Reel backwards in time about 15 years. Our ward Young Women president is on the way to the Family History Library with my wife, Leslie, and 43 young women from our ward. The president turns to Leslie and emphatically says, “You're not going to get me hooked on this work to find my ancestors! I am way too busy and don't have time!”
Leslie had just been called and set apart by the bishop to help each young women and their leaders find an ancestor's name. Once the name was found, the next steps were to process the name, take it to the temple to do the baptism for the ancestor, with their fathers officiating. This was how they were fullfilling an invitation from the prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley.
During that first night spent in the Family History Library, the Young Women president had a spiritual experience that led her to find her ancestor's name. When the group left the library, she turned to Leslie and said, “I found my ancestor's name, so now I'm finished — right?” Leslie responded with, “That is between you, your ancestor and the Lord.”
During the next few months, this meant many evenings filled instructing the young women in the Family History Library on how to use the computers, books and microfilm rolls searching for their ancestors. Some young women found information from records in their own home or they were given to them by a grandparent. Many of these records had not been touched for years.
Leslie always shared her testimony of the spirit of the work with the young women and leaders. These young women became excited as they found the names of ancestors, the places they came from and the time frames during which they lived.
A few names were found relatively quickly, but most were “dug out” of records and took prayer and fasting along with the sweat to get them. There were all kinds of “hurdles” (which we call opportunities) to overcome. Some microfilm would present difficult situations such as “white-out," "fade-out," a few with holes, etc. But, once in a while, someone would find her ancestor and that would increase the excitement among the others. During several weeks, we finally had all ancestors' names gathered and showed the young women how to process the names.
The long-awaited day came to enter the Jordan River Utah Temple with the young women and leaders. The young women accompanied their fathers who were going to baptize their daughters for the newly found ancestors. I was one of the fathers, and one of our daughters was there. A beautiful meeting was held and a counselor in the temple presidency met with us, telling us the powerful effect this event was having on our ancestors. He spoke of the blessings that were coming into our lives and the improvement in the relationship with those ancestors as well as our own immediate families.
I remember to this day how angelic the young women were, dressed in white as they were preparing to be baptized for their ancestors. With purpose in their hearts and seen in their eyes, we knew we were doing what President Hinckley asked. Paul, the ancient apostle wrote to the Corinthian saints in the early church, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29). This was a truly happy group of people as they entered the waters of the font.
So, you are probably wondering what happened to the assertive Young Women president. Several weeks later, we discovered she had been returning to the library at least twice a week, searching for more of her ancestors. The spirit of Elijah had filled her heart and she had connected with her ancestors.
The impact of doing this wields powerful and eternal influences in our lives and the lives of our families on both sides of the veil. The spirit, or “fire,” of this work is undeniable. The president commented she felt her heart had changed and felt a love for her ancestors she had never felt before. The commitment to find one name changed to a lifetime of searching for other treasured ancestors.
Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc., at ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and adviser to Treasured Souls to Keep, at treasuredsoulstokeep.com.