This lesson focuses on the introduction of family history and temple work in the restored church. It describes some of Joseph Smith’s teachings about it and reminds us of its purpose and importance—that “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.” (History of the Church, 6:312–13)
For me, this lesson has a natural draw. I fell in love with family history as a student at BYU and have loved it ever since. I’ve spent years tracing my own family and helping others find their ancestors, working as a professional genealogist, writing for family history magazines, speaking at conferences and now writing for FamilySearch.
There are lots of things I love about family history. I love the feeling of solving a mystery and discovering something new as I sift through old records. Of course, finding names and dates provides the basic information to have temple work done for our ancestors. Family history and its purposes go beyond this though. I also love the sense of identity I get as I gather stories of my ancestors, the understanding of where I came from—of my family and my roots. I think this is especially important for me as a woman since often the history I learn in books is filled with men. I am reminded that while our country’s and church’s history are very weighted toward men, my family history has just as many women as men!
In our own family histories though, we face some of the same barriers and lack of information about female ancestors that we see in other histories. Our society always has placed more emphasis on men and their stories and has placed men at the center of public life. This means that information about our female ancestors can often be more scarce and difficult to find. They are much less likely to have compiled histories written about them or to have their names included in records ranging from probate to census records (before 1850, census records only included “head of households”). Instead of accepting and perpetuating this, we need to make a conscious effort to correct this imbalance. This requires a little more effort as we avoid the urge to simply default to the men’s stories that already exist and instead hunt out women’s stories and make them part of the conversation too.
Like other families, the histories that survive in my family are largely about men. I take this as a call to action. There isn’t a great need for me to retell stories of these men. But there is a great need for me to research and share the stories of my female ancestors. That is a contribution that I can make that can make a lasting difference for my family. As I have done this, the stories of my female ancestors have inspired me and enriched my life. One of the first ancestors I learned about was Sarah Ann Bean. Sarah Ann joined the church as a child when her family, who lived in Quincy, took in church members fleeing across the Mississippi. She later married William Wallace Casper who joined the Mormon Battalion, leaving Sarah Ann to cross the plains alone with a new baby. She and her younger brother set off across the plains, reaching the Salt Lake Valley in one of the earliest companies. Her story of faith was so meaningful to me that I named one of my daughters Sarah Ann.
I also spent a lot of time with my great-grandmother, Dolly, and wrote her story. Dolly’s story was a little more unconventional. She eloped with a man she barely knew when she was fifteen and spent her life moving from community to community, often struggling to make ends meet. Her children were baptized as teenagers when an uncle realized nobody else had baptized them and took them down a local creek to get it done. I learned to admire Dolly’s perseverance in difficult circumstances and her sense of humor made it fun to collect her stories and write them down.
So if you’re wondering what contribution you can make to your family history, consider this one: uncover the stories of your female ancestors. Once you know them, share them. Tell them to your children, send them to your relatives, give them as examples in your sacrament meeting talks and when you make a comment in Sunday School. Stories of inspiring and enterprising men fill the pages of everything from town and history books to our gospel doctrine manual. Together we can help bring stories of inspiring and enterprising women to light. But first, we have to find them.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
A Pioneer in Paris, Josiane Lazeras
“I’ve done genealogy work for my mother’s Swiss side and I was astonished and happy to see that many of my ancestors were named Isaac, Abraham, Jacob, or Moses. There really has been a spiritual heritage that has enriched me, I think. Then, after my conversion, the Church has enriched me spiritually as well.”
Other Related Women’s Voices
Here to Serve a Righteous Cause, Carol F. McConkie
” The early Church leaders and pioneers of the past pressed forward with heroic courage and determined faithfulness to establish the restored gospel and build temples where ordinances of exaltation could be performed. The pioneers of the present, meaning you and me, also press forward in faith, ‘to labor in [the Lord’s] vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.'”
Is Faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ Written in Our Hearts?, Linda K. Burton
“Mary Lois Walker was married at age 17 to John T. Morris in St. Louis, Missouri. They crossed the plains with the Saints in 1853, entering the Salt Lake Valley shortly after their first anniversary. On their journey they had suffered the privations typical of other Saints. But their sufferings and adversity did not end when they reached the Salt Lake Valley. The following year Mary, then 19, wrote: ‘A son was born to us….One evening when he was two or three months old…something whispered to me, ‘You will lose that little one.’
During the winter the baby’s health declined. ‘We did all we could,…but the baby grew steadily worse….On the second of February he passed away…and so I drank the bitter cup of parting from my own flesh and blood.’ But her trials were still not over. Mary’s husband was also stricken, and three weeks after losing her baby, he died.
Mary wrote: ‘So was I, while yet in my teens, bereft in the short period of 20 days, of my husband and my only child, in a strange land hundreds of miles from my blood kin and with a mountain of difficulty before me…and I wished that I too, might die and join my loved one[s].’
Mary continues: ‘One Sunday evening I was taking a walk with my friend….I was reminded of [my husband’s] absence and my intense loneliness, and as I wept bitterly I could see, as it were in mental vision, the steep hill of life I should have to climb and felt the reality of it with great force. A deep depression settled upon me, for the enemy knows when to attack us, but our [Savior, Jesus Christ,] is mighty to save. Through…the help given of the Father, I was able to battle with all the force which seemed to be arrayed against me at this time.’”