Ever since Grace Dywili Modiba and her mother and sisters were baptized in 1984, Grace was drawn to family history work.
“I gathered what I could from my aunts, uncles, and other relatives,” says Grace, a member of the Atteridgeville Ward, Pretoria South Africa Stake. “However, I became frustrated at every turn as I tried to find leads about my great-great-grandparents. The answer to my prayers began to unfold one Monday morning in 2001 when my mother called to tell me my cousin had passed away.
“We made arrangements to travel to the funeral, which was in the area where my parents were born. Since it is approximately 120 miles (200 km) north of Atteridgeville, near the border of Botswana, we had seldom visited that area.
“I left with my mum and two sisters on Friday, the day before the funeral. When we arrived at my aunt’s house late that night, we found the house filled with family members and friends. After finishing the arrangements for the funeral, we were tired but there was no place for us to sleep. One of my cousins graciously invited us to stay at her place, if we didn’t mind a long walk. We agreed to go. It was a very dark night, but the road was quiet, safe, and peaceful. When we arrived, everyone quickly fell asleep.
“The next morning I was the first of the visitors to awaken, and I found my cousin already up and busy. She gave me water to wash with, and after I finished, I experienced a prompting that I should go outdoors.
“As I walked a few meters away from the house, I was surprised to see two tombstones in the yard. I slowly went to them and was astonished and thrilled to find that they were the tombstones of my great-great-grandparents. They had the names and dates I so urgently needed! I quickly ran back into the house and excitedly told my cousin of my discovery and how long I had been searching for these ancestors.
“Now, as I reflect on these events, I know that everything happens for a purpose. I know that God lives and that Jesus is my Savior, and I am thankful to Them for leading me to this information.”
Experiences such as this are ongoing among those who diligently search for their family members. Elder Melvin J. Ballard (1873–1939) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified “that the spirit and influence of your dead will guide those who are interested in finding those records. If there is anywhere on the earth anything concerning them, you will find it. … But you must begin to work.” 1
Following are experiences wherein the Lord prompted seekers to find records with the needed names, dates, or places.
A Cowboy Rides the Internet
LeAnn Coshman, director of the Santa Maria California Family History Center, writes: “Like most family historians, I have a few great stories of serendipitous experiences and of lost families found. But one stands out to me.
“We had a booth at our county fair, and a large banner proclaimed our purpose: ‘Family History Center, Families Are Forever.’ A disheveled cowboy quietly stood looking at the items on the display table. I approached him and asked if I could help him look for one of his ancestors. His shyness, combined with a significant speech impediment, made it a little difficult to communicate. He indicated he didn’t know anything about any of his ancestors and said, ‘I don’t even know if my mom and dad are alive.’ With that declaration, he gained my full attention. He told me he had left home under bad circumstances as a teenager. He had been ‘rodeoing’ ever since, but he had now ‘settled down some.’ He was married and had two children.
“I invited him to sit with me at one of the computers. I explained that we normally didn’t search for living people, but I offered to help him check the U.S. Social Security Death Index to see if his father had died. Since his father’s name was quite unusual, I felt it would be easy to identify him. When we didn’t find him, we were grateful because it meant he was probably still alive.
“After a bit of Internet sleuthing, I was able to obtain a little information about the cowboy’s father, including a current address and phone number. As he stared at the computer screen, he repeated several times, ‘I can’t believe this. That’s my dad.’ I tried to encourage him to call his father, but he said, ‘I can’t do that. My dad will never talk to me—maybe my mom, but not my dad.’ I printed out the information and handed it to him. I suggested that if he didn’t feel comfortable calling, he could write a letter. I offered the idea that regardless of the circumstances surrounding his leaving, he should ask for his parents’ forgiveness and tell them he missed them. I tried to encourage him by explaining that his parents would be anxious to learn about their grandchildren.
“As he walked away, I said a silent prayer for him. I had no expectation of ever learning the outcome; however, two days later the cowboy was back standing in the same spot. I hurried to him with my hand outstretched and said more than asked, ‘You called!’
“He said, ‘Yeah, and they showed up on my doorstep at 6:00 this morning!’
“He tried to express his gratitude but was having a hard time getting the words out. So I extended my hand once more and told him that he didn’t need to say a word, that I understood completely. He clung to my hand, not wanting to let go, and I moved forward to accept the hug I knew he wanted to give.
“I’m grateful to have played a part in helping this man find his parents. I have gained a fresh perspective of a familiar scripture: ‘He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers’ (Mal. 4:6).”
Finding a Dusty Paper
Angel Daniel Gatica of the Villa Elvira Ward, La Plata Argentina Villa Elvira Stake, tells of a time the Spirit guided him to find the records he needed:
“While visiting my family in central Argentina, my wife and I decided to visit one of my mother’s aunts. I knew that several of her now deceased brothers and sisters had lived in her home during the previous five years. I prayed that the Lord would prepare the way for me in my family history research.
“When we arrived, everything seemed frozen in time. Not one trunk or suitcase had been removed from where her brothers and sisters had left them. All morning I tried to convince my aunt to permit me to go through them, but she was reluctant. After lunch she told me I could search through one. I prayed silently, seeking inspiration. I chose one. Then I opened it very carefully and began to take out one yellowed paper after another.
“Within a few minutes I found an old booklet with all the data of my great-uncle. I kept searching and found other papers with data about my aunt’s other siblings. It looked like the rest of the suitcase was filled with old magazines and newspaper clippings. I put everything back inside and closed it, but the Spirit prompted me to look again. Once again I opened the suitcase. I carefully turned it upside down and let the papers fall out in a stack.
“There, now on top of the pile of magazines and newspaper clippings, was an old but well-preserved document. I carefully opened it and read, ‘Birth certificate belonging to Guadalupe Sepúlveda.’ This was my maternal great-grandfather, who was born a century before my birth.
“I ran to my aunt and showed it to her. Having never seen it before, she took it and caressed it tenderly.
“‘My father held this in his hands,’ she whispered. Then she pressed it against her heart and wept. When she gave it back to me, she promised I could have it after she passed away.
“Now all I lacked was the birth date of one of my great-uncles. I wondered if this large family would remain incomplete.
“My wife and I started to leave, thanking my aunt for her help. As we walked through the long hallway, I realized that I had forgotten something. I ran back and quickly opened the door. The force of the air that rushed in dislodged a small, old basket containing documents that were just as they had been left years ago. I paused to look. ‘What is this paper?’ I wondered. Through the dust, I could see a date.
“With great care, I blew the dust off and unfolded the document. On this fragile and forgotten manuscript, there was, still legible, the birth date that I needed. At that moment, the Spirit penetrated so unmistakably into my heart that I could not contain my tears.
“‘Thanks, my son, for visiting me,’ said my elderly aunt.
“‘Thank you, Aunt, for letting me come into your home,’ I responded.
“I kissed her good-bye. It was the last opportunity I had to kiss her in this life. Now thanks to my aunt’s help and the Lord’s inspiration, all of my maternal great-grandfather’s family have been sealed for eternity.”
And so family history and temple work roll on. One testimony of divine intervention after another is borne by those helped while diligently searching for the names, dates, and places of their family members. Indeed, the Lord does provide ways and means for us to find the information we need. As a result, all are blessed.
In Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard (1949), 230.