By Laraine L. Thompson
Suffering all of his life from the effects of asthma, my father, in his waning years had what was referred to as organic brain syndrome. Its cause was restricted oxygen to the brain as a result of those debilitating asthma attacks. It resulted in symptoms sometimes similar to those of Alzheimer’s Disease. He would often forget the events of the recent past. It seemed that we were constantly reminding him of the important details of his life, just lived. The one constant in his life however was genealogy work. He never seemed to lose his ability to do it. He indeed was the one who had been called to do that work and as such, he had become on of the chosen….
We are the chosen. In each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors, to put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve. Doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing [another] life into all who have gone before. We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called, as it were, by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us, “Tell our story.” So, we do. In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before now and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors, “You have a wonderful family; you would be proud of us.” How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I cannot say. It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who I am, and why I do the things I do. It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying, “I can’t let this happen. The bones here are bones of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” It goes to doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family. It goes to deep pride that the fathers fought and some died to make and keep us a nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us. It is of equal pride and love that our mothers struggled to give us birth, without them we could not exist, and so we love each one, as far back as we can reach–that we might be born who we are–that we might remember them. So we do. With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, because we are they and they are the sum of who we are. So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take my place in the long line of family storytellers. That is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up and restore the memory or greet those who we had never known before.
Della M. Cummings Wright
Continuing his legacy, I too now seem to be one of the chosen. Reader Beware: It can become an obsessive pursuit. Remembering the novel and the movie after the same name, I call it a magnificent obsession. Unlike my father and others of his generation who had to type each record by hand, have it checked for proof and accuracy by two other persons before submitting the content to the church family history department, I use my computer. And with a mere toggle, I am anywhere on earth that might have a thread of information that will identify those of my family. Message boards/public family trees have connected me to long lost, distant cousins. Many e-mails later, I now have photos to match many of the names in my records. A marvelous chosen one in North Carolina has just sent me a portion of Indiana marriage records to transcribe and return to her so that she can then publish them on a county’s genealogy website for all to see. I cannot overstate the effect that her work has had upon me and the work that I love to do. As a result of her work in Indiana, I was able to solve a 40 year old family mystery. There are countless more just like her. They are just a click away. They constitute people participating in the second most popular hobby behind gardening.
With the internet and ever evolving software programs, genealogy has never been easier to do. Its ease would take what was remaining of my father’s precious breath away! I thank the Lord daily for modern technology which has allowed us to make exponential leaps forward in our ability to access and store vast amounts of information. Even with all of this, New Family Search estimates that roughly only 5% of records have been retrieved and recorded through their efforts. The future possibilities are beyond staggering to the imagination.
Stake genealogy libraries dot the world. They are staffed by happy volunteers eager to help those who come, most of whom are not members of our church. The libraries are there for all to use. I was in New York City recently and found 3-5 people eagerly working cheek by jowl in a very small Manhattan Stake Family History Library. Every computer, every microfilm reading machine was in use. That scene is being repeated everywhere.
It seems incumbent upon us to add to our list of preparation/intelligent living the ability to do our genealogy. It is so easy and will undoubtedly only become easier with time. In doing so, we may find that we will truly join the ranks of the chosen.
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Photo source: LDS Media Library