Turning the Heart of the Children to Their Fathers
by Kenneth R. Allen
Father’s Day, June 15, 2014

I want to tell you about a friend of mine.  His name is Tom. I met Tom over forty years ago at MIT. He was an undergraduate who was well on his way to graduating and getting a Ph.D and becoming an MIT professor. He was also investigating the Church. He was invited to read the Book of Mormon. But before he read it, he felt he should study the scriptures of his own Christian tradition. So he decided to start at the beginning of the Christian era, the New Testament, the first book in the New Testament, Matthew, the first chapter and the first verse.  This is what he read:

 

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The following 16 verses traced 28 generations of the royal line of Jesus. Tom was astonished. He realized that he only knew of one Christian faith that emphasized family history, as it was found right there at the very beginning of the Christian era. It was the faith he was investigating. And now he knew why.

 

He then turned to the Book of Mormon. And this is what he read:

 

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, now therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father…therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. Yea, I make a record in the language of my father,…”

 

What is going on here? And what is Nephi doing? He is keeping a journal!

 

What is the message embedded in those scriptures, from the beginning? It is this: There is something really, really important about making and keeping records and knowing family history.

 

Today, Father’s Day, I have been asked to speak about family history, and why it is important to us and to our children and to our forebears. 

 

Why is it important to know about your forebears? That is a question that each of us needs to answer for ourselves. I can only promise you that it will be a personal revelation.

 

As most of you know, I serve as the family history director of the ward. I know that this can be a dry and boring subject, so I have tried to add a little humor to it wherever I can. .

 

I, like many of you, come from families who have been in the Church for many generations.  Since the very beginning, our forefathers in the Church have sought out their kindred dead and performed saving ordinances for them by proxy. The tools they had to search were limited, but they did their best, often exhausting all resources and gathering all available vital record information long before we were born. For many of us, we felt the work had been done. Well, yes, to a point. But the question is not whether it has been done. The question should be, what do you really know about your family and its history? And what can you learn from their personal history that serves us and the mission of the Church in these latter days? The answers to those questions are just as important to you who are long-time members as it is to those others of you who have barely scratched the surface of your investigations of your ancestors.

 

The well-known scripture in the very last chapter and last verses of the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5-6, offers a hint.

“5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:

 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

 

(I actually think that means, that if you do it, you will be blessed.)

 

Let me focus for a second on a key phrase:  “turn the heart…” What does that mean? To me, it is more than a reference to genealogy and family history; it also a call to reconciliation. to repentance. In fact one of the German words for repentance is “umkehren,” to turn about. Thus to “turn the heart” is to seek reconciliation across generations, to reconcile between father and daughter, mother and son. And with that reconciliation can comeblessings from God, through the sacred covenants and sealing ordinances of the temple.

 

May I share with you a prayer, the prayer for genealogist:

 

Lord, help me dig into the past,

And sift the sands of time,

That I might find the roots that made

This family tree mine.

Lord, help me trace the ancient roads,

On which my fathers trod,

And led them through so many lands,

To find our present sod.

Lord, help me find an ancient book,

Or dusty manuscript,

That's safely hidden now away,

In some forgotten crypt,

Lord, let it bridge the gap that haunts

My soul, when I can't find

The missing link between some name

That ends the same as mine.

 

If there is anything in this world where miracles follow after everything we have done, it is in the realm of Family History. We recently heard from Marguerite Gong Hancock about how her family’s efforts led to the miraculous discovery of her roots in an obscure place in China.

 

At the family history center we see miracles all the time while helping patrons with their family history. A couple of weeks ago, Debbie Benson, a longtime family friend, came to the family history center to research her roots in Massachusetts. She found a reference to her great grandmother online and saw that a lady had posted photographs on her grandmother’s pedigree. Debbie knew nothing about her family in Massachusetts. So she sent the lady an email while right there at the center. Within a few minutes she got a phone call on her cell phone from Massachusetts! She then spent nearly an hour talking with this long-lost cousin. She learned that her great grandmother had turned over all her memorabilia to a niece many years ago and her niece’s descendants knew nothing about the family in California. A few days later she and her mother spent FaceTime on the Internet with their long-lost cousin. A few days later, she and her mother spent FaceTime on the Internet with their long-lost cousin showing pictures to each other and identifying the people in the unlabeled photographs.

 

When you think about it this is truly a story of miracles of family connections and modern technology. None of this would have been possible only a few years ago. In fact some of it would not have been possible only a few months ago. Think of what is now available to us: computerized databases online and available free from home, photographs attachable to genealogical records, just like the profiles on Facebook, images of gravestones online, free long distance telephones, personal cell phones, video conferences on computers, and of course email. 

 

Family history is also a vehicle of spiritual conversion.  Almost 20 years ago while visiting the family history center in Nauvoo, I found a biography of my great great grandfather Daniel Allen who joined the Church in June 1834 in Ohio.  It was very thorough but it wasn’t well-documented.  I learned that Daniel Allen had kept a journal.  Over a period of years I went through that biography, rewriting it, adding documentation and searching for that journal.  I eventually obtained a photocopy of the journal and discovered a marvelous passage about the life and tragic death of Daniels’ first wife Mary Ann Morris Allen. As the story goes, Mary Ann, ill and still weak from childbirth, took cold and began to fail rapidly. As she neared death she is reported to have said to Daniel, “We’ll meet again dear love in a better world and I shall wait your coming.”

 

 Later in his journal Daniel wrote this about his wife: “She received the Gospel in Geauga County. Ohio, and was baptized by the hands of Elder Joel H. Johnson in June 1834. From that time to her death she was a faithful member of the Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. She never murmured nor complained in all the persecutions she had to pass through for she had a testimony of this work for herself. She died as she lived, full of faith of a Glorious Resurrection with the Saints.” 

 

Mary Ann Allen has lain in an unmarked grave since May 1846 along the Iowa Mormon Trail just 80 miles west of Nauvoo.

 

In January 2003 The Genealogical Journal of the International Genealogical Society printed my article, devoting an entire issue to the story of Daniel Allen.  Over a year later I received an email from a man in Ontario, Canada He wrote: “You don’t know me. My name is Ken Sisler. I am a subscriber to The Genealogical Journal. I read your article about Daniel Allen and especially about the life and death of his wife.  I was so moved by what he said and what you wrote that I became curious about the Mormons and began to investigate the Church.  To make a long story short, about a year after your article was published, I joined the Church.”  Since that time Ken Sisler has discovered he also has roots in the early Church and has been through the Temple.  I have since met Ken and we continue in contact with one another.

 

My mother and father were always interested in their family history and shared that interest with me. They told me stories they had been told. I wanted to find out more than just the anecdotes. I began my own quest of discovery almost five decades ago as a freshman at BYU. There, all the resources of the BYU library were available literally at my fingertips because I studied in a room right next to the microfilm collection. But none of the tools we now have were even imaginable, and virtually nothing of the sort was readily available until just recently.  Now there are even Facebook groups dedicated to specific families. I am now a member of five different online groups in both the US and Europe exploring family history!

 

Family history is more than tracing ancestry and building a pedigree and preparing names for temple work. An important part of the adventure is discovering the stories about those ancestors. It is exhilarating to discover a well-written obituary or a newspaper article or even a biography of an ancestor. For example, did you know that many of the journals of the early church members are preserved in the Church Historian’s Office in Salt Lake City? Did you know that the Church has kept copies of all patriarchal blessings? Sometimes you just need to know where to look.

 

If you think that discovering family history is overwhelming, you may be right, if you try to do it all at once or untangle all of the problems in bad records. After all, if you go back just 16 generations to about the 1500’s, you have 65,536 direct ancestors, not even counting children--assuming cousins didn’t intermarry. But just as Debbie Benson found, there are others also looking and learning and hoping to make connections with the past.

 

Although the task of family history discovery may seem daunting, we as a Church have taken on the truly daunting task of gathering, cataloging and preserving all of the extant vital records of the entire world so that members of the Church in future generations from all over the world will be able to seek out their ancestors. The Church has committed substantial resources to this project as part of the four-fold mission of the Church, not only in the groundwork of finding and copying the records, but in the research and development that is required to record, index, interpret and preserve the information. Much of this work is done by volunteers like you and me. It is an audacious undertaking for sure. However, when I was young and thought about the enormity of the prospect, I quickly concluded that it couldn’t be done. The Lord knew better. 

 

With modern tools and with tools yet to be developed and exploited, I believe this audacious task will be accomplished before the end of this century and perhaps decades sooner. Already you can, from your own home, search indexes of a vast collection of records and view images of some of the original records made from master images and films. Of course that is for the serious and addicted sleuth to explore. It is something I would not inflict upon most people. 

 

Still there is plenty to do to help in your own way to fulfill the prophecy in Malachi. Children, turn to your fathers. Besides the task of research and documentation, there is the opportunity to locate and learn about the lives of those who have gone before. It is more than mere dry, irrelevant history we are talking about. It is about the lives of people who made it possible for you and me and our children and grandchildren to be here, today, now. And those life stories are worth the pain and effort to seek out.

 

Of course one may need to be selective. Many of us are children of multiple parentage, whether adoptive, biological, foster or through combinations of multiple families. Some information is discoverable; other information is not. Some stories will never be known. As for yourselves, you will be remembered only if someone makes a record about your life, whether it is yourself or another, but if you want to be remembered best, make your own record about yourself--and make it the story for which you want to be remembered.

 

So my counsel is this: If you are from a family whose direct ancestry has been traced and chased for many generations, don't try to find anyone new just yet, but try to learn about the ones that are already known. Gather the stories of their lives. Document their origin as best you can and preserve them in a form that your descendants will be able to access. Work with what you can.  Do what is right; the addiction will follow. 

 

There are now many ways and means to organize and preserve records. Use them. My only caveat. Make backup copies on media that will last and can be reproduced. 

 

As for your ancestors: Learn of them, honor them, remember them--not just today but every day.  If they are still alive, encourage them to make a record of themselves and of those they remember. This is not a time for them to be shy. Oral and video histories are priceless, and life is so short. 

 

Fathers, you can never spend enough time with your children, sharing your skills and your wisdom. Just because they do not ask you about your life or the lives of your forebears does not mean that they won’t be interested someday. But to share the stories of your ancestors you need to learn about them. We can all learn lessons from our ancestors. Some are noble and great and some are probably n’er-do-wells and worse. I have actually discovered a horse thief hanging from a branch of my family tree. You may honor your own horse thieves by learning what not to be like. And if you cannot find out about them, you may conclude, as one wag did: “My ancestors must be in a witness protection program!”

 

Let me share the Beatitudes of Family History:

Blessed are the great-grandmothers, who hoarded newspaper clippings and old letters,
For they tell the story of their time.
Blessed are all grandfathers who filed every legal document,
For this provides proof.
Blessed are grandmothers who preserved family Bibles and diaries,
For this is our heritage.
Blessed are fathers who elect officials that answer letters of inquiry,
For--some--they are the only link to the past.
Blessed are mothers who relate family traditions and legends to the family,
For one of her children will surely remember.
Blessed are the relatives who fill in family group sheets with extra data,
For them we owe the family history.
Blessed is any family whose members strive for the preservation of records,
For theirs is a labor of love.
Blessed are the children who will never say,
"Grandma, you have told that old story twice today."

{Source: Prairieland Pioneer, Prairieland Genealogical Society, Southwest State Univ., Marshall, MN 56258 }

I am reminded of a scripture that has great and deep meaning on many levels.

 

1 John 3:2

 

2 Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

 

As fathers turn their hearts to their children, so it is hoped that the children turn their hearts to their fathers and their forefathers to learn and to grow and to be blessed to see the face of God.