Sister Rosemary M. Wixom

A Taproot and a Tree—Family History’s Part in the Plan 


 

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Thank you, Brother Owen, Jessica, and little Archie for sharing your story.

Five years ago an Apostle of the Lord asked me this searching question: “What is the taproot that will anchor a child in the wind?”

To answer, we need to know that a taproot is the first and largest root that springs from the seed. It grows downward and provides stability. Plants with taproots tend to be drought tolerant and can even store reserves of food, making them self-sufficient and resilient.

With that description in mind, what is the taproot that will anchor a child in the wind? How would you have answered an Apostle’s question?

When faced with that question, I thought of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies in the Book of Mormon. They talked about being taught truth that caused them to turn their hearts to Christ. They said, “[God] has made these things known unto us . . . because he loveth our souls as well as he loveth our children; . . . he doth visit us . . . with the plan of salvation, that it might be made known unto us as well as unto future generations.” [1]

I believe that the taproot for our children—that will anchor them in the wind—is helping them to see themselves in the great plan of salvation, as the Anti-Nephi-Lehies did. When children know who they are, where they came from, why they’re here, and where they’re going, their lives take on a sense of purpose, enabling them to grasp tightly to truth.

When it comes to anchoring our children against the winds of the world, we must devote our very best efforts to the cause. We all want our children and grandchildren to have access to this taproot. When they understand God’s plan for them, they will be stable, drought tolerant, self–sufficient, and, of course, resilient!

In his recent conference address, President Russell M. Nelson said, “We need . . . women . . . to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly.” [2] I would extend that invitation to everyone. Helping our children be grounded in truth must become a priority for every single one of us—not only fathers and mothers but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, leaders, and teachers.

How does family history relate to this idea of anchoring to the taproot of our Heavenly Father’s plan?

Let’s go to the tree that grows from the taproot. This beautiful painting by Annie Henrie Nader, is entitled Turning the Hearts.

Annie said: “The tree is symbolic in several ways. It represents the tree of life and the fruits of the gospel. . . It also represents a family tree . . . The fruit embodies those precious pieces of information we pass down through . . . generations” (emphasis added).

To me, it also represents passing the fruit to those who have gone before us, through temple ordinances. Thank you, Annie. I love this visual. When I first saw it, I thought, “I want to do that!” I want to stand right there under that beautiful tree and pick those precious pieces of fruit from its branches to pass down to my children and grandchildren. I want them to see themselves surrounding that tree. I want them to turn their hearts to their roots. I want them to know their progenitors—their positive attributes and their struggles. Where did their ancestors get their strength to endure? What are their stories of exercising faith in Jesus Christ to live Heavenly Father’s plan?

Now, I have to stop for a minute and say, “I love family history!” I love learning stories. Those stories create a connection. But I—like many of you—don’t always feel like a family historian because I haven’t done all that we think of as “family history.” So, here are two confessions:

  • First, I am a beginner in doing research! My contribution right now is serving my husband, Jack, cookies while he does family history research on the computer—and he does it very well! Not just eat the cookies, I mean. He does the family history.
  • Second, I am not into scrapbooking. With good intentions in the past, I created large plastic containers full of pictures for each child’s future scrapbook. My husband has been given strict instructions that when I die, if those containers still exist, our children are to “dump those pictures into the casket and throw in some glue sticks.” I promise that I’ll get the work done and glue them into albums in the life after this.

So I don’t research or scrapbook, right now; am I still creating a connection to the taproot for my children and grandchildren? Am I helping them to see the fruit of the tree? Let me tell you a little more about my family history journey.

When I discovered Annie’s visual, I thought of my mother. She is 96 years old, and she’s here today. She remembers her mother and her grandmother. It occurred to me that I must seize this moment. My mother has picked fruit from that tree. She holds in her hand precious pieces of information that she can share with my grandchildren. They could personally learn from her about their second- and third-great-grandmothers.

I could hardly wait to create the gathering. It happened on Christmas day. The children gathered around my mother and listened to her attentively describe the precious memories she loves about her mother and grandmother, who lived more than a hundred years ago. They heard stories of faith and they learned how these women endured trials. They learned that these great-grandmothers lived, loved, laughed, and cried throughout their earth lives.

I began to think, “What more could I do?” When my grandchildren see the names of their ancestors on a printed page or on a computer screen, I want them to see more than just a name. I want them to see real people who dealt with many of the same challenges we experience today.

We live in a time when we need to be real as we teach our children fearlessly.

The Introduction of the Doctrine and Covenants explains, “These sacred revelations were received in answer to prayer, in times of need, and came out of real-life situations involving real people.”

The veil is thin, and when we know about those who have gone before, they become real people with real-life situations who help us in times of need—especially when the wind is blowing. Joseph Smith said, “They are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith.” [3]

How do we make our ancestors real? We tell their stories. Too much courage, faith, and real-life challenges have gone into their lives for us to let their examples dissolve like faded ink on paper.

I started with a two-minute exercise. For two minutes I wrote everything I could remember about my deceased father that I could use to introduce him to my grandchildren. That got me thinking: “What if I were to do this exercise with other progenitors? And what if I made it an ongoing process? What if I collect that information? What if I take a simple notebook and entitle it ‘Precious Pieces of Information’? Could I use my mobile device to record insights about each ancestor I have known? They all have had a huge impact on my life.”

I could record information whenever it comes to my mind. One can never tell when a memory will surface. I could take notes at funerals when we, as a family, celebrate another life well lived. What about the Sabbath day? Is that not a perfect time to gather our children, to talk about the stories of those who have gone before, and to record all that we can remember about those ancestors we love?

As my grandchildren’s lives unfold, could they learn from:

  • A great-grandmother who gave birth to nine children and lost two? She watched four of her boys go off to war but only three returned, yet she still lived a life of unusual optimism and cheerfulness.
  • Could they learn from a great-grandfather who was an orphan who ran away from the orphanage at age 16 to make a life for himself? How did he find the self-discipline to become an inventor and an engineer?
  • Could they learn from a great-grandfather whose quarantine for scarlet fever prevented him from graduating from high school? But he didn’t give up. While working three jobs to provide for his family, he sat at the kitchen table late at night with his high-school-age son, and they worked toward high school graduation together. What does that say about endurance? What does it say about families?
  • Could they learn from a grandfather who used specific phrases to teach his children? He taught thriftiness when he would say, “I hope you can eat that between two slices of bread,” or after seeing a neighbor repair his car in the rain, he taught perseverance when he would say, “The rain never stopped Bill Black.” Those phrases continue to teach generations today.
  • Could they learn from a great-aunt in her 80s who paused her life many times to go to the homes of her siblings and care for them in their last days on earth? She is a legend, an example of unselfishness in our family.

However, all of this is useless unless I find ways to preserve and share these precious pieces of information and provide the temple ordinances for those who are still waiting. So I’ve discovered two ways I can incorporate sharing into my life:

First, I can take opportunities to share these pieces of information with my grandchildren. I can say to a grandchild: “Katie, look how you are finding humor in spite of your trials. You’re just like your grandma Nancy.”

Or I can compare examples of the past to the present when I speak of an ancestor’s self-discipline in giving up tobacco. Might this be an example to help a grandchild step away from the addictive draw of playing video games?

Would knowing how a grandmother dealt with symptoms of depression help a young mother today with the same symptoms?

The second way I can share my information is on the FamilySearch Memories app. I can attach photos and stories. As I submit these precious pieces of information online, others may connect the past to the present and continue to create an unbroken chain of memories.

To know these pieces of information about our immediate family members who have gone before is one thing, but to climb into the branches of our family tree and discover names of those who are waiting for their saving ordinances is another step. Both are important elements of family history.

So, I say to my husband, “Jack, move over; I still may not create those scrapbooks, but I want to sit next to you at the computer and learn family history, and you make the cookies. I want to take the next step in my family history journey and feel that same joy that you feel when I see you run upstairs exclaiming, ‘Look! I found another name to take to the temple!’” Better yet, we will. We’ll do it together.

We can anchor all generations to the taproot as we share precious pieces of information about those wonderful men and women, perform their sacred temple ordinances, and seal our families together. Of this truth I testify in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen


[1] Alma 24:14.

[2] Russell M. Nelson, “A Plea to My Sisters,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015.

[3] History of the Church, 6:52.