Turning Hearts

Finding William

By Sally Johnson Odekirk

Church Magazines

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A prompting in the temple convinced me that my Civil War ancestor wanted his work done.

I had seen the name of my great-great-grandfather listed on my pedigree chart for years. All I knew was that he had served in the American Civil War and died shortly after my great-grandfather was born. Since he had the common name of William Johnson, I thought it would be nearly impossible to find out much more about him, but I was wrong.

One evening while I was enjoying the peaceful spirit of the temple, his name suddenly popped into my mind. I knew without a doubt that he wanted me to have his temple work done. That was the beginning of the sweet experience of finding William.

I knew my great-grandfather’s date and place of birth, so I looked for and found his parents’ marriage record. I was excited! With that piece of information, their temple work could begin, but I still wanted to know more about them.

Over the next several years, William’s story started to unfold. One of my cousins contacted me and shared a copy of William’s Civil War record, complete with his age, the state and county where he was born, his physical description, and his service record. Shortly after that, I found a book chronicling his regiment’s experience in the Civil War, including a record of when he was injured. I was moved to tears when I compared his record with the regiment’s story and began to understand a little of what he had endured. I also felt William’s delight at being remembered.

Along the way we have found census records showing him with his parents and siblings, brief stories about his family in a county history where they lived, and photos of his parents’ gravestones, along with his mother’s obituary, at Findagrave.com. As each new piece of information is found, we take family names to the temple to have their temple work done, and we often feel their joy at being able to progress and be reunited with their loved ones. I still haven’t found William’s death date or grave site, but all of the records and stories that I have found have given me a glimpse into his life. He will never again be forgotten.

Finding William has helped me to understand myself better by deepening my love and appreciation for those who came before me. When I take family names to the temple, I feel more connected to my ancestors, and temple covenants feel sweeter and become more meaningful.