Nate Arvidson has a stack of pink, blue and assorted other colors of temple cards about half a foot high — and counting. Besides the pile of "temple work completed" cards, there are some 700 of his cards either on file at the Bountiful Utah Temple or in a plastic box at home, neatly divided into temple ordinance categories, that the Arvidson family is working on.
Nate, 15, a sophomore at Bountiful High School, continues to add to the figures. He says he was turned on to genealogical work because an older brother, Jared, was doing it. Jared is currently serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Richmond, Virginia. Nate also was encouraged to pursue family history research through his seminary classes.
But what started as an assignment has become a passion. He spends time every week, along with a group of five to seven friends, searching out names or visiting the temple to do baptisms.
All of the Arvidsons — including Nate's parents, Tye and Shelly; his brother, Sam, 12; sister, Alexis, 22; two married siblings; grandparents and a great-grandmother, who is now 80 years old — assist in completing the temple work. With three generations looking for names and completing the binding ordinances, the family makes huge inroads into the standing LDS Church assignment to search out relatives and get them sealed into family units.
Nate isn't alone. Actually, he's part of a growing trend in the church that sees young people, all of them already adept at computers, contributing significantly to the work. It takes Nate about two minutes to show a (really) old newspaper reporter how he does it.
Log on to Puzzilla.org; go to findarecord.com; feed in the name of an ancestor and follow the fan chart out, checking to see if temple ordinances have been completed. Keep working out to the farthest reaches of the fan.
"That's the sweet spot," Nate assures me, "rows eight and nine."
Just running through this routine for me, he counts 15 cousins who need to be verified and then added to the "temple ready" ranks. Some require further research to get supporting data such as birth and death dates. Nate doesn't do that part, he said.
Delving into the Arvidson family background has produced some wonderful stories. For instance, there is the tale of Gobo Fango. When Tye Arvidson's ancestor Henry Talbot emigrated from South Africa to join fellow Saints in the Utah Territory, the family was caring for a little black boy. The child had been abandoned by his mother, left in a tree temporarily to keep him safe from animals while his mother, overwhelmed by war and famine then raging in South Africa, went begging for food. His sister did not survive. The mother left the little boy with the Talbots to keep him alive.
When they decided to emigrate, the Talbots tried to leave Gobo with others in South Africa, but the 6-year-old child refused to be left, even though it was against the law in South Africa for white people to take a black child out of the country. At this point, there are varying versions. Some say he was rolled in a rug and snuck aboard the ship leaving a South African port; others that he hid beneath Sister Talbot's voluminous skirt.
Either way, he got aboard the ship and came to Utah Territory as part of their household. He spent his life as a sheepherder in Idaho. According to the story in Henry Talbot's memories section on FamilySearch, Gobo was killed in a violent dispute over land. He is listed in Henry's data as a "guardianship."
Another great Arvidson treasure is a short autobiography of Shelly's ancestor, Mary Ann Rock Williams Pugh. It is a chilling account of the suffering the Saints in Nauvoo endured before they were able to leave the beleaguered city and set off across 1,300 miles of prairie and mountains to the Great Basin. Mary Ann and her husband, Benjamin, had emigrated from England to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1843 to join fellow LDS Church members. They settled on property reclaimed from the swamps that surrounded Nauvoo. The family contributed time and what means they could to the building of the Nauvoo Temple. They attended meetings in the old bowery, anxious for words from the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Escalating confrontations with mobsters affected the Williams family and when Benjamin died in December 1843, only eight months after settling in Nauvoo, Mary Ann ws subjected to torments by the anti-Mormons. They told her she and her three children would be cared for if she would renounce her religion.
"I replied, telling them that I had left my native country to join the Mormons and that I would follow them (to the Great Basin) as soon as I could," she wrote.
She was given 20 minutes to vacate her home and was thrown on the mercy of her fellow Saints, all of whom were enduring the same harsh circumstances.
She and others spent several days on the banks of the Mississippi River without enough food, finding as much rest as they could on the rocky shore. Several days later, her little family, loaded onto an already overcrowded boat, crossed to the Iowa side of the river. Sick with debilitating fever for six weeks, she lay on a make-do bed of brush, while her children, also ill, fended as best they could.
In her bitterness, Mary Ann excoriated the mobs who had driven her family out of Illinois and predicted that some day, angels would avenge their hurts. She later married Edward Pugh and lived out her life in Salt Lake City.
Nate can't do anything to redress the wrongs done to his ancestors in the early days of the church, but he is doing everything he can to assure that their families will be, in the words of the song: "Together forever."
Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who serves as a family history missionary.