Editor's note: This week Mormon Times shares stories from staffers' and contributors' family history — whether one from an ancestor or their search to fill out their family tree — that educate, entertain, inspire or uplift.
Growing up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I knew of the church's pioneer legacy and had some idea of my own pioneer ancestry, although I wasn't sure on a lot of the specifics.
During family trips to Salt Lake City or church history sites in Missouri and Illinois, and later Ohio and New York, we would pass by a place and my parents were ready to share "you know you had an ancestor who . "
One who wrote down his testimony and a short autobiography before he died was my third-great-grandfather, Robert Crookston. He was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after hearing the gospel from Mormon missionaries in Scotland in 1840 and never turned from what he knew to be true.
He and several family members immigrated to Nauvoo a year later, and that's where they first met the Prophet Joseph Smith, he wrote in his 15-page autobiography.
"It was the most thrilling experience of my life for I know that he was a prophet of God," he wrote of meeting Joseph when their group arrived in Nauvoo. He heard Joseph speak at other times, too.
Robert Crookston had joined the Nauvoo Legion and when it was disbanded, he and others took the wrong road back to their homes in Macedonia and ended up in Carthage.
On the morning of June 27, 1844, the day Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith were shot, Robert Crookston and the others in their group were taken before a judge, questioned and told to leave the city. When the group heard of threats against the Smith brothers, they wanted to go back, but their captain refused to let them on account of the martial law in the area.
"I will never forget the heartache and desolate feelings I had when I looked upon the faces of our martyred Prophet and our Patriarch," the then 22-year-old Crookston wrote.
Succession of the president of the church was a huge question at the time. Sidney Rigdon, first counselor in the First Presidency, came back from Pennsylvania to speak to the Saints in Nauvoo, and Brigham Young, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, spoke the next day, Brent L. Top and Lawrence R. Flake wrote in "'The Kingdom of God Will Roll On': Succession in the Presidency," an Ensign article published in August 1996.
Robert Crookston heard both men speak.
"I saw Brigham Young stand up and speak to the people, and he spoke with the voice of Joseph Smith," Robert Crookston wrote in a signed and witnessed statement in 1903, continuing that he had heard Joseph speak several times, including at King Follett's funeral and his "last adieu" to the Nauvoo Legion.3 comments on this story
"As to Brigham Young, I know of a surety that he spoke with the voice of Joseph Smith, and I was convinced there and have never doubted during all the intervening years that have passed that Brigham Young was chosen and ordained of God to lead the church ."
Top and Flake quoted others with similar experiences, including Benjamin F. Johnson and George Q. Cannon.
Robert Crookston added "that I further testify that all his successors down to Joseph F. Smith, who at present stands at the head and presides over the church, were called, chose and ordained of God to do so."