Helping Each Other Succeed in Family History


Through one-on-one help and a creative way of giving young mothers time to do research, members in the Wasilla Alaska Stake progress together in their family history efforts.

Enthusiasm for family history work runs high in the Wasilla Alaska Stake. That enthusiasm was especially evident in January 1999, when the Anchorage Alaska Temple, located about 40 miles to the south, was dedicated. Stake president Jerry A. Hann could see just how much family history research the members of his stake had done because they had submitted thousands of names for temple ordinances.

Members in the Wasilla area continue to move forward in the work of redeeming their dead, and much of their success can be traced to a fundamental principle—the willingness to help each other. An example of this is the one-on-one help they receive from family history consultants and from the staff of the stake Family History Center. The spirit of assisting one another is also found as young mothers take turns watching each other’s children so other moms can do research at the center.

Success after 30 Years

For more than 30 years following her conversion to the Church in 1964, Michelle Ackerman gathered as much information about her ancestors as she could. But then, she explains, “I packed it all away and just left it. I didn’t know what to do with it—till I met Linda.”

Linda Cox is a family history consultant in the Palmer Second Ward, and she was glad to help when she learned that the Ackermans could use her assistance. She went to the Ackermans’ home and showed them how to enter family history information on their computer so it could be submitted to the temple.

Soon Sister Ackerman had the names of 65 of her ancestors ready to submit. She says that none of her ancestors’ temple work would have been completed without Sister Cox’s help.

Sister Cox believes other members should not hesitate to ask for such one-on-one help if they need it. “That’s the biggest barrier,” she observes. “People who would like help say to me, ‘Oh, you’re too busy. You don’t have time to do this.’ But I fit it into my schedule.”

The Computer Challenge

Fortunately, the Ackermans have a good working knowledge of computers. Others, such as Dorothea Best of the Wasilla First Ward, do not yet have such computer skills but still have a desire to do research and have the temple ordinances done for their ancestors.

Judy Anderson, a stake Family History Center staff member, does not want members like Sister Best to be left behind. Using information that Sister Best had researched, Sister Anderson helped her do the computer work necessary for submitting some 100 names to the temple.

William S. and Pauleen Floyd of the Wasilla First Ward have also received computer help from Sister Anderson. “When you get to our age, which is toward the end of our journey through life,” says Brother Floyd, “it’s pretty hard to comprehend these computers.” Sister Anderson’s personal attention has given the couple a good start in learning how to use the electronic tools that can be such an integral part of family history work.

For the Floyds, who are relatively new to family history work, Sister Anderson’s help has gone beyond technical matters. She has introduced them to the thrill of discovery. “It’s just marvelous,” says Sister Floyd, “getting started in genealogy and learning these names. Even my husband, who wasn’t interested in family history before, is getting excited. And the main thing is that you start feeling a connection to your family.”

Judy Foley of the Wasilla First Ward, a new member, is someone else who did not have experience working with computers or family history. Thanks to Sister Anderson’s one-on-one attention, however, Sister Foley has been able to submit information to perform baptisms for some of her deceased family members, including a daughter who died in 1994. Now Sister Foley has been called to the staff of the stake Family History Center, where she can help others as she has been helped.

Finding a Way for Young Mothers to Participate

To succeed in accomplishing worthy gospel goals, sometimes nothing will do but pure determination—along with some creativity. Nylah Jimenez of the Wasilla First Ward was determined to participate in family history work, even when being a young mother seemed to put a major limit on what she could do. “I knew I wanted to do this work,” she recalls. “I wasn’t going to be deterred just because I had little ones.”

Searching for a solution, Sister Jimenez realized she wasn’t alone. Other mothers in the stake also desired to do family history research but were unsure how to handle baby-sitting. After consulting each other, and with approval from stake priesthood leaders, they decided to have a special day each week at the stake center for mothers interested in doing family history. The weekly activity came to be called “Moms and Genealogy.”

Every Wednesday morning at 10, mothers who have signed up to participate bring their children—kindergarten age and younger—to the stake center. On a rotating schedule, one of the mothers takes a turn watching the children in the nursery, while the other sisters do research in the Family History Center. It is understood that from 10:00 A.M. until 2:00 P.M. on that day, these mothers have priority use of the facilities. On occasion, when a few fathers have joined in, the activity has been called “Parents and Genealogy.”

Stake Family History Center director Nancy Lincoln observes that, given their circumstances, many of the mothers who have participated in Moms and Genealogy would not have been able to get involved in family history work at that time if they had not had this organized opportunity.

Research Progress and Other Blessings

Through Moms and Genealogy, sisters in the Wasilla stake have been able to develop friendships and help each other make progress in their research. Recalling her experience, Vicki Wilcox of the Wasilla Third Ward says: “I learned to love the other sisters. We developed a good rapport with each other. We knew what the others were working on because we were here every Wednesday, and so we would talk things out. We bounced ideas off each other. I came in as a beginning genealogist, but I didn’t have to come in afraid that I couldn’t do it, because there were so many people who knew how. I could learn quickly in a nonthreatening environment.”

Sister Jimenez remembers a spiritual experience she had while helping another sister during their participation in Moms and Genealogy. After looking over some records and information, Sister Jimenez encouraged the sister to find some additional family information at home. “She said, ‘I don’t think I have very much.’ And every week for about three weeks I said, ‘I think there’s a letter somewhere. You need to find that letter.’ I kept insisting and insisting. I had such a strong feeling. And one day she brought the letter. She was so excited. We opened it up, and here was all the information she needed. And there was such a strong spirit there and such a strong feeling. We got all the work ready, and she has since done the temple work.”

Many of the mothers have seen benefits in the lives of their children too. Susanne Stewart of the Wasilla Third Ward, who participated some years ago, says that some of her children’s ongoing friendships can be traced back to the time they were in the Moms and Genealogy nursery.

“Having Moms and Genealogy was good for my children,” concludes Sister Wilcox. “They were able to see their mother getting into family history. And I think that that probably goes a long way to planting a seed for their own interest.”

“A Nice Challenge to Have”

As many members of the Wasilla stake have come to know, success in family history work can sometimes bring its own unusual challenges. “In this stake, there are people who do so much of their own family history work that it almost overwhelms the temple,” says Gary Lehnhausen, the high councilor currently in charge of family history activities for the stake. On Sundays, members of his high priests group who are planning to attend the temple are often asked to take names that others have prepared so that temple work can be performed in their behalf. “It’s a nice challenge to have to deal with,” he observes, “having so many names that you have to coordinate ahead of time to get them taken care of.”

This coordination of efforts is yet another indication of the members’ willingness to help one another in the great work of redeeming the dead. Because of their willingness to help, they also share the blessing of rejoicing in one another’s successes.

Consecrating a Portion of Our Time

Mary Ellen Smoo

“It has been my experience that some of the happiest people I know are those who are engaged in family history and temple work. Let us demonstrate our willingness to follow the prophet by consecrating a portion of our time and energy to the Lord’s redemptive work, and let us do it in a spirit of love. As we do so, not only will we bless the lives of those who have gone before us, but we will bless our own lives and the lives of our family members as well.” Mary Ellen Smoot, Relief Society general president, “Family History: A Work of Love,” Ensign, Mar. 1999, 18.

[photos] Photography by Garrett H. Garff, except as noted.

[photo] Left to right: Gary Lehnhausen, high councilor in charge of the stake’s family history efforts; Nancy Lincoln, stake Family History Center director; and Jerry A. Hann, stake president.

[photo] Background: Photo by Michael Schoenfeld

[photos] Left: Ward family history consultant Linda Cox (back) helped Michelle Ackerman and her husband, Robert, to prepare names for temple submission. Above: The stake Family History Center in Wasilla offers patrons not only useful research tools but also a staff who like to help.

[photos] Top: Judy Anderson (right) helped new member Judy Foley learn how to do family history work. Center: Nylah Jimenez (front), who helped start the Moms and Genealogy activity, has also enjoyed giving one-on-one assistance to others, such as Jackie Fielding Jones (back).

[photos] Below, right: Mothers in the Wasilla Alaska Stake take turns watching children in the nursery while other participants do research in the stake Family History Center. Below: Vicki Wilcox found that this activity created for mothers an environment of learning and sisterhood.

Garrett H. Garff is a member of the Jordan Oaks First Ward, West Jordan Utah Jordan Oaks Stake.