“Happy Birthday,” Ensign, Mar. 1995, 58–60
It is a privilege for me, my brothers and sisters, to speak to you at this time and express a most sincere “Happy Birthday” to President Howard W. Hunter, our beloved prophet, and to the Genealogical Society of Utah on its one hundredth birthday.
The names Howard W. Hunter and Family History are almost synonymous. Before I was called to the Council of the Twelve in October of 1963, I had the privilege of serving as a member of the Priesthood Genealogy Committee of the Church. During my assignments from stake to stake each weekend, I accompanied President Hunter and others of the Brethren. President Hunter inspired the Saints and imbued them with a greater desire and a determination to seek after their loved ones who had gone beyond the veil and to perform in the temples of the Lord sacred ordinances in their behalf. Through the years he has been an effective diplomat for family history. His ready smile and his pleasant nature have been basic personal hallmarks of his leadership. He has led by his own personal example, which, of course, is the pattern set forth by the Savior of all mankind.
I shall ever remember, President Hunter, the extensive planning you directed for the first World Conference on Records. People from nations and cultures with divergent views were to be brought together and made to feel at home here in Salt Lake City as the guests of the Genealogical Society of Utah and the Church itself. I know of no other person who could have met this challenge so successfully as did Howard W. Hunter.
Over the years one of the great stumbling blocks encountered by those newly involved in family history was the enemy of “fear” and its attendant feeling of inadequacy. The work of seeking out our dead and insuring that the ordinances of exaltation are performed in their behalf is a mandate from our Heavenly Father and his Beloved Son. They do not leave us to struggle alone but rather, in ways which are sometimes dramatic, prepare the way and answer our prayers.
Some years ago a Reuters dispatch which appeared in the daily press mentioned how an American who wanted to trace his long-lost relatives in Great Britain succeeded—for the price of one airmail letter to London. Mike Archdale, age twenty-five, Miles City, Montana, knew only that his grandfather Lionel Dawson Archdale had emigrated to the United States from Northern Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century. So Mike Archdale wrote to the only address he knew in London—the British Tourist Authority—and asked for help in finding his relatives.
His letter was opened at the tourist authority by a public relations officer—named Gilbert Archdale.
Gilbert Archdale did a little research and replied to Mike: “Hello. I’m your cousin!”
The rest is history.
Those of us who have ancestry from Scandinavia meet the added challenge of patronymics. Just to give some of you who are not Scandinavian an insight into our problems, my grandfather’s name was Nels Monson; his father’s name was not Monson at all—it was Mons Okeson; and his father’s name was Oke Pederson; and his father’s name was Peter Monson—right back to Monson again—and his father’s name was Mons Lustig, which was a Swedish army name to differentiate the Petersons, the Johnsons, and the Monsons from one another as they entered military service. This challenge, too, can be met once we understand the procedure of naming.
President Hugh B. Brown declared to a group of us when the Priesthood Genealogy Committee was first organized that missionary work is going forward in the spirit world at an accelerated pace. He quoted the statement of President Joseph F. Smith to the effect that all those who have not had an opportunity in mortality to hear the everlasting gospel are hearing it now. President Smith declared: “This gospel revealed to the Prophet Joseph is already being preached to the spirits in prison, to those who have passed away from this stage of action into the spirit world without the knowledge of the gospel. Joseph Smith is preaching that gospel to them. So is Hyrum Smith. So is Brigham Young, and so are all the faithful apostles that lived in this dispensation under the administration of the Prophet Joseph.”1
And as President Smith indicated in 1916: “Through our efforts in their behalf their chains of bondage will fall from them, and the darkness surrounding them will clear away, that light may shine upon them and they shall hear in the spirit world of the work being done for them by their children here [on earth], and will rejoice with you in your performance of these duties.”2
I like the word duty. Duty to me is something sacred. I think of the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick, who declared: “Men will work hard for money, and men will work harder for other men, but men will work hardest of all when they are dedicated to a cause. Until willingness overflows obligation, men fight as conscripts rather than following the flag of duty as patriots. Duty is never worthily performed until it is performed by one who would gladly do more if only he could.” Those devoted to family history, including all of you here tonight, meet this definition of duty. You are dedicated.
Though temporary obstacles to family research may seem insurmountable, frequently, in a miraculous way, there shall appear before us a clear pathway through a field of turbulence.
A few years ago, Alice E. Smith, of Yuba City, California, wrote of a faith-promoting experience in finding a record of her great-grandfather’s death. She and her husband were returning from their annual trip to visit their daughter who lived near Seattle, Washington. Although Sister Smith knew how much her husband disliked making stops during their return journey, she asked him if they could stop briefly at a cemetery to see if there were any record of her great-grandfather’s death. She was surprised and delighted when he readily agreed to the side trip in a little town along the Columbia River.
On a hunch they drove to the nearest of three cemeteries, parked in the middle of an older section, and started to search. Within ten minutes, their youngest daughter called, “Here’s a Bailey. I think this is the one!”
With a can of water and a rag from the car, her husband carefully began to scrub away the years’ accumulation of moss, revealing the name, dates in full, and a little inscription: Note the significance of the inscription: Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; Seal it for thy courts above. Surely it was heaven-sent help that had brought them to this message from her devout Methodist ancestor to the family today.
Another family member was able to identify the inscription, taken from the old hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”3 The divine message of that hymn will sing in the hearts of an expanding family forevermore. The word sealing will take on greater significance.
The Lord has never indicated that his work was confined to our mortal lives. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: All that we do for our own salvation must be done for the salvation of our dear ones, because salvation is the same for all.
We must not be weary in well doing. Should we feel our contribution in this sacred work is small or insignificant, we remember that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”4 Is it any wonder that when we receive a testimony of this work, we desire to give so much to its progress and its advancement? Barriers evaporate as mists before the morning sun. When we perform our work with abiding faith, we will qualify for the desired blessings.
When I served as president of the Canadian Mission, headquartered in Toronto, Canada, there was a devoted family history worker in the mission by the name of Myrtle Barnum. Oh, she was faithful in this sacred work. She had accumulated a lot of data on the St. Lawrence River area. She had come to the end of her line. She did not know where she might turn. She studied. She searched. She prayed. But she never gave up. And though she was frustrated for month after weary month, because of her apparent inability to find that which was needed, she never lost hope.
One day she was walking by a secondhand store and felt compelled to go inside. Looking up and down the shelves, she noticed a set of books which drew her attention. Why, she will never be able to testify other than that the Lord was able to inspire her. The title of those two books: Pioneer Life on the Bay of Quinte, volumes 1 and 2. They sound like novels. She reached up and took those two dusty volumes down from the shelf, and as she opened them, she was amazed. These books were not novels. These books were genealogical records of all of the people that had lived near the Bay of Quinte from the time records could be maintained. She hurriedly searched through page after page, and there she found the information which opened up her family history lines once again, that her research might continue.
An elders quorum in that area raised the considerable sum needed so that she might buy those two books. They were sent to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, and I received a letter indicating that these same books had been the means of opening up the lines of connecting heritages for thousands of names of those who had gone beyond the veil. A large number of people rejoiced to learn of this treasure trove which connected to their family lines, including President Henry D. Moyle. One of his grandfathers had come from that very area. All this came about because a faith-filled servant of the Lord had refused to give up, refused to be discouraged, refused to say, “There is nothing that I as an individual can do.”
Oh, my brothers and sisters, may our Heavenly Father bless the essential and the rewarding work of family history. And may you, President Hunter, be the recipient of the divine blessings sought for you in the sincere prayers offered by the entire Church. May you have fulfilled in your life the sweet sentiments expressed in the hymn which your Brethren, in the holy temple, joined with you in singing just a few days ago. I quote them:
God bless our prophet dear;
May health and comfort cheer
His noble heart.
His words with fire impress
On souls that thou wilt bless
To choose in righteousness
The better part. …
Oh, may thy Saints be one,
Like Father and the Son
United heart and hand,
So may we ever stand,
A firm and valiant band
This is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.