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Researching Family History: Our ancestors: More than just names on paper

Published: Wednesday, July 20 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

The LDS Church which sponsors the genealogy resource Family Search opened its Riverton Family Search Library in the former Riverton Intel building.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

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At Mom’s viewing, a relative came through the line. He showed us two photographs of relatives he said he found in a garbage dumpster. My wife and I knew the photographs were of relatives because it showed only the surname and a year on the back. I felt sorry for whoever had thrown the photographs away, but was glad he found them. Who knows if those who threw the pictures into the garbage were relatives or not?

The real question is, where are we putting our values on our genealogical treasures or anyone else’s? Do some of us see photographs or records in a dumpster and think, “Oh that does not apply to me because they are not my family — I think?”

Once a photograph is destroyed, it is gone forever. If you know who your ancestors are in a picture, have you recorded their name and date of picture on the back? If you do not know who the ancestor is in the picture, at least writing from whom, where, and when you received the picture may help identify the ancestor, eventually.

Time marches on, people go into the next life. The memory of those in such pictures pass on with the ancestor, and others who knew them. A new generation rises, and one person may know one ancestor in a picture, but has no clue who the other ancestors are. Ultimately, the next generation comes and goes, and we find ourselves not recognizing any ancestor in a picture. The memory of them is lost, they are forgotten among the living and the value of our connection with them is gone.

Photographs teach us what our kin looked like. Genealogical records not only show where ancestors fit in the family structure, such as children, parents, grandparents, etc., but it also identifies them. These photographs and the records together are “snapshots” to our heritage. Someday, we are going to meet our ancestors. Will we recognize them?

While my wife and I were with our client in Ireland, his cousin gave him a local phone directory. The client then handed the directory to me. It had names and addresses of his living relatives. When we returned home, our company wrote to his relatives there asking for any information they had on the family tree. It took 27 letters to get answers from two of the client's cousins. Almost a year later, the same cousins sent us photographs of ancestors with their names identifying them. Along with the photographs came funeral programs, christening programs and two marriage announcements, all pertaining to our client's ancestors. We pulled out the client's genealogical records from research done by our company and matched the pictures with the ancestor.

Along with the client, my wife and I viewed the photographs with keen interest. We saw in the client’s face similar physical traits to the ancestors shown in the pictures. We started with the eyes. Though the Savior did not make the statement, “The eyes are the windows of the soul,” he did teach us the principle in Matthew 6:22-23: "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light..." His ancestors seemed to peer back at us as we looked at them. This is where the connection was made between ancestors, client and researchers.

A few years ago for Christmas, my wife and I received a large mounted picture of my grandparents at the time of their wedding. Grandpa's tall and lanky shape reminded me of my first cousin. Grandma's shape was a short and petite build, and I thought of my aunt. We both had the sensation that we were connecting right there with Grandpa and Grandma. This was a humbling experience.

No gold or silver ever equals the spiritual value of family pictures, along with the genealogical records. Remember, “ A picture speaks a thousand words,” while the genealogy charts show where they are on the family tree.

Seek out those with photographs and records of your family and meet your ancestors. Like us, you can connect with them and learn that everyone's ancestors are more than just names on paper.

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, online at www.ancestralconnect.com. As a professional expert genealogist, author and speaker, he is an adviser to Treasured Souls To Keep, online at www.treasuredsoulstokeep.com

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