A year after I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was called on a 30-month family history mission, beginning in September 2010. I served from home, working on my own computer at my own pace and on my own schedule.
I was thrilled there was a way for me, a new convert in my 30s with a job, to still serve a mission. I was assigned to the International Research Team, and my specific duty was replying to emails from patrons asking for help with challenging ancestors who had them stumped. This seemed to me a way to pay restitution, since I had been the challenging member of my own family!
The blessings of serving this mission included an increase of love for my own family, delightful discoveries of personal stories of my own ancestors, a distinct thinning of the veil and sacred experiences in the temple. Reunions with my own parents, the baptism of my brother (who is now serving a mission on the tech team) and his children, and the sealing of my brother and his wife also came about.
Not the least of the blessings was my very own sealing in the Oklahoma City Oklahoma Temple to my husband for time and all eternity.
With all those blessings, I gladly accepted the invitation to extend my mission for two more years. My assignments shifted over time as I got to work on different projects, from the Wiki to Facebook pages, and now I am excited to be working on a call center that can be more accessible for the deaf and others with hearing loss and helping transcribe the online training videos.
During my mission, my father died of cancer. He was not a member of the LDS Church, but he had worked in Veterans Affairs in Iowa City with a friend who was LDS. This friend had given my father the “genealogy bug,” laying the foundation for much of the temple work my brother and I were able to do so quickly after our own conversions.
My mother was not a Mormon, either, but she loved indexing and had fun accumulating points for the work she did. She often found old records of family or loved ones, contributing to our growing understanding and documented genealogical records.
In January of this year, my brother and I were able to complete our father’s work in the temple. This was a powerful and emotional day. It was particularly special because the youth group from my own ward was there to share the experience with us.
One week later, my mother was killed in a car accident.
I do not know how I would have endured the deaths of both my parents without an eternal perspective, or how I would have any hope without restored priesthood ordinances that enable family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave.
My mother had been attending church with me and my husband since we had been married, so the young people in my ward, Ranch Creek Ward, Tulsa Oklahoma East Stake, knew her well. They had helped her move (several times). They had cleaned her house, mowed her lawn and chased her dogs down the street and brought them back home. They had delivered meals, cared for her after a surgery and baby-sat grandchildren. They had learned to love her.
After the young men and young women experienced that day in the temple with me and my brother, their hearts were stirred completing my father's work. When my mother was killed a week later, they could testify of the reality of temple ordinances because they had experienced them and felt the power in that sacred place.
Because of this and other personal experiences, the youths readily responded when challenged to take the invitation of Elder David A Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve, to do family history. Our ward members decided to accept the invitation so the youths could experience the blessings that come from the both-sides-of-the-veil missionary experience of family history work. For this, we planned an activity for the youths to visit every family in the ward to talk about family history work and the importance of temple ordinances.
First, we grouped the youths into teams, with the young men separate from the young women. To emphasize the meeting of generations, each team had a representative from each quorum or class: each had a deacon, a teacher and a priest, with the same pattern applied to the teams for the young women (a Laurel, a Mia Maid and a Beehive).
Next, the bishopric assigned members — active and less active — to each team. They first assigned the families of the youths to their own teams, then divided the other members among all the teams. They were careful to make sure each team got at least one less-active family.
Once the teams were organized, we needed to train the youths. We first held a fireside to talk about family history and related promises (for help and blessings). We talked about simple doctrine, reviewing recent talks and teachings. The youths brought laptops and other devices, and we made sure they each could sign on to FamilySearch successfully. They split into groups, with those who already knew how to research teaching the others.
We provided the youths with a simple form that helped them call each of their assigned families and explain the project. Those families that declined the invitation to participate were not contacted again about the project. The families that agreed to participate were asked if they had access to computers and Internet, and appointments to visit were scheduled. When the youths went to visit each of these families, they made sure of the following three things:
- Everyone in the family was able to sign on to FamilySearch and knew how to use it.
- The family could successfully enter at least three generations back.
- The family found at least one new name that needed temple work completed.
Bridget was a member who appreciated the special connection she felt to her family through this youth project. She said, “It was a heartwarming experience to find my ancestors. I felt the Spirit with me as I saw the names of my long-dead family. I was thrilled to find information about my husband’s family and that someone had been working on his line as well.”
Ninety-three percent of the youths participated, including less-active youths. Out of 243 households, 178 chose to be visited by the young men and young women. Of the families the youth visited,
- 22 percent had never signed on to FamilySearch and were then able to do so;
- 46 percent had never entered their information onto Family Tree and were then able to do so;
- 40 percent asked for further help with ancestry work;
- 11 less-active families were referred to the missionaries for further information about help returning to church.
This experience prepared many of the high school seniors heading straight to their missions by teaching them how to use FamilySearch and how to show others how to use the site. It taught practical skills for these future home and visiting teachers, as they called to make appointments and went together on a visit. It helped the youths develop the desire to learn about their own families and actively contribute to their collective progression.
The project culminated in a special ward temple trip to the Oklahoma City Oklahoma Temple, where we as a ward researched and brought all our own family names for each of the ordinances. We scheduled it such that our ward also provided the workers for the sessions, and many new temple workers were called. Many special experiences were shared.
Grief has been hard since I lost my mother, but I remember the difference I felt after doing my father’s work. I know that in five months, when we are able to do the temple ordinances for my mother, that same deep peace will come. It is beautiful to be able to keep that promise and complete the work of our goodly parents. It is the one good thing that I can do for them.
For me and my brother, it will be a miracle to be sealed to our parents. We are converts and do not take it lightly. It is the turning of hearts to the parents, even as we feel their hearts turn to us. It is the restoration of love and the sealing of healing.
Emily Christensen lives with her husband in Oklahoma. Her doctorate is in marriage and family therapy and she is pursuing a second degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies. Her blog is housewifeclass.com and her email is [email protected].