Memorial Day is the perfect time to remember the importance of genealogy and family history research

By Barry Ewell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, May 25 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

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A genealogy journey begins

Before I say any more, I'd like to share with you a personal experience about how I began my journey as a genealogist.

I became a genealogist on Aug. 3, 1998. That is the day my mother died. There were three events in the ensuing six weeks that inspired me to begin a life focused on family history, sharing knowledge and helping others.

Mom died from a horrific lymph node cancer. I had gathered with my brother and sister to discuss with my mother her desires for what we all thought would be several months of life and to help her put her affairs in order. She entered the hospital the first day of my arrival and died three days later.

Her passing was one of the more spiritual, yet ugly, experiences of my life. I was very sad to see Mom go, but grateful that her suffering was over. While at her side, I saw the manifestation of God's intervention and love for one of his children. Away from the bedside, it was contention at every turn with my sister. She knew everything about what Mom wanted and needed, yet the only opinion and decision that mattered to her was her own. Even as we sought to help Mom write her last will and testament, all that could be heard was, "That's mine." It became an argument over things. As far as I was concerned, things were not important; I had all I needed and wanted. I just wanted there to be peace and an amenable resolution to helping Mom.

Experience 1: Preserve the record

Following Mom's passing and funeral, my brother, sister and I met for one last time in Mom's front room. My sister's parting words were direct and expected, "You are welcome to stay the night. Whatever is left when you leave is mine." My sister pointed to a pile of things that were in the middle of the floor and instructed my brother and I that we could take what we wanted. Whatever was left would be given to the thrift store. And then she left to go back to her home.

As soon as she left, my brother and I knelt in prayer and gave thanks to our Heavenly Father for our mother and asked a blessing that relationships with our sister would heal in time. Upon conclusion of the prayer, there was a sense of serenity. We were both emotionally and physically drained.

Where do you begin? I was standing in my mom's home. It was just things.

Mom had been a waitress at the Las Vegas Horseshoe Club for more than 40 years. She raised three children by herself. I always loved coming home, just to be with her. Now here I was, standing in the middle of her front room, feeling lost and in need of direction regarding where to begin.

And in almost that very moment, there was clarity. My mind filled with two thoughts: First, that this would be the last night that I would ever stand in this home; and, second, that I needed to preserve the record — gather photos, certificates, letters and other related documents that would tell the history of my mother.

I knew I needed to follow the direction I was receiving. My next thought was, "Where should I begin?" Within seconds, the thought came. I was first led to look in a cupboard in the kitchen where Mom kept coloring books. I couldn't see anything. As I began to close the door, I felt the need to look again. In the back was a bank pouch with unused check registers. I pulled it down, and inside was an envelop with pictures from Mom's early childhood. I was next guided to a drawer in the kitchen where I found, in a plastic bag, key photos of Mom's life.

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