Imagine putting together a gigantic puzzle—not a puzzle of 500 pieces, but one of 10,000! However, this isn’t a puzzle made out of cardboard. It’s a puzzle of family names, real people who are more than just names on a chart.
That’s exactly what the youth of the South Weber Utah Stake have done as they have gotten involved in their stake’s “Elijah Project,” named after the prophet who restored the sealing keys. Participation in the project helped the teens research family names and then take them to the temple to perform baptisms for the dead.
At a special fireside, stake president David G. Crittenden challenged the youth to prepare 3,000 names for the temple in four months. They would then spend three days of a school vacation doing baptisms at the Ogden Utah Temple.
T. J. Canales of the Third Ward recalls: “I didn’t know how hard it would be to get 3,000 names, and I was kind of excited. Then when I filled out a four-generation sheet for my family, I could feel my ancestors telling me that it was right. I felt that spirit through the whole project.”
Candace Clifford of the Pioneer Ward was already interested in her family history through stories and photographs of her ancestors. But the project got her even more interested and much more involved. “It’s like a puzzle you’re trying to fit together,” Candace explains, “and it takes a while to find all the pieces.”
Hilary Meenderink, Cedar Bluff Ward, adds: “I’m so grateful to this project for showing me that baptisms really do matter. I had done baptisms before, but I never really realized how much time and effort each of those names represents.”
Only about 100 names were submitted for temple work during the first month. To speed the work along, the youth spent two Mutual nights a month at the Ogden Family History Center. Initially unsure about sacrificing their regular activities, they soon discovered they looked forward to going. Family history even became a topic of conversation at school. Richard Thomas of the Third Ward says, “You have these great feelings that you’re doing something really important for people who could have been waiting for hundreds of years. This project used our time more wisely and was better than just doing fun things at Mutual.”
Working at the Ogden Family History Center helped the number of names submitted grow to 1,911. But numbers became unimportant to the teens as they realized the importance of what they were doing.
Justin Jonas of the Sixth Ward was excited from the start of the project, and his enthusiasm continued to grow. “After they taught us how to do it on our own, it became more of a ‘want to’ than a ‘have to.’”
And Brandon Guernsey, also of the Sixth Ward, noticed amazing things happening. “My mom was on the committee, and I could see some of the miracles taking place. Names would randomly show up in some place. Just hearing about the miracles that were taking place, not just in my own home, but also in other people’s homes, made me want to see more.”
An example of one such miracle is from Samantha Tuchyner of the Second Ward: “I didn’t have any names, so I prayed about it. My dad was going to visit his dad in Virginia. The first half hour he was there, someone called and wanted to know if he wanted the information she had found. She e-mailed us all these names.”
By the end of the project, the youth had submitted 5,846 names, and more were coming. The experience has had a long-lasting impact on stake members. Many teens continue to go to the temple every other week to perform baptisms before school. And the number of adults going to the temple to do endowment work and sealings has increased. At last count, more than 10,000 names have been submitted.
Where did all those names come from? Stake leaders call it finding fruit on the side branches. Justin explains: “We did the work for our cousins, instead of just our direct line of grandparents and great-grandparents. We would go back as far as we could on one line and then get their descendants and the cousins.”
Some of those involved in the project were able to submit names for family members who had researched names but had not submitted them for temple work. For Amanda Gardner of the Pioneer Ward, researching names helped draw her closer to family members. She helped her grandparents, Allen and Helga Willie, submit names they had been researching for 30 years. Her other grandfather, Sterling Gardner, helped her friend research names. Amanda says, “One of my good friends had no names to submit, so she came to my grandpa and he helped her find about 175 names. At first she was like, ‘Oh, they’re just names on paper.’ But I realized they’re not just names on paper; they’re family members.”
The youth found that, with computers, family history research is very accessible. Software programs, such as Personal Ancestral File (available as a free download at FamilySearch.org), can help them avoid duplicating names. Richard tells about the good experience he had at the family history center: “It’s easier than trying to look through books for information. It’s so exciting to actually find names and discover which ones are duplicates. We learned to merge records together and combine all the information for one person into one record.”
Not only did the project build awareness of family history, but it also brought families closer as they got involved in researching family names. For Kacie and Shelby Cox of the Sixth Ward, it became a family activity. Kacie says, “We worked on our family history every Monday night for family home evening. When we went to the family history library, my sister and I spent six hours researching names and found a bunch of them. We felt more connected to our family.”
The Thomas family of the Third Ward also made family history a family project. Says Tristan, “We started helping our mom find names for relatives that she was having trouble finding. The Elijah Project helped us learn and get interested in it, especially when we started going to the family history center again and again.”
Tyler Thomas adds, “Our sister is nine years old and was too young to go to the temple. She’s been really great about going to the family history center and spending hours there. She wants to do it, too.”
But for Tyler, as for many of the youth, the highlight of the project was going to the temple for their ancestors: “Doing baptisms was my favorite part of the project because I knew that even though we had reached our goal, there are still billions of people waiting for their work to be done,” he says. “That sounds kind of hard, and I hope that others will catch the vision of it and do it, too.”
The importance of family history work really hit home for Kacie when she was baptized for someone with her mother’s maiden name and realized that this person was a family member.
The stake coordinated days and times with the temple presidency so the youth could do baptisms and confirmations during a three-day school break. Baptisms were scheduled among the wards so they went nonstop all day and into the evening. At one point the boiler in the temple broke down and the water in the font was getting cold. The temple president considered postponing the baptisms, but the young men and women wanted to keep going. After offering a prayer, they kept doing baptisms, and the boiler was fixed about six hours later.
President Michael D. Farr of the stake presidency says, “It was fascinating to watch the project take on a family tone. It was particularly notable during three highly spiritual days and nights at the temple. In many cases, fathers baptized their children who had discovered names from their ancestry, while mothers, siblings, and sometimes even grandparents looked on.”
The youth agree that doing family history work is worth the effort it takes, and they are excited to keep finding names and taking them to the temple.
Says Hilary, “It’s really frustrating at first, but no matter what, you have to keep going with it, because at the end it’s really rewarding. There are people who spend a lot of their time finding names, and we really need to step up and do it too.”
Briana Stott, Second Ward, adds, “Just knowing that I am helping somebody who could have been waiting for a long time makes me want to keep on doing family history. People on the other side of the veil are probably thinking, ‘Come on, keep on doing it; I want to be found.’”
T. J. sums up the impact of the Elijah project: “I read a conference talk by Elder Russell M. Nelson who said the spirit of Elijah would connect us with our fathers (“The Spirit of Elijah,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 84). And that’s what this project did. The importance of temple work has been instilled in us. Everyone has participated; everyone loves going to the temple now; everyone is going to keep doing family history work because of the spirit they felt. They know how important this work is, and that’s what this project is about.”