In spring 1994 our family shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience—the uniting of seven generations of the MacArthur family through gospel ordinances. We gathered in Oregon for two very important family events: the blessing of our granddaughter, Anna—the first child in our family to bear the MacArthur surname in the new generation—and two days later, the performance of temple ordinances for four previous generations of MacArthurs.
For months we had planned this very special reunion. Our whole family would be together for an experience that would also unite us spiritually: my husband, Thomas, and me; our son Tom and his wife, Kathy; our daughter, Jane, and her husband, Steve Bradford; and our younger son, Matt.
Our story began in southern California, where my husband was baptized more than 20 years after we were married. Our son Tom performed the baptism just before leaving on his mission. My close-knit Latter-day Saint family had become Thomas’s family, as his father and grandparents had died when he was a boy. Over the years, Thomas was loved into the gospel by my family, our children, and our ward family. We were sealed in the Los Angeles Temple a year after his baptism.
Years before Tom’s baptism, I had gathered old family photos from my mother-in-law and worked with her in an attempt to identify the people in the pictures and fill in names and dates of parents and grandparents. But she was gravely ill and it upset her to talk about the past. I did learn that she and her husband had lived in Portland, Oregon, when they were young. It was there that they met, married, and began their married life.
In the 1970s we took a trip to the Northwest, where I met several of my husband’s elderly relatives and gathered a few more names and tentative dates from them. From these Oregon relatives we learned that the MacArthur family had not come to the United States directly from Scotland, as we had supposed, but instead had lived for decades on Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada. With that scanty information the trail seemed to end, and years went by without learning anything more.
With my husband’s Church membership and temple attendance came renewed motivation to learn more about his ancestors. We talked about scheduling a trip from our home in California to eastern Canada to discover our MacArthur family roots—but it never quite worked out. Then, when we moved to Oregon, enthusiastic high priests group lessons on family history motivated my husband to make his first foray into the family history center. He bought Personal Ancestral File® (PAF) software for our new computer, but before he installed it, our sporadic efforts ground to a halt again.
Then we received a miraculous gift. One late fall night my husband called his only sibling, his brother Bob, who lives in upstate New York, to wish him a happy birthday. In the course of the conversation, Bob mentioned that he and his wife had visited Prince Edward Island several months earlier and had discovered records of the MacArthur family there!
Amazed that they had made so much effort to track down the family history, Tom waited eagerly for a copy of Bob’s research. A few days later we received a neatly handwritten sheet, copied from old parish records. It was full of dates, names, and fascinating information about Tom’s great-grandfather’s large family. It included the location of the family farm and the names of the MacArthur great-great-grandparents. Suddenly we had enough data to extend our knowledge of the MacArthur family back two generations!
We quickly got out our unopened PAF software, installed it on our computer, and figured out how to use it. After long hours and late nights, we prepared a personal four-generation ancestry chart as a Christmas gift for each of our children and for Tom’s brother. My daughter summed up the feelings of all of our children when she said, “Always before, when we thought about our relatives, we thought about Mom’s family. Now there’s a whole new side of our family to get to know.”
Guided by A Member’s Guide
Our work coincided with the publication and distribution of the new and simplified Church handbook A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work (1993, item no. 34697). Eagerly we turned to that resource to learn how to submit our ancestors’ names to the temple. We were excited at the prospect of performing the ordinances for our own ancestors.
We also learned of TempleReady™, a wonderful computer program that would enable us to prepare the names of our ancestors for submission to the temple. Our ward family history consultant assured us that if we brought our information to the family history center, he would help us do the rest.
With our PAF computer disk in hand, we went to our family history center. The TempleReady program helped us check each of our ancestors’ names against the massive International Genealogical Index™ (IGI), which would tell us if temple ordinances had already been performed for any of our ancestors. If not, the names would be cleared, and we would be able to do the temple work ourselves. We ended up with 22 individuals whose names were cleared for ordinance work and six families who could be sealed together. We saved the cleared names on a diskette to take to the temple with us. Then, for our own records, we made a backup copy of the diskette and also made a printed copy of the information. The whole process took just over an hour, and one little diskette held all that precious information!
Meanwhile our first MacArthur grandchild, Anna, had been born in January. Since all our family members planned to travel to Eugene to be together for Anna’s blessing, we decided to combine this visit with a day in the temple to do ordinance work for the MacArthur family. It was easier to master Personal Ancestral File and TempleReady computer programs than to coordinate dates, make travel plans, and average 10 hours of baby-sitting for three small children! Once those plans were made, we telephoned the Portland Oregon Temple to let them know of our desire to come and what we planned to do.
During the drive from Eugene to Portland, we reviewed the names of the ancestors whose temple work we would soon perform. We shared what we knew about each person and made sure we understood all the family relationships. As we got to know these ancestors, each of us decided upon an individual for whom we could do all the necessary ordinances that day.
Our daughter Jane said she would like to be the proxy for her grandmother MacArthur, known fondly to our children as “Mom Mac.” Jane’s husband, Steve, was proxy for Tom’s father, Donald. Our son Tom and his wife, Kathy, served as proxies for great-grandfather Hall Profit MacArthur and his wife, Katherine. Thomas and I had the exceptional experience of doing the work for his great-grandparents William Henry and Rebecca MacArthur. Our younger son, Matt, temporarily became family patriarch by serving as proxy for his great-great-great-grandfather Hugh MacArthur, who had been born more than 200 years earlier.
When we arrived at the temple that lovely spring afternoon, the tulips were in full glory. As we entered the temple I thought how appropriate it was that we were together in Portland—the city where Tom’s parents had married nearly 70 years earlier.
We turned in our diskette at the family file desk, and after the workers processed the disk, they gave us a stack of family file cards. Then we reported to the baptistry where we performed the baptisms and confirmations for our 22 ancestors. For all seven of us, it was a new experience to take the name of a family member through an initiatory session and then an endowment session. Serving as proxy for a chosen ancestor helped us each see the ordinances of the temple through new eyes, and the significance of the promises and covenants took on new meaning. As I carried the name of Tom’s great-grandmother Rebecca, I found myself yearning to know these Scotch-Canadian forebears of my husband and children. I wondered if perhaps my husband had inherited his patience, his cheerfulness, and his mechanical talents from his father’s family.
That evening, as we proceeded together to the sealing room, we were tired and hungry but full of anticipation. We were helping to make available the wonderful gift of celestial glory to people of our own blood—people we hope to know someday.
My gratitude for this experience was overwhelming as I watched my children and their spouses lovingly perform these sacred ordinances for their ancestors. Words from the scriptures echoed in my mind:
“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers” (D&C 2:1–2).
I will never again hear those words without recalling the beautiful memory of my family in the sealing room and feeling that comforting, joyful feeling in my heart.
Because the experience of doing the ordinances ourselves from start to finish was so precious, we made a second family trip to the Portland temple the following summer to complete the work on names we had begun the year before. This time we had another new MacArthur to include—daughter-in-law Tashia, our son Matt’s bride.
Our family was blessed to have the opportunity to do temple work for family members whose name we bear. In so doing we found a measure of that “peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philip. 4:7). As we proceeded through the ordinances, we were vividly reminded of the reward for keeping the promises and covenants we have made: eternal life with our Heavenly Father, and with each other.
I am deeply grateful for the experience our family shared in the house of the Lord—a time for celebrating seven generations of our eternal family!