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Family History: More Than Work for the Dead

Family history isn’t just for the salvation of our ancestors. As we learn about our ancestors, their example strengthens us.

"The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead." --Joseph Smith

photo by royal duane jensen

I always felt like family history was for old people, so when Elder David A. Bednar gave his talk “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn in October 2011, I immediately zoned out. The talk began with an overview of the Spirit of Elijah, and I knew that Elder Bednar would implore each of us to index and complete temple work for our ancestors. And for the most part, that’s how it went. But Elder Bednar caught my attention when he said, “I now invite the attention of the young women, young men, and children of the rising generation as I emphasize the importance of the Spirit of Elijah in your lives today.”

For the next several minutes, I was completely engrossed as Elder Bednar suggested options for completing family history work, emphasized the responsibility of the youth to utilize technology, and shared the promised blessings of heeding this commandment.

In particular, these blessings stuck with me:

  • “Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase.”
  • “Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding.”
  • “You will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary.”
  • “You will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives.”

I wanted all of these blessings and felt as if the call had come specifically for me. During the following months, I looked at FamilySearch and it appeared that my own family history work had already been completed, so I was content with indexing on a fairly regular basis.

A few years later, I had a class assignment to use something from my family history to create a blog post, slideshow, or video. At first, I was stumped, but my thoughts eventually drifted to my maternal grandfather. I grew up knowing that he had died long before I was born, leaving behind a farm, his wife, and ten children, including my mom, who was just eleven years old at the time. I knew he had served a mission in South Africa, but I had only a distant memory of seeing some pictures he had taken.

After a quick phone call to my mom, I discovered more material documenting my grandfather’s life than I could have ever hoped for. With some help from my uncle, I received digital copies of the slides Grandpa brought back from South Africa, digital copies of each page of his journal, and a recording of a stake conference talk he had given.

I put together this video to complete the assignment:

To properly tell Grandpa’s story, I had to read through pages of his journal. The more I read, the more I wanted to know about him. My curiosity was thoroughly piqued. I enlisted the help of a few cousins, and we determined to surprise Grandma and our aunts and uncles with a transcribed, hardbound, full-color version of Grandpa’s journal and pictures.

It took nearly a year of transcribing, editing, and designing, but eventually we finished. We gave the family their books for Christmas 2016.

I found that each of Elder Bednar’s promises had come to pass; I felt love for a grandfather I had never met, my testimony of the Savior was deepened, and I felt a difference in my ability to resist temptation.

My family history responsibility had nothing to do with work for the dead; it was a work for my grandfather’s living descendants. As each of his children and grandchildren read his words, they come to know him and are strengthened by his example. The hearts of the children truly are turned to their fathers, or in my case, grandfathers.

Discover Elder David A. Bednar’s take on the blessings of family history work.

Source: lds.org/general conference

—Emily Russon, Mormon Insights

feature image by royal duane jensen

Find more insights

Take a look at the Church’s resources for family history.

Read and Watch Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk about researching your own roots and branches.

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8 Comments

  1. I remember this talk too. As the thought “this is for when I’m older” crossed my mind, Elder Bednar called the youth out and I thought he must have read my mind. I’m grateful he called me out, because I have been able to see all of these blessings as I’ve learned to do family history.

  2. Thanks for this great article! Family history is something I struggle with, too, because I don’t feel like I know how to do genealogy very well and a lot of my family’s work is already done. I do love learning more about my ancestors, though. I remember my grandma made a little quiet book of ancestors and their stories to read in church. Reading their stories helped connect me to them and made me want to live up to their heritage.

  3. I can attest to this as well! I used to be completely uninterested in the idea of family history; it seemed like something for my mom, or my grandma. This talk gave me that same call to action! Once I got into family history, indexing, and everything, I found myself learning new things about my living family, as well as feeling a much deeper connection to my ancestors.

  4. What an amazing video you put together. Your family will be able to cherish that for a long time. When doing family history, it helps me to remember that it is not work for the dead, but rather work for those living in the Spirit World. They are real humans with real stories. Thanks for a great post!

  5. I really enjoyed this talk too. Knowing our ancestors is important and it does bless our lives in many ways.

  6. I find it incredibly difficult to do family history work because of several reasons: my parents are first-generation members of the Church, which means that most of my relatives do not have church records and can’t be found online; my ancestors’ names are in Chinese, a language I can speak but not read, which means that I can’t do family history work unless my parents are around to help; and I don’t feel that I can accurately record the stories of my ancestors in English. I’ve put off doing family history work for many years, preferring to let my mom do the work so I can just take the names to the temple. I think it’s really wonderful to have prophets and apostles remind us that no matter how old or young we are, we can do family history work. I want to know my ancestors and I want to know about their lives and how their experiences affect mine. I want to do family history work with my mom so that I can have that to tell my children someday. Family history work is something that can easily be forgotten by young people because we can be so wrapped up in everything else, but this was a really good talk to push me to do family history work.

  7. I too have thought of family history work as a chore that older people should do. However, I am taking a Family History class currently at BYU, and I am learning that doing family history welds us with people of our past. We can learn so much from the people we are related to. I think one of the major reasons we call it family history instead of just genealogy is because we need to know not just the names of our ancestors but also their stories. If we can find new stories, we can greatly benefit from ancestors’ wisdom and experiences, even if most of the genealogical work has already been done.

  8. This is such a beautiful story! I read this thinking I’d comment about doing family history, but another thought stuck out to me: This makes me want to write in my journal more! I’ve been thinking about that for a while, and I’m glad for the reminder of its importance. Your grandfather’s journal helped you feel love for him, and I want my grandchildren to have that same experience.

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