"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
March 11, 2015
Joined Together in One Great Family
by Amy L. Stevenson

Recently I sat in front of a microfilm reading machine for the first time. I was looking for my third-great-grandmother who was born in Germany in 1859. I have not found her yet, but I did find many more people that share her last name and are probably connected to her somehow.

I have wanted to look into this family line for a while because we don’t have any information about her parents, husband, or any previous generations. I was intimidated because I don’t speak German and thought I would never be able to understand any of the records.

To my surprise, I found that with a few key vocabulary words (like those for birth, marriage, and death) I really just need to focus on looking for people’s names.

With the help of a couple of experienced friends I learned how to read the microfilm, got some tips on handwriting style in that time, and came across an entry for my great-aunt who I did already know about, but did not have complete information on.

I can’t really explain the rush of adrenaline I felt as I looked at her name written in that birth register from 150 years ago. I still only know her basic statistics but I feel just as thrilled to find her as if I had discovered I was related to a modern-day celebrity.

I have wondered why there is such a pull to find our ancestors and why that connection means so much to us. We have been told by modern prophets in The Family: A Proclamation to the World that the family “is ordained of God” and that “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”

Joseph Fielding Smith taught in 1911 that, “There must be a welding, a joining together of the generations from the days of Adam to the end of time. Families will be joined and linked together, parents to children, children to parents, one generation to another, until we shall be joined together in one great grand family with our father Adam at the head, where the Lord placed him. … This is a glorious doctrine, one of the grand principles of truth revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

The Lord has provided a way that we can all be linked together. It is through the sealing power of the priesthood. This is what we do in our temples. This is why we say that we have been sealed in the temple, not just married. The marriage is a mortal connection and commitment. The sealing is an eternal one.

Some may wonder about those who were born before the gospel and priesthood power were restored, or about those who have not heard the gospel, or about those who never had a chance to be baptized. We know that our Heavenly Father is always fair and would not deprive His children of blessings because of circumstances they cannot control.

This is why we have been given temples as a place to not only seal ourselves as husbands and wives and families, but also seal those who have died without having this ordinance.

The pull to know our ancestors is now commonly called the spirit of Elijah. According to Elder Russell M Nelson, it is “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family. Hence, people throughout the world, regardless of religious affiliation, are gathering records of deceased relatives at an ever-increasing rate.”

With some fairly basic information we are able to take the name of ancestors to the temple and stand in their place as they receive ordinances. Ordinances are actions that have a spiritual meaning. They are done according to God’s instructions through His priesthood, and usually require that we make promises to our Heavenly Father.

The ordinances required for our salvation are called saving ordinances and take place in temples. They are a tangible way that we show the Lord our commitment to follow Him.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “The vicarious ordinances we perform in temples, beginning with baptism, make possible an eternal welding link between generations that fulfills the purpose of the earth’s creation. Without this, ‘the whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming.’”

Once these ordinances are complete we are worthy of eternal life with our families. Eternal life was the purpose for creating this Earth and sending us here to unite our spirits with a body. So if we were not working towards providing the opportunity for these saving ordinances for all that have lived before us, the earth literally would be of no use, or wasted, as mentioned in the scriptures.

Even when the temple ordinances are complete our family’s history is much more personal than names and dates on pedigree charts. We find that we have an emotional connection as well as a biological one.

When my mother was growing up she knew that she had an Uncle Eddie, her grandmother’s brother, who had died before she was born. Nobody in the family talked about him or how he died, but she knew that he had died when he was young.

She went looking for information on him at the family history library and found an obituary in The New York Times. The article told how in September of 1916, thirteen-year-old Eddie and five of his neighborhood friends were out in a boat rowing on the Hudson River and became tired.

The boys decided to row to shore and carry the boat back home to Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge. When they got to shore a menacing man was standing there with a large wooden board and told them they could not get out there. They took the boat back onto the river, got caught in a current, and were then hit by a barge. Four of the six boys drowned, including Eddie. It is a tragic story.

However, knowing how Eddie died explained a lot of things for my mom. She now understands why the family didn’t talk about him. All of the boys had lived on the same street and seeing those families every day must have reminded them all of the tragedy constantly. Making the subject off-limits was probably how they managed their pain.

It was also now more apparent why her grandmother had seemed emotionally distant. She had lost her only brother and sibling when they were both teenagers. Life must have never been the same. Her parents had lost their only son and she could not fill that void for them. It must have been extremely difficult.

An additional blessing of learning about our family’s history is knowing how life experiences affected who our family members were. It can also soften our hearts to understand how the past plays out in the personalities of those we know now.

Elder David A. Bednar talks a lot about family history and encourages the youth to get involved. In a conference address he said this to them, and I’m sure it applies to people of all ages:

I invite the young people of the Church to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah. I encourage you to study, to search out your ancestors, and to prepare yourselves to perform proxy baptisms in the house of the Lord for your kindred dead. And I urge you to help other people identify their family histories.

As you respond in faith to this invitation, your hearts shall turn to the fathers. The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be implanted in your hearts. Your patriarchal blessing, with its declaration of lineage, will link you to these fathers and be more meaningful to you.

Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives.

I encourage all of us to take Elder Bednar’s challenge. The website he references in this talk, lds.org/familyhistoryyouth, is a great place to find out how to get started on your family history. You can watch videos on how to get started on FamilySearch.org, and how to take names to the temple or add photos and documents to your family tree.

Also learn how to print a fan chart and how to start indexing.

Elder Bednar’s promised blessings of protection from the adversary, and a deep conversion to the Savior are enough to make it worth looking into your family history. Give it a try.

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About Amy L. Stevenson

Amy Stevenson grew up in central California but ventured to Utah to receive a bachelor's degree in human development from Brigham Young University. She has been using her degree every day since then as a stay-at-home-mom to her son and three daughters.

She believes that parenting is more than telling children, "Be good!" It is about surrounding ourselves with good things, and then acting in a way that reflects the good we have found. She has always enjoyed discovering how people become who they are and has a blog where she shares clean, good, uplifting ideas and resources for children and families in hopes of helping them become their best selves.

Along with her husband and children she has lived in nine different cities in three states, which has taught her that people are good everywhere and there is something to learn from every experience. She and her family now live in Simi Valley, California -- and hope to stay there.

Amy serves as a ward missionary and teaches the gospel principles class.

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