I love teaching children and during the past few months, I have been blessed to teach the 3 year olds. Last week during sharing time, one of my little sunbeams looked up at me with such sweetness, trust and love. Just as these little ones trusted me to care for them for a little bit of time every Sunday, our ancestors are looking towards us to find them and trusting in perhaps promises we made to them to help find them one day.
The picture above is of an ancestor who’s name I still do not know. Her picture hangs on my wall as a reminder to continue to help find my ancestors.
What’s the Big Deal with Family History, Why Do It?
My first encounter with family history was seeing my grandmother who use to live with us work on it at the dining room table. Papers would be spread out as she worked from her memory book.
Fast forward 20 years later, I was now married and my grandmother had long been gone to live with Heavenly Father again. We now lived in Pennsylvania. After being inspired to start working on family history from someone I listened to in a church meeting, I went home and jumped onto the computer. My discovery experience for me had just begun. I didn’t realize at the time the many miracles, spiritual power and growth that would happen because of that one decision to just get started.
One night I remember sitting at my dining room table much like my grandmother did all those years before. I had inherited many of her family history group sheets, pedigree charts and pages of notes.
I started with a prayer asking Heavenly Father to help me know where to start to continue the work of my grandmother. I flipped through the pages and then felt a zing go from the paper up into my body. I pulled it aside and continued thumbing through the paperwork until I again felt that same spirit zap me!
Those two pages led me to relatives that I had no idea at the time had founded the very town that I lived in, in a small rural community. A long forgotten cemetery was just minutes from where we built our home. (Read a tombstone miracle from that place here.)
That began a lifelong pursuit of my ancestors that has brought endless blessings to my life.
In Elder Renlund’s General Conference talk titled “Family History and Temple Work: Sealing and Healing” he said, “Family relationships can be some of the most rewarding yet challenging experiences we encounter. Many of us have faced a fracture of some sort within our families.”
The Importance of the Records
Let’s take a look at the first family we find in the Book of Mormon. Lehi lived about 600 years before Christ. I think Lehi’s family could fit into the statement by Elder Renlund of a family that was both challenging, rewarding and fractured.
We all know the story of the struggles between Lehi’s sons. Their father asked them to go back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates. While the older brothers complained and murmured, Nephi said one of the most quoted scripture in the Book of Mormon, “I will go and do.”
After Lehi’s sons were able to get the brass plates, it says in 1 Nephi Chapter 5, “And it came to pass that my father, Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph; yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt, and who was preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he might preserve his father, Jacob, and all his household from perishing with famine… And thus my father, Lehi, did discover the genealogy of his fathers.
Not only did the records help them preserve their language, maintain their religion, but they also had a record about their ancestors. Through the stories of our ancestors we can see the hand of God in their life and that strengthens our own faith in the Savior.
I wonder if part of who Nephi became was because of his understanding of those mighty men and women in his family tree?
President Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect upon the work of those who labored so hard and gained so little in this world, but out of whose dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries. Their tremendous example can become a compelling motivation for us all…” (The Faith of the Pioneers, 1984)
Blessings of Temple and Family History Work
I think we all understand the importance of temple and family history even if it sometimes might be dangling off the bottom of a long list of things we need to do.
Elder Renlund said, “As Church members, we do have a divinely appointed responsibility to seek out our ancestors and compile family histories. This is far more than an encouraged hobby, because the ordinances of salvation are necessary for all of God’s children.”
He continues “When God directs us to do one thing, He often has many purposes in mind. Family history and temple work is not only for the dead but blesses the living as well.”
I took the many blessings mentioned in this his talk and put them into 4 categories. I want to share a few thoughts about each category and then wrap up my talk with a warning from President Nelson.
Focus on the Savior
The first category we will discuss is the Savior. Elder Renlund said that as we participate in this great work we will have an “increased understanding of the Savior and His atoning sacrifice. Increased faith, so that conversion to the Savior becomes deep and abiding. Increased joy through an increased ability to feel the love of the Lord.”
Speaking about an increased joy through temple and family history work comes from one of my most favorite stories found about temple and family history work which was shared by a man who took his family to the temple to do baptisms. An ordinance worker although he didn’t know the family said to them “many of the people for whom you do work for today lived hard and bitter lives, many of them died believing God had forgotten them, but today you will show them that God has not forgotten them He doesn‘t forget any of his children their names will be spoken in His house and they will know that God has not forgotten them.”
It reminds me of my Italian great grandmother who immigrated here from Italy in 1899. They were coal miners in Michigan when they arrived. She had 8 boys and one girl who died as an infant. I think of what heartache that must of been for her and her strength to raise 8 boys in a new country and language. She died because she kept food in her children’s belly and not much in her own. She lived a “hard and bitter life” but I am sure she had moments of joy too. Can you imagine her joy when she heard about the gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit world and heard her name in the temple?
Influence of the Holy Ghost
The second category is the Holy Ghost. Elder Renlund said, “Increased influence of the Holy Ghost to feel strength and direction for our own lives.
There is a story about a mom of six who once said, “I have had people from time to time who do not know me very well. Say you know as a mother of six young children how can you take time to do this work? My answer to them is as a mother of six children in today’s world how can I not do this work? There is so much power in it. There is such an ability to be able to feel so much closer to the powers of heaven and I feel that blessing pour more abundantly in the lives of my family when I take small increments of time and dedicate it to this important work.”
One of the greatest blessings for me when working on family history is the spirit that is felt every time I take time to work on it. I was helping a friend with her family history. We had been working on it for at least an hour and we were hitting a brick wall, I mean we couldn’t find anything.
Emily looked at me and said, “can we pray?” hmmm yea oh boy that is like Beginning Family History and life in general 101. Of course! I always start with prayer, but somehow I had forgotten that crucial step. We stopped, offered a prayer and within minutes we found a new ancestor and had them ready for temple work to be done!
The Holy Ghost will guide us, but sometimes we must simply ask! Now, you know why we have to hear the basic principles of the gospel over and over. A lesson that I learned in abundance that day.
This isn’t my work, this is the Father’s work and nothing is more important to him then bringing all his children back to him. He has said, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” That’s a redemptive work right there!
The third category is the family. Elder Renlund said, we would receive “Increased family blessings, no matter our current, past, or future family situation or how imperfect our family tree may be. Increased love and appreciation for ancestors and living relatives, so we no longer feel alone.”
Last night my husband and I went to the temple to do some family sealings. We were the only ones there to do sealings so they asked two temple workers to be witnesses. We had 5 couples to seal. We performed the sealing ordinance for my dad’s family one a great Aunt on my Italian side and a great Aunt on my Hawaiian side. The sealer looked at the cards and said, “oh I can say these names, I served in Italy.” Then he looked at the next card, leaned over to the temple working sitting next to him and asked, “is this how you would say this name?” We found out at the end that he served a recent couple mission to Hawaii. That was a small miracle and a sweet feeling was felt while kneeling at the altar in behalf of my family members. Their names were heard in the temple and in the right pronunciation as well!
I have another ancestor that has blessed 1000’s of his descendants. My grandfather’s grandfather named Jens Hansen from Denmark lived next door to President Lorenzo Snow. My great… great grandfather had a successful farm and he would donate wheat and sheep to the church, one time donating 1500 sheep. It has been passed down through the generations that one time President Snow again came to ask for more wheat from my ancestor. Jens Hansen said, “Help yourself, Brother Snow, take what you need.” The prophet promised him that from then on not one of his family should ever want for bread.”
That blessing is still in full force today in my family. I have seen the generous heart of my ancestor bless my life today. What choices will we make today that will impact our posterity?
Just as the law of tithing and fast offering opens the windows of heaven and can and will pour out blessings, so will family history and temple work, but it is both the doing of paying our tithes and doing family history work that we are converted to these commandments and receive the promised blessings.
The last category is our personal life. Now, most of the blessings are stacked in our favor for our personal life. Just listen to this long list from Elder Renlund when he said we would receive an “Increased ability and motivation to learn and repent because of an understanding of who we are, where we come from, and a clearer vision of where we are going. Increased refining, sanctifying, and moderating influences in our hearts. Increased power to discern that which needs healing and thus, with the Lord’s help, serve others. Increased protection from temptations and the intensifying influence of the adversary. Increased assistance to mend troubled, broken, or anxious hearts and make the wounded whole.”
Boyd K. Packer made this powerful statement, “The Lord will bless us as we attend to the sacred ordinance work of the temples. Blessings there will not be limited to our temple service. We will be blessed in all of our affairs. We will be eligible to have the Lord take an interest in our affairs both spiritual and temporal. … Our labors in the temple cover us with a shield and a protection, both individually and as a people.”
This is so very true. I have seen this happen time and time again. (Read about our miracle in buying a house.)
These blessings are both amazing and inspiring as we think of the great opportunity we have to be saviors on mount Zion for our ancestors.
As a warning voice, President Russell M. Nelson, cautioned: “We can be inspired all day long about temple and family history experiences others have had. But we must do something to actually experience the joy ourselves.” He continued, “I invite you to prayerfully consider what kind of sacrifice—preferably a sacrifice of time—you can make [to] do more temple and family history work.”
Sacrifice of Time
How do we make a sacrifice of time when we already feel as if we can’t accomplish everything that is already on our plate. President Oaks said, “We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.”
“Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best. When the Lord told us to seek learning, He said, “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118; emphasis added).”
Let us all do some time on our knees and ask the Lord to show us where we have been spending our time and then look for ways to make sacrifices and pick the best part as we serve our family on both sides of the veil through temple and family history work.
Let’s set firm goals on how to get to the temple with our own family names then ask God to strengthen our weaknesses to choose the better and best parts of life. I know if we make a small sacrifice that God will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon us.