you were wonderful, but girls can be deceived. So, I’ve written to your minister. The answer I received would be a compliment to any young man. You have my blessings on your marriage, and I will be a loving mother to you also.’”

Sister Vallance continues, “These letters make these people very precious to me. When I went through the temple for my grandmother, it was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. I cried most of the time because I was so overcome with joy.”

Creating Teamwork

Spiritual experiences and stronger personal testimonies are important results of temple and family history work.

Edwinna L. Forschler of the Seattle 14th Ward is a descendant of some of the first converts to be baptized into the Church in these latter days. “For a long time I was frustrated because so much research and temple work have been done on all of my lines,” says Sister Forschler. “I thought I’d never have the experience of finding ancestors and going to the temple for them.” She decided to try anyway, looked around for help, and became Nancy Kirkpatrick’s first student.

Downloading Sister Forschler’s extensive family history from Ancestral File took 13 hours. She knew that information from Ancestral File needed to be corrected and updated before clearing it with TempleReady. She also knew that she would need help to do that. As the oldest of five children and the mother of eight, she wanted this to become a family effort. So the information was divided among Edwinna and her brothers and sisters and their mother to make corrections and check them against the IGI. A sister living out of state also helped. When they finished this updating, they processed the information on TempleReady.

“To my surprise, 188 names cleared,” says Sister Forschler. “I was so excited. The first thing we did was to arrange for all of our children to do the baptisms.”

After the 17 cousins performed the baptisms, they and their parents met in a quiet setting and held a testimony meeting.

“This experience united our family and was a testimony builder for us,” she says. “Our children felt such joy from doing baptisms for our ancestors that it helped them realize the importance of serving a mission. They could easily imagine how much happiness they would feel if they witnessed the baptism of someone to whom they had taught the gospel. During the testimony meeting, several of them committed to serve a mission.”

Sister Forschler continues: “Another blessing was that our children had the opportunity to be touched by the Spirit. Once that happens, they are able to recognize it when it comes again.”

Finding Joy

The joys of temple and family history work are beyond measure. With the help of their ward family history consultants, Latter-day Saints in Seattle, Washington, have partaken of these blessings. Similar blessings are available to each of us. So if you’re having trouble getting started or “restarted” doing your family history, don’t look for excuses—look for your family history consultant instead and find joy beyond measure.

Ten Family History Tools

  1. 1.

    FamilySearch is a computer system that can help you learn about your ancestors. Using FamilySearch, you can quickly search through the names of millions of people; dates and places of birth, marriage, and death; names of parents, spouses, and children; and dates of completed temple ordinances. This information is compiled from a variety of sources and is organized into files and indexes. These include Ancestral File, the International Genealogical Index (IGI), the Family History Library Catalog, TempleReady, and other files.

  2. 2.

    Ancestral File is a collection of millions of names from throughout the world that are organized into family groups and pedigrees. Ancestral File also contains the names and addresses of those who contributed to the file so that you can coordinate further research with them. Information in this file can be copied onto computer diskettes and used with a number of genealogical computer programs.

  3. 3.

    The International Genealogical Index is an index of temple ordinances that have been completed for deceased persons. You can check this index to see if ordinances have already been completed for your ancestors. The index is also a valuable genealogical resource, containing dates and places of birth, christening, or marriage and names of parents, spouses, or children.

  4. 4.

    The Family History Library Catalog describes the records, books, and microfilms in the collections of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It is available on computer and on microfiche. The catalog will guide you to family histories; birth, marriage, and death records; census records; church registers; and many other records that may contain information about your ancestors.

  5. 5.

    TempleReady is a computer program that can help you prepare and clear names for temple ordinances.

  6. 6.

    Personal Ancestral File is a computer program designed to help you organize your family history into family groups. It can be purchased for home use through the Salt Lake Distribution Center, 1999 West 1700 South, Salt Lake City, Utah 84104-4233. For those who do not have a computer, the program is available as a part of FamilySearch, which is installed on the computers at family history centers throughout the Church.

  7. 7.

    Family History Centers are located in most stake centers. Volunteers with expertise can help with research questions. A computer with FamilySearch is one of the many resources available at a family history center. In areas where there is no family history center, FamilySearch may be available on the computer in the clerks’ office.

  8. 8.

    The Family File is simply a holding place at the temple of your choice for the cards containing the names of your ancestors awaiting their temple ordinances.

  9. 9.

    A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work (booklet, 1993; item no. 34697).

  10. 10.

    Temple and Family History Leadership Handbook (1992; item no. 34549).

[photos] Background: Seattle skyline. Above: With the help of her ward family history consultant, Edwinna Forschler organized her extended family for productive family history activity. Then family members performed temple ordinances for nearly 200 of their ancestors. (Photography by Dennis Gaunt, except as noted.)

[photos] Background: Seattle skyline. Above, left to right: Nancy Kirkpatrick, Mark and Diana Elder with their baby, Elizabeth Ann. Right: The Simses love family history work—Bob Sims serves as high council adviser for family history, and Kay Sims is a ward family history consultant. (Photography at left by David Gaunt.)

[photo] Sixth Ward family history class, left to right: Kevin and Richard Titus, Nancy Kirkpatrick (teacher), and Kristin Marquardt.

[photo] Lois Vallance serves as family history consultant in the Greenwood Ward, Seattle Washington Shoreline Stake.

[photos] Background: Seattle Temple. Above: Paula and Stefanie Hubbs recall Stefanie’s attending the temple and performing baptisms for family ancestors.