“The Heart of the Children”

by Gail Andersen Newbold

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    Once a month on a Saturday, the usually hushed and somber Salt Lake City Genealogical Library is brightened by a rash of smiling teenagers. They file in—some a little bleary-eyed from arising so early on a Saturday morning, others who have traveled from miles away and already conquered their sleepiness—all enthusiastic and raring to go. They loudly whisper exuberant greetings across microfilm machines to cousins not seen since last month’s genealogy trip. And then they settle down to hunt for a Mary Stafford or perhaps an Elizabeth Snow. They strain over barely legible, very old English census records.

    Who are they? They are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of 95-year-old Arthur W. Andersen and his wife Clara, from Provo, Utah. They all began coming to the library in 1972 when Arthur’s oldest daughter, Lyona, had what she considered an inspired idea. For years Lyona had taken upon herself the responsibility for continuing genealogical research for the Andersen family. She had obtained funds from family members (all 15 of Arthur’s children) and had hired professional researchers to help her carry on the work.

    One day the thought came to her, “Why not organize things so that all the young cousins in the area can join in and assist us in this important work?” She approached her researcher specializing in English records, Wilma Adkins, and asked if she would be willing to delegate work and supervise all the youth in doing research. Wilma willingly agreed, and since that time the Andersen family has held monthly workshops.

    These workshops give many teenagers and adults in the family the opportunity to actually do firsthand research in the Salt Lake Genealogical Library. They have become familiar with how to operate the microfilm machines and how to track down the various microfilms they need. They have struggled over the elaborate and often foreign-looking handwriting contained in these records. And perhaps most important of all, they have felt the joy that comes from discovering a name that others have hunted for for hours, weeks, and sometimes even years.

    Lyona recalls an incident with a young cousin, not yet in his teens, who was faithfully poring over census records for a name Wilma had given him. All of a sudden he jumped up and ran to Aunt Lyona, excitement mirrored in his face. “Come look,” he said. “Is this really the name I was looking for?” Lyona quickly conferred with Wilma. It was the very name Wilma had unsuccessfully been seeking for a long time.

    Many hugs and congratulations followed, as Wilma and Lyona took special pains to praise and thank him for his unexpected discovery.

    Other researchers in the library on these Saturdays, if they took the time to eavesdrop, would hear such boastful comments as, “Hey, Nina, just think! Because of me, John and Mary Stafford can get married in the temple and be sealed for all eternity! What if I hadn’t come today and had gone swimming instead?” Or, “Wilma told me I can read that awful handwriting as well as the people who work here!”

    Since 1972, 70 members of the Andersen family have participated at one time or another in these genealogy workshops. Ages range from eight years to 95, the majority in their teens. The 95-year-old helper is Grandpa Andersen himself. Although he can’t actually search (because of failing eyesight), he often shows up, nonetheless, with his wife Clara. Their enthusiastic spirits and encouraging words make their presence as valuable as though they were doing the research themselves. Their grandchildren know how important they consider this work and how pleased they are with each person’s effort.

    Through these Saturday workshops, the Andersen family has truly taken seriously the admonitions to do genealogical research. And they are busily engaged in turning “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” (Mal. 4:6.)

    Photos by Dick Stum