Researching Family History: Going the extra mile led to man receiving treasure trove of family genealogy information

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Old photos and records can be a trove of genealogical and family history information.

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“What a treasure trove!” I exclaimed. My client and I sat at the table going page by page through a three-ring binder he mysteriously received. It contained tons of important information about his family genealogy: vital records, migration maps, military records and other significant documents.

And to boot, the information pertained to several of his genealogy lines, not just one.

The client discovered it on his doorstep one day not long after he and his wife returned home from somewhere. "It seemed to come out of the clear blue," he said. I asked him if it "felt like Christmas" when he discovered the book. He replied, "Yes ... as a matter of fact!"

Measuring the thickness of the binder, it had documents in it that was more than 1.5-inches thick, not to mention some papers neatly folded into the side pockets. We were taking an inventory of the documents the binder contained and still in awe of how this book made it into his hands.

He noticed the name of the researcher inside the binder, a woman who had passed away. Then it dawned on him. He remembered her years ago going in once a week with him and his wife to the Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was there where she helped him with his lines. It appeared that after the trips, she compiled the documents into this binder without saying anything to anyone.

He called the woman's son, who confessed he had delivered the book. After her passing, he had been going through her effects and other family histories she had. His first reaction was to throw it in the trash. But he got the impression as though someone was saying, "Please don't throw that research book into the Dumpster!" The son stated that, try as he may, he just could not throw it away. So he delivered it to my client's doorstep.

For all these years my client never had a clue she had been doing this. She took on the initiative to "go the extra mile" (see Matthew 5:41) and compile the documents into the binder. This she did without any thought of fanfare or monetary compensation. In such situations like this, I thank heaven that there are some people like her son who listen to the prompting, "Do not throw the book away."

Should you ever find such materials in a garbage dumpster, retrieve them as soon as possible, even if they're not for your own family. Get them to a safe place until you can find the person — or a relative — they're intended for. If the person or a relative cannot be found, then after some time of safekeeping, perhaps it becomes best to contribute them to a local archive or history library.

No, the trash can is never the place for photos, research papers and other mementos. Once information or photos are lost, they can be lost forever.

It takes a lot of prayer and a lot of finding missing information in the first place; but for something like a research book to suddenly appear on my client's doorstep was nothing short of miraculous. The client prayed for guidance and it came in this way. It all adds up — when you think about it — to bring about successful results and helps keep us researching on the right lines, just like a train traveling on a railroad track. Help and guidance always come to the researcher and the client, but not always in ways we may think.

You do not hear or see these types of things happening daily. Nevertheless, they do happen and are a product of the faith and works of the client and everyone involved.

Who knows, someday we may come upon information unexpectedly in the form of a research book — or it may be photos or finances that may enable us to hire a professional. It may come in the find of a missing ancestor that our grandparents and perhaps parents searched for years but never found.

What would you do if you found someone else's genealogy in the trash? Would you retrieve it? What we do for others in this work always comes back around to us.

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc., at www.ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and adviser to Treasured Souls to Keep, at www.treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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