The Spirit of Elijah


A dying man’s request began a search for a family across four centuries and two continents

As president of the Barquisimeto (Venezuela) District, I constantly encouraged the members to get involved in genealogical research. I was busy in the work myself, but I was frustrated because some of the records of my parents and grandparents were in my native country of Peru. I tried hard to get information from my relatives there, but because they were not members of the Church, they weren’t too motivated to help me. The greatest problem was that my ancestors originally came from Europe. Not only did I not have the money to travel to Europe, I wasn’t even sure of the region my ancestors came from.

Time passed, and my work called for me to travel to the city of Valencia. It was during a time when I was being strongly tested, not only with respect to my testimony of the Church but also by other trials. In Valencia I learned of an author, Kepa De Derteano y Basterra, who shared my family name. One of the local members, Bob Steelheart, offered to help me locate the author which we did through checking the many books Derteano had published. On our first visit to Derteano’s home, we were unlucky. He and his wife were out. However, his daughter suggested I return later that night.

When we returned, Derteano was home and we had a very special meeting. We soon began to talk of our ancestors. Although we shared the same name, he was a Basque from Spain, and I a Peruvian. He showed me his genealogical records, and I was amazed to see that they went back to the 1500s. Then he really astounded me by telling me what had caused him to gather the records.

He said that a granduncle of his, who was an abbot in the Catholic Church, had asked on his deathbed that Derteano gather the family’s genealogical records. Derteano promised to do so, although he thought that the request was only the irrational talk of a dying man. But he had made a promise, and so, after some time had passed, he began to research the Derteano records. He had to spend considerable time, effort, and money to gather the information. Many times he felt like abandoning the project. On one occasion, when he decided to stop the work, he dreamed his uncle came to him and reminded him of the promise.

He carried on the research for thirty years, locating Derteanos in many parts of the world. Apart from fulfilling a promise to a dying man, Derteano never knew why he was gathering the information. He said he was working blindly, hoping that some day he would understand the reason for it all.

I said that I could provide the answer for him. I told him about the Church and the purposes of the vicarious work for the dead in the temples. I read to him 1 Peter 3:18–20 [1 Pet. 3:18–20], which tells of the Savior preaching the gospel in the spirit world. Then I shared with him parts of Doctrine and Covenants 138 [D&C 138], emphasizing the joy the spirits feel when they receive the gospel and their hope that their descendents would remember them since they cannot progress without us.

Derteano was overjoyed at hearing the reason behind his search. Now, sixty-three years old, he finally felt free of his obligation to his granduncle.

He gave me copies of all the birth and marriage records he had and also the names and addresses of other Derteanos in other parts of the world. My joy and feelings overflowed when together we found a common ancestor in the records, and thus I was able to connect my family tree to his.

Derteano gave me one of his books in which he wrote, “To Luis Roberto Derteano and Rosa Liliana, relatives I had been seeking throughout my life. Without a doubt something brought us together. Kepa De Derteano y Basterra.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Robert Barrett