Could the “Monsters in the Closet” Be Your Ancestors?
By James W. Petty, AG, CG

Doing our family history and genealogy is an important part of being valiant in our testimony of Jesus Christ. All too often, though, this vital mission of the church becomes like a “monster in the closet” that worries us in the middle of the night and we wonder, “How will I ever get it done?” Lessons learned from helping our children get rid of their monsters, can help us fulfill this responsibility.


Photo credit:  Istockphoto:  Darren Hendley

Don’t Close the Door

Don’t close the door, Daddy. I’m afraid. When you close the bedroom door, and it’s dark, I hear noises and it frightens me. I can’t sleep, so I hide under the blanket, and hope whatever it is goes away without hurting me. But if you leave the light on, and keep the door open, I’m sure I’ll be safe. Please, Daddy, I think there’s a monster in the closet; and when it’s dark, he’ll come out and get me!

How many of us have experienced this fear of “monsters in our closet”, either when we were little, or as parents with our own children? We turn the light on, and open the closet door, and look behind the clothes, and underneath where the shoes are, and up above on the shelves. Then we invite our son or daughter to do the same, and instruct them to remember what they saw, that the closet had no monsters, and there was nothing to be afraid of.

But then, after we’ve said a special prayer for comfort with our children, and we tuck them in bed, kiss them on the forehead, and tell them we love them, and close the door. how many of us return to our bedrooms and wrestle with the “monsters” in our own closets?

Children may experience “monsters” as a result of active imaginations, coupled with a natural fear of darkness. An experience with a barking dog, or a scary television show seen earlier in the day, or even a bit of family conversation that conjured up frightening images in the child’s mind can fill an emotional closet with all kinds of terrifying things.

Things in our Closets

Adult closets are inhabited with things “I want to do” and things “I should do”; unfulfilled earthly duties, spiritual responsibilities, and confused relationships. These are the issues we work on, face, or set aside during our waking hours, which have a way of turning up in the closets of our mind when we trudge off to sleep. This is especially true with tracing our ancestry and temple work. It is an adventure into the unknown..often with confused relationships, unfilled, postponed responsibilities and duties, and priorities that many people do not know how to accomplish or have the skills to succeed. And like our children, our natural inclination is to call out. “Help me, Father, I need light! Please open the door. I have a monster in my closet!”

We can’t resolve these problems in our lives by leaving the room and running away from the closet. Some people think they can “ignore” the “monster”, or simply imagine that it doesn’t exist; but unlike the nightmares of our youth, we cannot remove the problem by thinking it out of existence. The closet will always be there, and the “monster” only seems to get bigger. It will continue to haunt our minds and our hearts until we meet the problem head on.

Solutions Can Be Found

As with the monsters in our children’s closets, invariably, the solution to each concern is to examine the problem carefully, gain knowledge, and determine a plan to resolve the issue that has filled the closets of our thoughts and feelings. We turn to our Father with a prayer for direction, comfort and strength, and then we must follow the plan and overcome our challenges with action and hope.

It seems like a very simplistic approach to our most weighty problems; but it is still the way to remove “monsters” from our closets whether they are in our spiritual lives or in our temporal experience. As it relates to climbing the family tree, we must remember that we are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, and that we are all family; that life, Eternal Life, extends beyond the bounds of this mortal existence. Who we are spiritually is as important as who we are physically. It is integral to our eternal salvation that we understand that relationship and employ ourselves to accomplishing all the purposes of why we are here, including redeeming the dead.

Understanding that very concept is equivalent to looking into the proverbial closet and discovering there is nothing there to be frightened of. And with God on our side, we can follow the plan through action and hope. This is especially true about tracing our ancestry and doing temple work.

This concept came to mind during a dinner conversation I had with a group of LDS professionals from a variety of fields. We did not know one another so we introduced ourselves and what we do. When I mentioned I was a professional genealogist, my fellow dinner guests began sharing their life’s experiences with the difficulties of pursuing their genealogy. In the process of our discussion, I learned how they struggled to discover their family tree and complete the temple ordinances for their loved ones. I learned about the ‘monsters in their closets”.

One individual explained that his ancestor was supposedly orphaned and apprenticed in the early 1800’s in Pennsylvania , and because of that, his family had been unable to extend the lineage beyond the orphan. His family tree ended with that ancestor. Another individual, who was a financial planner, wondered aloud how genealogy could apply to his profession. He acknowledged that he was somewhat fearful of genealogy because it was so far outside his comfort zone. He knew it was something important for his religious experience, but it seemed to him that his grandmother had done it all, many years ago. Nevertheless, he felt guilty for not being involved in tracing his family.

Two Cases of Closet Monsters

I realized that we had two cases of “closet monsters” here. One was confounded by incorrect traditions and the other by fears of the unknown. Professionally, I knew immediately how to approach these two roadblocks. Regarding the problem of family traditions, I explained to them that many historical events have some kind of record connected to them. The more modern the event, the more complete the records will be.

Even in Pennsylvania in the early 1800’s, when a child was orphaned and apprenticed, it meant that local government didn’t want the responsibility of raising and maintaining that child. A record would have been created identifying the child, from whom he was orphaned, and why he was being apprenticed. From there, family today should be able to find church records about the birth of the child; probate records about the child being orphaned; and historical records relating to events with which he was involved during his life that might provide details about his origins and family. This explanation was like inviting the frightened son or daughter to look into the closet to understand what the facts were, and then devising a plan to overcome the problem. Gaining knowledge frees us to move from the monster in the closet to a rewarding puzzle to solve.

For the financial planner, we discussed the concept that in all fiscal planning we must first determine what the needs of the project are; second, what are the available resources; and third, devise and implement a plan to achieve our goals. In families we have a mortgage, a car, various loans, health requirements, education, and vacations. Some people also want to include personal interests or hobbies in their financial planning.

I mentioned that for members of the LDS Church , spiritual responsibilities are priorities through the “three-fold mission of the Church – Proclaim the Gospel, Perfect the Saints, and Redeem the Dead. Many want the opportunity of serving a mission in their later years and devote time to family history. The Church has always emphasized we are our brother’s keeper, and that in addition to attending the temple on a regular basis, we need to identify our own ancestors and submit their names for temple ordinances. This aspect of the gospel plan is described as being of such importance that all else in our mortal existence could fail without it. Therefore, financial planning should include religious activities as the LDS prepare for the future.

Make a Plan

We discussed that evening that while family history research is indeed doable, it isn’t easy, it isn’t cheap, and it takes a great deal of time. These perceived obstacles translate into three worries used by people for whom genealogy is a “closet monster.” “I don’t know how. I can’t afford it. and I just don’t have the time.” Satan couldn’t come up with three more powerful ideas with which to tempt us, to discourage us, and to keep us from fulfilling this important purpose of our mortal existence! I shared with them how they could pursue research on their family tree and combat these three fears.

Once we recognize that doing genealogy is possible, we learn there is nothing in the closet to be afraid of. The next step is to make a plan. Decide if you are going to do it yourself or if you want a professionally prepared family tree. For the do-it-yourselfer and those who love to tackle challenging puzzles, “I don’t know how” can be expressed “I can learn”.

The Church provides wonderful help aids on their web site at www.familysearch.org that can direct you on basic sources and methods to begin the discovery, and also more advanced resources for the experienced family researcher. You can join a genealogy society and have access to help through meetings, conferences, and printed materials. There are also many online databases to choose from that will help you learn how to use their resources. Take a trip to Salt Lake to use the vast holdings and personnel of the Family History Library or take advantage of your local Family History Center . And for those desiring professional genealogy help, study the Meridian Magazine article “Why Hire a Pro To Do Your Family History”.Then put your plan into action and start discovering your roots.

“I can’t afford it,” and “I just don’t have the time” are issues of budgeting. No one says it has to be done right now; only that you need to begin doing it. If expense is a problem, plan to save “x” amount a month, and use those funds to travel, or purchase documents, or even to hire professional assistance. If time is the question, make a plan for doing research and documenting your pedigree. Set aside a regular time each month or week or day, when you can sit down to study your family records or visit your local genealogy library and then use that time for that purpose. You can also start a family organization where relatives pool their resources and time to collectively provide names for temple work or to hire a qualified professional.

I have a friend who when he was a busy Stake President as well as Vice-President for a large commercial bank, would budget one lunch break each week to spend an hour at the Family History Library. Over the space of several months, he’d found enough new information on his own ancestry to submit names for temple ordinances. He is an example to me of what you can accomplish one hour at a time when you have knowledge, make a plan and stick to it.

I encourage you to do your genealogy and get involved with Redeeming the Dead. Make a plan. Take out those family group sheets, start a family organization, take a class, use FamilySearch.org, hire a professional genealogist, join a genealogy society, attend a conference, write a family history, find a family name and go to the temple for your own, get connected online; and begin discovering your lost loved ones.

Remember, nothing in your “closet” can hurt you. Go before Father, pray for guidance and thank Him for the needed light, and ask him for help in making a plan and for success in your goals, and comfort in your heart. Then he can tuck you into bed, kiss you on the forehead, and tell you that he loves you; and you will know there are no “monsters in your closet”, just ancestors.

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