At the family history library near his home, Josh Taylor was looking at microfilm of a census for Stephenson County in Illinois. He was looking for information about his great-great-great-great grandfather, George A. Stiles. It was seemingly needle-in-the-haystack time.
“It’s a fairly big county, and I wasn’t looking forward to looking through the entire thing,” admits 12-year-old Josh. “But I had prayed about it, and immediately page 261 came to my mind.” And there it was: information about his relative.
“Whenever a page number pops into my mind, I can tell if it’s going to have something in it or not because I feel this excitement. It’s hard to explain,” he says.
What isn’t difficult to explain is how Josh feels about family history.
“Genealogy is addicting,” the Rexburg, Idaho, resident says. After school and on weekends, you’ll find the sixth grader working as a family history assistant at the Upper Snake River Valley Family History Center at Ricks College. Because he’s so young, some folks find it hard to believe he knows so much. After all, family history is a bit perplexing. That is, until they ask him a question and discover he really does know what he’s talking about.
“Once I’ve helped them, they will sometimes come in and ask, ‘Does Josh know something about that?’” he says. Even one of his trainers, Elder Melvin Dickerson of Rexburg, a former full-time family history missionary, was a bit skeptical at first. “We don’t run a baby-sitting service,” he said more than once.
But Elder Dickerson quickly changed his mind when he discovered Josh was serious about the work. “He learned very fast,” he says. “He just gobbled everything up. He was incredible, and still is.”
While the use of computers is sometimes a stumbling block to some researchers, Josh is adept. Dickerson adds, “He is still a young child in some ways, but when it comes to family history, he knows how to do it and how to run the computers.”
Josh describes genealogy as a puzzle. “I have names and I find dates. I have children and I find parents,” he says. “It’s like pieces of a puzzle, and when you complete it, you shellac it and put it on the wall. When quizzed on his own genealogy, he can recall the names of family members back at least 12 generations.
Each day after school, Josh returns home from school and does his homework. Then he showers and changes into a dress shirt and tie for his two hours of work at the library.
“I feel it’s important to get dressed up. I am kind of a missionary,” he adds. “Going there each day is about what I expected it to be except for the spiritual things that I have gained. That’s been totally unexpected.”
Josh’s interest was sparked in early 1996 when many of his fellow fifth-grade classmates were attending a school-sponsored ski school. Instead of skiing, the 10-year-old signed up for an alternative minicourse on genealogy offered by the school. Josh’s mother, Judy Taylor, initially was concerned that two hours of genealogy each week would be too long for her young son. But he soon was hooked and found himself wanting to stay longer and longer at the local family history center.
While his parents, who teach music at Ricks College, were touring with the college orchestra a few months later, Josh stayed with his grandparents for a few days in Logan, Utah. His grandparents, who were serving as family history missionaries, took him to the family history center, where he learned more about the computer programs used by genealogists. Later that year, Josh read in his ward newsletter that Church leaders were looking for more local family history missionaries.
“That caught my attention, and I thought it would be fun,” he says. Josh then prayed about what to do, finding his answer that night while reading his scriptures.
“Right then I knew it was my answer, so I went to see my bishop,” he says. Bishop Kendell Nielsen of the Rexburg 15th Ward says he was a bit surprised, but encouraged the boy to pursue his desire. Josh soon was asked to work at the family history center located at the Rexburg North Stake Center. He has now switched to the family history center at the college, where he serves as an assistant for about seven hours each week. His parents say they have seen signs of maturity because of their son’s work.
“It’s made him a better student,” Sister Taylor says. And it’s dramatically helped his spelling. Before he’s allowed to go off to the center, he’s told his schoolwork must be done. “So it gets done pretty quickly,” Josh’s mom adds.
Josh was recently honored by his school as Student of the Month in English, a subject in which he had struggled previously. His father, David Taylor, adds, “We’ve noticed a dramatic improvement in his social skills.”
Josh tells of a time when a woman was trying to find her long lost brother. When she found the man’s name listed in the Social Security death index, the woman broke down and cried. She didn’t realize he was dead. “You don’t know what to say,” Josh says. “I let my grandma take over.”
When he’s not helping others, he works on his own family line. Recently, he found an ancestor for whom the family had been searching for years. At that point, one of his relatives remarked, “He really does know what he’s doing, doesn’t he?”
Josh’s interest has spurred other family members to work on genealogy too. His mother, who in the past didn’t have the time, suddenly finds herself at the center more often. And his other set of grandparents also have begun researching their family line.
His grandmother Martha Taylor of North Logan, Utah, says their common interest in family history has tied the family together. “I find it’s been a real bonding thing between us,” she says. “It’s given us so much to talk about and to build a relationship around.
“He knows computers much better than I do,” Sister Taylor adds. “On the other hand, I slow him down and tell him to do it thoroughly.”
Blaine Bake, director of the family history center at Ricks, says, “I wish I were in his shoes. He’s at the beginning of his life, and I’m at the winding-down stages, and there are going to be so many technological changes. Now that he’s 12, he’s looking forward to doing the temple work for some of the ancestors he has researched.”
But family history isn’t Josh’s only interest. He plays percussion in the school band and has acted in several theater productions at Ricks College. Last year he also placed first in his division in the Idaho State History Fair.
As for the miniclass in genealogy where his interest all started two years ago? This past winter he taught the class.