By Alexis Tanner
I love doing family history work! I know that’s unusual, especially at my age, but I have learned that there’s lots of ways to do family history work at any stage of life and no matter how much work needs to be done on your family tree. I have three reasons why you should do family history work and how, but first I wanted to share an experience that I had.
Margaret Kelly Nicholl was 28 years old when she passed away. Margaret left behind her husband William and her 3 children. She was a twin and her twin sister Catherine married William the next year, took care of the older children, and then went on to have 6 children of her own. Margaret and Catherine’s sister Annie was my great grandmother.
I was showing my daughter pictures of Annie and found that she was buried in Chicago. I also found the gravestone of her sister Margaret. She was buried next to her husband William, sister Catherine, and a baby Margaret. I double checked on family search to see if a baby Margaret was listed under Margaret or Catherine’s children and she wasn’t. This began a long search for baby Margaret. Before I finish that story, here are the three reasons we should be doing family history work.
We are gathering the family of God
In Malachi 4:5-6 it says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” We know this as the Spirit of Elijah. Not only do we get warm connections when we learn that we share talents with our ancestors or have the same smile, we know that in order to be families forever, we need to provide those sacred ordinances in the temple to our ancestors to bind our families together.
In the April 2017 General Conference, Elder Eyring gave a talk called “Gathering the Family of God.” He spoke about a young salesman trying to sell computers to the church. Elder Eyring talked about how computers would be an important part of the future of family history work. He also said, “But I have learned in the many years since that even the best technology can never be a substitute for revelation from heaven. This is a spiritual work, and the Lord directs it through His Holy Spirit.” As we take our family names to the temple, index names, or help others with their family history, we are gathering the family of God.
Children who know about their ancestors and history are better adjusted and more resilient in the face of challenges
In a research study, Emory University found that children who knew more about their family history had higher self-esteem and were better able to deal with the effects of stress. Family stories provide a sense of identity through time and help children understand who they are in the world. If you know where your family comes from, traditions from those cultures, and family stories, make sure to share them with your children and make them a part of your family traditions.
If you don’t have stories of your family, tell the stories you know. Tell your parents’ stories. Tell your story to your children. Learning about family history also allows children to be interested in the world. I think it helps them start to understand other cultures and people. Something really fun for families is to find your famous relatives. You can do this on the family search website. Under the activities tabs, go to Famous Relatives and see how you’re related to well known people. This is a really fun way to connect with other people in the world.
Doing our personal family history helps us remember the Lord’s hand in our lives and affects generations to come
In the October 2016 General Conference talk by Elder Rasband, he said, “Generations are affected by the choices we make. Share your testimony with your family; encourage them to remember how they felt when they recognized the Spirit in their lives and to record those feelings in journals and personal histories so that their own words may, when needed, bring to their remembrance how good the Lord has been to them.”
In addition to doing the work for our ancestors, we need to be writing our own personal history as well. Elder Rasband continued to say, “Never forget, question, or ignore personal, sacred spiritual experiences. The adversary’s design is to distract us from spiritual witnesses, while the Lord’s desire is to enlighten and engage us in His work.”
I hope you are writing in your journal, if not just for you, but for your children. Write down the tender mercies in your life. Write the spiritual and temporal experiences that you have. This will help us each recognize and remember the Lord’s hand in our lives. And maybe someday our posterity will draw from our stories to help them too.
To finish my story about finding baby Margaret, I looked on Ancestry.com and plugged in different names and years, until I was finally able to find a death certificate for a Margaret whose parents were William and Margaret Nicholl. Her death date matched that of her mother’s and I knew I had found baby Margaret. Through this search I was also able to find another sister that we missed in our records who passed away in 1999. I added her to our records as well. Because Maragaret was an infant, there was no temple work to be done, but I was glad I could add her to our family tree.
That night as I prayed in gratitude for being able to find baby Margaret and her sister, I felt a special joy and excitement from these women. It was as if I was with them and we were hugging one another and we were so excited to be bonded together through the covenants of the priesthood. I just wanted to sit and soak up that joyful experience. I hope that this will happen for real when I get to meet them on the other side of the veil one day.
I hope that each of you are taking the time to find your ancestors, to take those names to the temple, to teach your children about their history, and to write down your own history so that you can strengthen future generations.
Alexis Tanner is a mother of five, podcaster, and writer. She loves reading, family history work, taking her kids on adventures, and podcasting with her husband at the Parenting In Real Life Podcast. You can find Alexis on Instagram @parentingirlpodcast.