I never knew my father nor had I ever seen a picture of him. All I knew about him was the information on my birth certificate: his name, Wharton Kinsey Gray Jr.; where he was born; his age; and his occupation—salesman. When I was in college, I received a letter from the Social Security Administration informing me that he had died. After that, I felt that the chances of ever finding out anything about him or his ancestors had died with him.
In December 1998 I was baptized and became the only Latter-day Saint in my family. I knew family history was something I was supposed to do, but I didn’t know how to proceed. It was several years before I finally learned the names of my paternal grandparents and more about my father—that he had been hospitalized with schizophrenia shortly after I was born.
Armed with this information, I went to the Family History Center to see what I could discover. I was able to find my grandfather in the 1920 census in Boulder, Colorado, and the record of my father’s death in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), but that was it. Over the next two years, I found much of my mother’s family history but nothing on my father’s ancestors.
Then I decided to use the Internet to look for references to my father’s family, since both he and his father had an unusual name. To my surprise, I found a Web site that had my paternal grandmother’s lineage traced back to Connecticut in the 1680s. I was thrilled, but I still had nothing on my paternal grandfather’s line.
Then one evening, one of my searches turned up a reference to a cousin whom I hadn’t heard from in 30 years. I e-mailed him. In his response, he mentioned that someone was looking for me and included the link to that Web site. When I went to it, I discovered a message that said, in part: “In search of Joyce Loutzenheiser, married Wharton Kinsey Gray. … In search of her daughter, Katherine Kinsey Gray.” I immediately sent an e-mail to the woman who had made the posting—Ruth. The next day she replied. She turned out to be my father’s first cousin. I telephoned her that afternoon and, for the first time in my life, actually spoke to someone in my father’s family.
Ruth began by telling me that she and her sister had been looking for me for 10 years. They had cleared out my grandmother’s home when she died 12 years earlier and had photographs, letters, documents, and other items that had belonged to my father and my grandmother. While Ruth had never met my father, she had known my grandmother quite well and had met my grandfather. She put me in touch with the widow of my father’s brother, who also provided information about the family.
There is no question in my mind that this happened on the Lord’s timetable. Now after my first tentative steps into the realm of family history, I have photographs of my father and his parents and grandparents. I know that my son bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather. I have learned that my father was a gifted artist, and I even have slides of his paintings. I will soon have letters that he sent to his mother and the one remaining oil painting that he did. I feel as if half of myself has been restored to me. Best of all, however, I am making a connection with family members I never knew I had.
I know that I have been given an incredible gift and that, as in the parable of the talents, it is up to me to take this gift and make it grow (see Matt. 25:14–30). There is no doubt in my mind that my father, grandparents, and many others are waiting for me to do their temple ordinance work for them. Although I never knew my father, I have been blessed to give him a priceless gift. These experiences have increased my testimony of the importance of family history and temple work and have demonstrated how great God’s love is for each of us.