“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: 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.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
In other scripture resource articles I have attempted to incorporate the best resources with the doctrinal and scriptural passages. There are many beautiful scriptures that teach us the importance of family history work and record keeping. However, I will take a slightly different approach to this article. I will share my personal experiences and journeys in family history. I hope that this may be an inspiration to others to continue to find the blessings of the Lord as they work out their own salvation in the community of their family. Indeed, salvation is an individual process that requires the community of a family.
I am a 6th generation Mormon, depending upon the family line that I trace. I have been born of goodly parents who did teach me in all the ways of the Lord as did their parents for generations back. As such, I had always believed that my family history had been completed by my grandparents or by my great-grandparents. “Surely, all of the work has been done. Surely there is no member of the family who has not been sealed in an eternal chain of priesthood and love.” The blessings began to flow as I learned how wrong my assumptions were.
I had taken a few days off from work to accompany my father-in-law on a genealogical expedition throughout New England. I wondered if I was qualified for such an undertaking. I knew nothing of genealogy or how to engage in the blessed work. Soon, however, I saw the hand of the Lord open doors for us, raise up individuals unto us who shared key information and the Spirit of Elijah descend upon us in a marvelous way. We located many of the ancestors and ancestral homes of my father-in-law. What a rich heritage he came from. My heart began to swell with joy as the true power of families interlocked in the embrace of priesthood sealings became clear to my soul. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters—all brought together through the power of Christ. I came to love those that had gone before, even though they were not my blood relatives but rather those of my father-in-law. I came to feel a deep humility for their great faith and sacrifice centuries ago in a new land that in reality was harsh and cold. My heart began to long for my ancestors long since sleeping in the dust of the earth. I longed to feel their presence and love. Later I realized that these powerful stirrings derived from the Spirit of Elijah which had descended upon me. Indeed, I came to learn that the Spirit of Elijah is a form of feeling the Spirit, but just a specific “flavor” of the Spirit. It was a new and marvelous experience that I will cherish always.
So, in one small town in Massachusetts while my father-in-law checked town records I stopped at a public library to search on the internet for my family that I have never known. I began at familysearch.org, typing in the names of my deceased grandparents and great-grandparents. Pedigree charts appeared on the screen and with simple yet eager clicks of a button I was able to move back in time several generations and see a rich heritage of individuals who loved the Lord and sacrificed throughout their lives to obey his commandments. I began to feel connected with the past. I began to understand where I came from. My identity increased in stature with each generation that appeared before me. I was no longer a lone man in the wilderness. I became in that small town a man surrounded by family extending through the ages.
Soon, however, my excitement grew to dismay as the available information dried up after some 10-15 generations. I knew that I must have ancestors beyond that point, but I could find nothing to verify that truth. My disappointment lingered for some time until I realized the opportunity that lay before me. All of my assumptions about genealogy quickly crumbled. My grandparents and great-grandparents had not completed all of my genealogy back to the days of Adam. In fact, there was much work to be done. Generations of my family still waited to be discovered, but the process had begun.
Within a few days I discovered that my ancestors founded several of the cities near to where I lived in Connecticut. I had lived in Connecticut for nearly 3 years and had never imagined that I had ancestry to grace the soil there. My ancestry could be traced to the founding of this great nation and beyond to the settling of this free land. I also discovered that my father-in-law and I shared a common ancestor some 10 generations back. The links of brotherhood grew stronger as the reality of an interconnected human family distilled upon my soul.
I knew that there was more to discover, however, because most of the available information at my disposal concerning my family only extended to the early 1600’s, but not much farther. While talking to my good mother one day she reminded me of the many family history resources that she has given me over the years, complied by faithful parents, grandparents, etc. (indeed, they had done much work). I eagerly searched through my storage and found several precious books that included on one particular family line genealogical information to 1100 AD. I returned to familysearch.org and discovered marvelous things. At one instance I noticed that an ancestor had died and was buried in Jerusalem. Curious as to why I had ancestry in Jerusalem I looked at the date—circa. 1100 AD. My mind then made the connection that this ancestor, an Englishman, had gone to Jerusalem to fight in the crusades. He had died there and was buried in The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a church that I have visited on several occasions in my repeated travels to Jerusalem and Israel. How I would have loved to have known at the time of my visits to that church that my ancestor was buried in that sacred spot.
I continued to search for more ancestors via the internet. As the days went by I was able to trace ancestry back generation after generation, century after century to the kings and queens of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and other places. I discovered ancestry who had lived in Rome around 400 AD, not many years before it was sacked by the conquering Vandals. I even found one line of ancestry that stretched back to the year 6 BC. World history suddenly became family history to me and the ages of the world were no longer long forgotten and far off stories, they were family stories connected through the years by the power of God.
The reality of human interconnections became so clear to me through these powerful and life changing experiences. I began to feel more deeply the brotherhood of mankind and that truly we are of the same family. Consider for a moment the following scenario. If a generation equaled thirty years and if we went back thirty generations (only 900 years) and if there were no shared lines of ancestry at any point (intermarriages, etc. where two branches are joined together) then each of us would have over 1 billion ancestors between us and the year 1100 AD. No doubt that we all share ancestry and family more so than we realize. We are all of the same family, eventually. I would not be surprised to discover that each reader of this article was also related to my Crusader ancestor and then of course to the multitudes before him.
A Rich Heritage
I have diligently studied the personal family history books prepared lovingly by those who have gone before me. In so doing, my heart and soul found new friends and new faith in the family stories of my ancestors. If I may I will share a story of faith and triumph from the annals of history—family history.
This story comes from the Tomlinson family history of James and Mary Tomlinson. Their daughter Eva Hallelujah Tomlinson was the mother of my father’s father. As I was reading this family history I became intrigued as to why James’ parents, members of the church since the 1830’s, were buried near Quincy, Illinois in 1860’s. Had not the saints left Nauvoo and the state of Illinois late in the 1840’s? Had not the Saints gathered to Zion in the West? Why did my ancestors stay behind? Had they fallen away from the gospel? As I continued to read the powerful story of faith unfolded to my view. I will now tell the story in James Tomlinson’s own words:1
“I was now eight years old (1841) and had anxiously looked forward for this time to come that I might be baptized. The day was cold and disagreeable, being in mid winter, but this did not daunt me, so I coaxed my Pa, who was an Elder, to baptize me. My older sister had waited to be baptized with me, so Pa went to the creek near home (named Bear Creek), cut the ice and baptized us both.
“About two and one years later, after Joseph and Hyrum were shot, in June 1844, the mob became very violent and the authorities of the Church requested all the Saints in the country to gather in the city of Nauvoo, which had a population of about 20,000.
“We remained there until 1846 when the Saints were forced to leave their homes and flee from the city that we loved so much. We were the first Company. I remember crossing the Mississippi River and going with the Company until we came to Mt.Pisgah, where the Saints planted a crop for the Companies that were to follow. We then went to Council Bluffs.
“I had little to do as Pa took care of the teams, so I went in swimming every day. I took sick with a fever from being in the water so much. This lasted about three weeks. I had barely recovered when Pa took down with a severe case of typhoid fever and nearly died.
“We lived in an Indian hut that had been given us. An old Indian doctor was the only help my Mother had except her faith and prayers, which she declared saved Father’s life. When he was able to get around, he was advised to take his family and go into a settlement where he could get work and provide for his family.
“We traveled down the river south until we came to a stream called Ottawa, where we stayed about two years, and Pa used to tend the ferry about eight miles north of St. Joe. We did some farming there too.
“In 1848 we started back to Illinois and arrived there in July. My sister Lydia had married a man by the name of David Chase. They lived near Quincy, Illinois. My sister wrote letters to my parents persuading them to come to Quincy. Finally we started, arriving there in August, 1848. I was about fifteen years of age.
“We only stayed in this place a short time, as the excitement of a new railroad being built from Quincy to Chicago – about the first one built in Illinois – caused us to move to Camp Point, through which the new railroad would have to run. Pa built a house here and went to his old trade of shoemaking. I started to learn the carpenters trade.
“I then went to a little town by the name of Paloma, which was built on the new railroad, and began to take contracts for buildings. I boarded with my sister Lydia Chase. One day as I stood in her doorway looking upon a farm across the way, it was shown to me that a man would buy that farm, build a house, and that he should have a daughter Mary, and she would be my wife.
“A few years after this was shown to me. Dr. Weller Draper Rood came, bought that piece of land. He built a house and I helped him complete it. He had an only daughter in New York State going to school. Her name was Mary. She soon returned and we became acquainted. After two years we were married – thus fulfilling the impression given me by the Lord. We were married January 22, 1861. I farmed the next season. Here our first child was born, a daughter, and we named her Mary Alice.
“My wife’s father gave us a lot in Quincy, where we moved in the spring of 1862. We built a house and I began to work at the carpenter trade.
“All these years I was faithful, in my heart, to the Latter Day Saint Religion, and I taught everyone that I had an opportunity, the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ. Many called me a Mormon and pointed the finger of scorn at me. They had driven the Saints from Illinois with a deadly hate, and they also hated me for advancing such doctrine, but the spirit of preaching was upon me, for it was the doctrine that I had loved from my youth, and I rejoiced in proclaiming it to all I could.
“We lived in Quincy until the spring of 1866. While there two children were born to us-our first son, James Addison, and a daughter, Sarah Leolia…
“We went to Camp Point, where my parents lived, and built a home. I worked at the carpenter trade and moved houses until the spring of 1879; we then had nine children.
“This same year I started for Kansas, to take up some land. We located in LyonCounty- about twenty-five miles from Emporia. We took up a quarter section of land and built a house. It was here that our last child was born, a daughter, Pearl Ethel.
“While we lived at this place several of our children were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Three of the children went to Utah, for the sake of their religion. After they had been there about a year, my and daughters Eva and Pearl went to visit them, as our daughter Jessie was soon to be married. They had been out there only about three months when my wife and baby daughter, Pearl, were united with the Church.
“Eva had already been baptized. My wife did not desire to return to Kansas after this, but wrote for me to bring our youngest son, Judson, and come to Utah.
“The news of this letter brought me both surprise and joy, for I had been trying to convert my wife, with all my powers, even before we were married, and all these years, yet I could not, and it was marvelous in my eyes that she was converted so soon after going to Utah. After I arrived there it was plainly shown me that the Lord had heard my prayers and had accepted my fastings in her behalf, by pouring His Spirit out upon her, and enlightening her mind to an understanding of the fulness of the Gospel.
“It seemed that the hand of the Lord was in all these things and had opened the way for our going to Zion; even to the selling of our crops, which was the largest and best that we had ever raised on the farm, thus giving us ample money for the trip. It all astonished me.
“I had longed to go to Utah all these years, but the time I was married I promised my wife’s father I would never drag her to Utah against her will. How strange it seemed that in after years she came to Utah of her own choice and sent for me…
“Judson and I packed all we could in our trunks, leaving the home and its furnishings in the care of our dear friend, George W. Lester, who was going to act as our agent. We then started for Utah, the land of the Latter Day Saints, where my heart had been so many years. We enjoyed our trip and arrived in Heber city October 15, 1892…
“Now in conclusion, as my wife and I are of good old age (79 & 73), and have enjoyed being in Zion for about twenty years, and knowing that this is the only true Gospel for the salvation of the children of men, and holding the authority to officiate in all the Gospel ordinances. We spend a great deal of time in working in the temple of our God for the salvation of the dead, where the spirit of love and holiness is exhibited to a great degree.
“I feel as God has favored me with the Priesthood of the Son of God, to bless my children and all of their posterity that come into the world, and pray God to grant unto them the blessings of salvation, unto his praise and glory.
“May they help to bring many souls into the gospel of Christ.
“And now my children, this is my counsel to my offspring: to seek the Lord in your youth, living and obeying his counsel in all things, even to the end of this life, and this is your Pa’s counsel unto you, my beloved children. And the honor be unto the Father and the Son and to the Holy Ghost, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
-James Berry Tomlinson
45 years after the main body of saints had arrived in the valleys of Utah, my own ancestors of the Tomlinson line finally made it to Zion. The years of faithfulness and sacrifice paid off and now I am reaping the bounteous harvest of their generous planting.
Throughout my years of membership in the Church I have heard countless lessons, stories and testimonials concerning the work of God in relation to Family History and Temple Work. Not until I myself acted was I able to feel the full joy and power of these saving principles and truths. Indeed, the reason we exercised our pre-mortal faith to come to this earth was to have moral agency to act for ourselves. I know from personal experience that only by doing can we truly learn and experience all of the truth and joy that the Lord has prepared for us. May we so nobly and boldly move forward in the cause of truth and harvest in abundance until, in the words of Malachi, we have no room to store the enormity of heaven’s blessings.
- Record in possession of the author. ↩
Having spent many nights over the last 20ish years pouring over census records and burial maps, I felt a “familiar spirit” while reading your article. Thank you for sharing!