Recently, I found myself humming a favorite Christian children’s song that I was taught as a child, and in turn, I taught mine.
“Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear;
Things I would ask Him to tell me if He were here;
Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea,
Stories of Jesus, tell them to me.”
(William H. Parker, New Basford, Nottingham, England. 1885)
On this occasion, I was struck by the words, not the doctrinal overtones…but the concept of “stories.” Some people think their genealogy is all done, but when you consider the value of the stories of our ancestors, there is far more that we can do.
In Genealogy as in the Gospel, it is the Stories!
In genealogy as in the Gospel, it is the stories that bring life and meaning to the people and truths of their lives and legacy. The accounting of the good news of Jesus Christ has come down to us in this generation as stories of His life and the lives of the men and women recorded in the Bible. These Holy Scriptures, treasured, preserved and shared, enableboth the teller and the hearer to learn the truth and renew faith, and love for the Manabove all men, our Lord and Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, and to follow Him.
Likewise, as we learn and share the stories of our ancestors, we have been promised as our hearts turn to our fathers, the earth will not be smitten as we remember the people and history of our own ancestry and apply the truths of their experience.In fighting the battles of life and meeting the challenges of our day and age, we need these “family scriptures”, the stories of our own family history as we need the Stories of Jesus.
Like the Holy Scriptures, our family genealogies are filled with men and women whom the Lord has raised up to fulfill his purposes on the Earth, to strive for Liberty, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to provide saving ordinances for those who came before.Their stories are the foundation for what I call “Family Scriptures.” While they are not part of the formal gospel canon, these accounts constitute important lessonsfrom the lives and struggles of our own beloved ancestors; and their testimonies can become a valued strength for our families now and in generations to come. All we need to do is to turn our hearts to them, record their stories and then pass these on to our children and others. What a resource of truth for living our lives and making good decisions; for sharing in Church and our communities; and for touching future generations and history.
The Story of Sumner Gleason, MD
The story of my wife Mary’s Massachusetts-born Great Grandfather, Sumner Gleason, MD is one of our family scriptures. After graduating from medical school in 1883, he came to Kaysville, Davis County, Utah where he lived a rich and full life of service; working and volunteering his talents and resources to his community, as a country doctor, school dentist, mayor, horticulturalist, and Presbyterian. Dr. Gleason worked in medicine for nearly 40 years from the last quarter of the 19th century and well into the 20th, often contributing free medical and dental services throughout the county. As an ardent Presbyterian and good friend of LDS North Davis Stake President and Utah’s 7th Governor, Henry Blood, Sumner wrote missionary letters back to his church headquarters in Pennsylvania, telling them what good people the Mormons in Utah were.
Prior to the Great Depression he developed a variety of peach that became known as the Gleason Early Elberta Peach, still available as such on grocery shelves and in nurseries of the 21st Century. In those days before the LDS Welfare Program, Sumner had his own orchards and vineyards, and started his own cannery. He invited his patients who were often unable to pay for his care, to settle their accounts by canning fruit and Buffalo meat for him and for themselves. He conducted this business for as long as he was able, but like so many in the Depression, he went bankrupt and lost much of his property in Fruit Heights; but he never gave up on his patients, his community and his family. What an example he is today for his descendants of service, industry, professional and intellectual development, creativity, Christian love, and charity.
How did we learn so much about this ancestor who Mary never knew? We learned about him by visiting withthose who knew him and trips to the attic. We gathered what we found and recorded remembrances of grandfather, uncle, and pillar of the community. We found his personal letters, historical documents, and pictures; we discovered published and manuscript histories and biographies written by Sumner and others; we studied original records and newspaper accounts that had been preserved about his life, and did original research in and for local historical societies and museums. You can do the same for your family.
Family Stories on Meridian Magazine
Over the years in Meridian Magazine, I have shared special stories about my ancestorsand those of Meridian readers along with helpful tips for how you can acquire your own family history. When you are ready to do your genealogy, and seek out the stories of your ancestry, these articles with their research guides canhelp you gather your family scriptures. Two examples are:
In July, 2012, I published Celebrating the Real Fireworks of America – Our Ancestors! It encouraged readers to identify and record the stories of ancestors who had served in the American Revolution. I wrote about Thomas Petty, a 17 year old soldier from South Carolina whose experiences in the War for Independence helped me and my family to appreciate the blessings of his volunteer service and sacrifice for liberty.
And several years ago I wrote about my 2nd Great Grandfather Samuel Eames who was an early convert of the Gospel in Herefordshire, England, during the 1840’s. In Going Home – A Family History Letter To Brooke I shared the tender story of his faith in the Gospel and journey to Utah some 28 years after his conversion to the Church.
The Eames lived near the famed Golden Valley, one of the most beautiful countryside in England. When LDS conferences were held in his district, Samuel and his wife Nancy opened their home to all the visitors who could fit, while they would go to a neighbor’s to spend the night. We learned from his letters to his children who had begun preceding him to the Salt Lake Valley, that he called his homeland a place of “blackness”.
Finally, in 1868 at the age of 78, Samuel, sold all he had and migrated to the “dusty, desert Valley of the Great Salt Lake” with his son John. Samuel Eames “rejoiced” because he was with the Saints. The Lord had blessed him to see with spiritual eyes the beauty and the love that greeted him. He died and returned home to God after only six weeks in Zion.
Grandpa Eames’ story has been a testimony of faith, love, and obedience to our Heavenly Father that has been passed on to his generations.
Now the stories of ancestors are not limited to service in the American Revolution, being a prominent person in the community, or walking across the plains as a pioneer. Not everyone’s family was involved in these events. But everyone’s ancestors were part of history, and their very lives, their participation in the trials and persecutions, or fighting and conquering, or their efforts of faith and obedience to the gospel provide equally important testimonies and truths that can and must be shared with their descendants. Isn’t this sharing of your family scriptures part of the concept of “turning our hearts to our Fathers?”
The Work is Not All Done
Do you know the stories of your ancestors and how they became converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you know their contribution to history or how their lives touch yours? Can you gather your children or grandchildren around your knee and tell them about your Grandfathers and Grandmothers and the spiritual experiences of their lives? Can your children tell the stories of their ancestors with respectand reverence?
If you do not know these stories, there is still much family history and genealogy work for you to do. You can gather and write your family scriptures and share them with your loved ones.
“How To” Ideas
There are many ways to discover these ancestral stories. Seek out other family members, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, or cousins who may be able to share details about your common ancestors. Suchin person, online, by mail or telephone contact and collaboration can provide stories, histories, recipes, pictures, or other artifacts that can be used to start and add to your family scriptures.
If family connections aren’t available, then it falls upon you to do the research to discover your ancestors’stories, in addition to simply knowing their names, dates and places. You will want to find family papers, journals, letters, wherever you can locate them. Think “outside the box.”
Government and Church Records are also very useful. Census records found on the Internet can show who lived around your ancestor. These families and communities may be sources for information about your loved ones. You can look for their property records in county court houses or send away for their military pensions, immigration, naturalization or Social Security applications, to name a few types of other resources.
Early LDS Ward and Branch records will give you detail about your family or who they associated with and may even tell you who the missionary was who baptized your ancestor. It may even be possible to track down a personal journal or record of that missionary at the Church Historian’s office that would mention your relative or their conversion.
Historical research like this often requires a different set of skills than basic genealogy research for names and dates, so a good imagination comes in handy. You may find accounts about your ancestry in newspapers, telling about graduations, awards, or obituaries, or even an out-of-town relative who came to visit. School year books, hunting dog licenses, and business records may all contain useful information that can fill in further details about your family history.
Tell Me the Stories…
As you gather data about a grandfather or ancestor, you can begin to compile this into a story format, until you have enough information to create an understandable account. You can always add to or take away from the story as new information comes to light. Just make a record of what you learn, and like the prophets of old, write your family scriptures.
Those who say their genealogy is all done, should now realize that “turning the hearts of the Children to their Fathers” is a continuing experience of devotion and love. As we open our hearts, our Heavenly Father will fill them with personal and family revelations. The stories of our ancestors are a vital record that becomes personal “family scripture” for us and our children, if we are willing to seek after these testimonies. In addition to “Tell me the stories of Jesus” we want our families to sing “tell me the stories of Grandpa, I love to hear…”
James W. Petty, AG, CG is the Board-Certified and Accredited Professional Genealogist, “Climbing the Family Tree Professionally Since 1969”. He is President of HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc. (www.Heirlines.com), the “Salt Lake City, Utah BBB Accredited Business” trusted professional genealogy research services firm, providing US and International genealogical and historical research for a world-wide clientele.
For Heirlines-Quality professional genealogy services, resources, and products including free genealogy, LDS Family History advice and expert answers to commonly asked ancestry questions, visit Jim’s website www.Heirlines.com for free consultations and ordering custom family tree research services, and his genealogy blog ProfessionalGenealogy.com.