Chapter 12

Finding and Creating Personal and Family Histories

“Chapter 12: Finding and Creating Personal and Family Histories,” Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual: Religion 261 (2012), 52–57


In one sense, the scriptures can be viewed as a collection of personal and family history records of the prophets. They contain accounts of individual and family achievements, failures, struggles through trials, personal testing, and the development of faith and testimony in the Lord’s work. They bless us with their testimony of the effects of the gospel on individuals and societies: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Like the scriptures, the records written and collected by your students can have a positive impact on their own family members and descendants, giving them hope, courage, and the ability to develop stronger faith in God.

In this lesson students will explore the value of personal and family history records. They will be encouraged to gather and create records that reveal their life for future family members, a life that can build gratitude and faith in the Lord. Students will be given an opportunity to ponder some of the events of their own lives that could be inspiring to their descendants.

Some Doctrines, Principles, and Gospel Truths

  • We can be inspired by reading the personal histories of our ancestors.

  • Personal and family histories have value for us and our descendants.

  • Leave a record of your life that reflects your faith in God and testimony of His influence in your life to inspire faith in others.

  • Use modern technology to compile, display, and share personal and family records.

Suggestions for Teaching

We Can Be Inspired by Reading the Personal Histories of Our Ancestors

If available, show the video “The Joseph Millett Story” (6:40), found on disc 2 of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Visual Resource DVDs. If the DVD is not available to you, ask a student to read the account of Joseph Millett from the student manual under the heading “The Lord knew Joseph Millett” (12.1.4). Ask students to imagine that they are direct descendants of Joseph Millett and that they are about to hear for the first time something that he wrote.

  • What do you think Joseph Millett’s descendants might gain from this account?

  • From this example, how would you describe the potential value of personal stories from the lives of your ancestors?

Point out to students that sometimes we may come across family stories that are less than flattering; perhaps one of our ancestors was guilty of a horrible crime. Ask the class:

  • How might finding embarrassing stories about our ancestors be a valuable experience for us?

Divide the class into two groups. Assign one group to review Enos 1:2–8 and the other Helaman 5:42–49. Have them review the chapter summaries to become familiar with the setting for the event in their assigned scriptures. Give them a few minutes to come up with a list of lessons or main ideas they can learn from the accounts. (A student in each group could write the list.) To conclude this exercise, allow time for students from each group to briefly summarize the story and share the lessons or ideas on their group list. (Possible answers include: I can pray in any circumstance; my prayers can be answered by thoughts coming to my mind; the Lord speaks to individuals in answer to their prayers; the Lord can protect His servants; the Spirit of the Lord can have a profound effect on others; peace is a gift of the Spirit; angels minister to men and women; and so on.)

Ask students if they can remember an inspiring or uplifting story from the life of one of their family members or a deceased ancestor (such as a grandparent). Invite two or three students to share their story with the class and explain how that story affects them.

  • Where can we go to locate such stories? (Family members, friends of family, Church History Library, local Church history archives, and so on.)

Encourage students to begin assembling their own collection of these types of stories and materials.

Personal and Family Histories Have Value for Us and Our Descendants

Have a student read Moses 6:5–6. Ask the class:

  • Why do you think that from the days of Adam we have been commanded to keep records?

After a few responses, invite students to read Mosiah 1:4–5, looking for what King Benjamin taught as an important reason for keeping records.

  • What reason did King Benjamin give for keeping accurate records about our dealings with the Lord?

Note to teacher: Consider writing these questions on the board while students are reading in the student manual.

Invite students to read the student manual under the heading “Journals and family histories have value” (12.2.3), looking for additional reasons to keep a personal journal or history. After a few minutes, ask the following questions:

Of the reasons you read about, which one holds the greatest meaning to you? Why does that one stand out to you?

What experiences have you had that have taught the truthfulness of what we just read in the student manual?

After discussing the questions on the board, have students form pairs with another member of the class. Invite them to imagine that they are going to travel back in time to visit one of their ancestors. (Encourage them to think of an ancestor by name.) Ask them to make a list of questions they would like to ask their ancestor. After sufficient time to work on the activity, invite students to share with the class several questions from their list. Suggest that our own descendants may one day have the same kinds of questions for us, and the way to preserve the answers is to record them now. Give students a few moments to ponder the following questions and to write down responses to remember:

  • What records have you created so far, and how will they be preserved?

Ask class members what counsel they would give to someone who said, “There’s nothing interesting in my life worth writing about”? (Encourage several answers.) If you feel students would benefit from doing so, have a student read from the student manual under the heading “Protection by divine intervention” (12.2.5). Ask students the following questions:

  • In what ways do you think that Brother Ottosen’s descendants would benefit from knowing about this experience?

  • What is something you have learned about a parent or ancestor that might have seemed small to the ancestor but was meaningful to you or helped you understand, love, respect, or appreciate your parent or ancestor more?

Emphasize that adults who may not marry and have children of their own can still create their individual histories for the descendants of their brothers, sisters, cousins, and others.

Leave a Record of Your Life That Reflects Your Faith in God and Testimony of His Influence in Your Life to Inspire Faith in Others

Give students several minutes to quietly study 2 Nephi 25:23, 26 and Jacob 1:2–4; 4:2–4 and to ponder how they might apply what is taught in these scriptures to their own personal histories. Many of the student responses will likely include the phrases listed below. As students identify these phrases and discuss them, you might write them on the board:

2 Nephi 25:23, 26Jacob 1:2–44:2–4 ; ;

“We labor diligently to write, to persuade our children … to believe in Christ” (2 Nephi 25:23).

“We write … that our children may know” (2 Nephi 25:26).

“I should write … a few of the things which I considered to be most precious” (Jacob 1:2).

“We write … [that] which will give our children … a small degree of knowledge concerning us” (Jacob 4:2). “That they may know that we knew of Christ” (Jacob 4:4).

Ask students:

  • What do these phrases mean to you?

Discuss the meaning and application of these phrases with your students. Suggest that students mark these phrases in their scriptures.

Ask students to select one of these phrases and describe how they might follow this pattern in their personal journal writing. Have them select another phrase and describe some examples of things they might write about that would have positive results.

Ask students if there are specific experiences from their own lives that they would like to record that would be valuable to leave for their descendants. For example, such an experience could involve an answered prayer, a priesthood blessing, or an inspired act of service from someone. Give them some time to ponder. Ask them to write down general descriptions of personal experiences they would like their descendants to know about. After sufficient time, encourage them to select one or more of their experiences to write about later.

Ask if one or two students would like to share with the class an experience they thought of from their own life. If you have one or more students who are keeping a regular journal, you might ask a few of them to share a few experiences they have had keeping a journal—experiences such as when they started keeping a journal, why they began, and how it has been a blessing in their lives.

Have students read the statement by President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency from the student manual under the heading “Record the blessings you receive from the Lord” (12.3.1). Ask students to think about the past week and briefly write down several ways the Lord blessed them. Students might also be encouraged to think about some negative experiences or some of life’s hard lessons they have learned. How might their posterity grow from reading some of these experiences? After allowing sufficient time for students to ponder and write, share your testimony regarding the value of family history records and emphasize the importance of students’ sharing their own testimonies in the records they leave of their lives.

Use Modern Technology to Compile, Display, and Share Personal and Family Records

Invite students to discuss how recent technological advancements have changed the way they communicate with others. They might even demonstrate something they have at hand (such as a mobile phone or other handheld device).

  • How can technology affect the way we compile and preserve family or personal records? (Invite students to list as many ways as they can think of to create family history records using current technology. Summarize their list on the board.)

  • What are some technologies or media formats you or family members have used to compile or display family history information?

  • What records do you currently have in your possession that you would like to use modern technology to preserve and display for others to see?

If at the end of the previous lesson you made an assignment for students to bring examples of what they or their family members have done to record and preserve family records, this would be an ideal time to have students display and talk about what they have done. Examples might include digital recordings, picture albums or scrapbooks, tablet computer diaries, personal histories or journals, and books of remembrance. If students were not asked to bring examples, you might bring examples of your own to discuss. As each item is discussed, consider asking questions like:

  • Where are these items kept in your home? What impact have they had on members of your family?

  • How could modern technology be used to increase or improve the longevity of this item?

  • What have you seen or heard about that you would like to do with your own records? What are you going to do in order to begin preserving more of your personal history?

As you conclude this lesson, and perhaps this course of study, invite students to reflect on what they have learned over the course of the semester. Invite several of your students to share with the class how this course has altered their feelings for deceased ancestors and deepened their love for the Lord and His gospel. Share your testimony of the great work of redeeming the dead. Encourage students to set goals that might give them direction for further efforts in this work.