At a recent High Priest Fireside, a member of the local Temple Presidency asked “How many of you have completed your family history?” I looked around the chapel and saw about a dozen high priests raise their hands. I couldn’t believe there were so many people who thought there was no family history work left to do.
Knowing the stories of your ancestors is just as important as checking to see that their work has been done in the temple. Dallin H. Oakes said in the June 1989 Ensign, “At home we can keep our journals and gather pictures and data for the books of remembrances of our family members. We can gather and record information available through living relatives. We can write family histories and share their great lessons with our children.” Just because an ancestor’s temple work is done, does not mean that a family history is finished.
Finding family history stories is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. Finding these pieces is important, challenging and fun. There always seems to be some parts that others have missed or have put in the wrong places. Recently I’ve found some missing pieces of this puzzle that have helped me learn more about my ancestors.
While going through New Family Search, I found that my Uncle Perry’s temple work was done but the records did not include a place of death or a date of his passing. He was my grandfather’s uncle. I have an old picture of him in uniform from the Spanish American War. I recall my mother saying that he lived in Portland, Oregon, was never married, was a law enforcement officer and died in a car accident. But I ran into roadblocks whenever I tried finding more information about him. I had no luck looking at newspaper websites and could find very little information searching through veteran’s records. But then I thought I’d see if there was any information available through police departments. I discovered that the Portland Police website included the Portland Police Museum, so I emailed the curator asking if there was any information on Perry. The curator graciously answered my email with attachments of thirty years of census sheets, newspaper stories of the accident, his obituary and a photograph of his headstone. Not only did I learn more about him, I was able to add his death date and place to New Family Search.
Then there is my grandmother’s brother Uncle Harley. His story is a good example of a mystery still waiting to be solved. While my brother was working in my great-uncle’s office he noticed an old revolver hanging in a holster on the wall and asked about it. My great-uncle said, “Oh that belonged to your uncle Harley who was a deputy sheriff in Arizona. Did you know that he was killed in the line of duty?” When my brother got home he related that story to my mother. She thought it was funny because she knew a different story, “Harley wasn’t killed in the line of duty, he was killed over a bar girl in a saloon.”
Through the years I’ve always wanted to find out more about Uncle Harley. Recently while using Family Search, I was able to locate his Arizona Death Certificate. The mystery deepened. His death certificate showed that his cause of death was “pistol wound – suicide,” his marriage status was “single” and that he was a “cattle man.” What truth does the Wild West still have that is waiting to be found?
Is your family history done? I can’t imagine ever being finished. In every family there are stories to discover and mysteries waiting to be solved. With so much information instantly available at the tips of our fingers there is little excuse for not finding out more about your family. Every ward has family history consultants ready to assist. There are museums and historical societies where people are anxious to help you find the missing pieces of your puzzle. Ancestors are much more than a few scattered statistics. Temple work completed or not, family history is still important, challenging, rewarding and fun.