Prayers, Genealogy, and Personal Revelation
By James W. Petty, AG, CGRS

The cursor on my computer screen just sat there blinking at me.

A few moments before, it had been leading the narrative of one of my best professional genealogy research reports, and now it just sat there on the field of a blank white screen, where a five page manuscript was supposed to be.

I had just returned from a successful research trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was typing the final report to the client about his ancestors, the John P. Tull family of Kensington.  We had been searching for this family off and on for over two years.  Looking for the Tull family in the Kensington community of Philadelphia was like hunting for the proverbial needle in the haystack.  I went to Philadelphia personally in hopes of finding the clues that might finally break the line open.  I found those much needed clues, and upon returning to Salt Lake City, discovered additional information on microfilm, and on the Internet that identified ancestors of John P. Tull back six more generations.  My report bubbled over with excitement about the new information, and the success that came with hard work and careful searching.  After all, we had identified the names of dozens of relatives for which temple ordinances could be performed.  I felt certain my client would be thrilled with my efforts. 

I typed with enthusiasm, reliving the moments of discovery in my research as I summarized the information found.  Suddenly, I accidentally hit two or three keys at the same time and brought up a different un-needed window on my computer monitor.  I pointed the curser to the exit button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and clicked off the offending window.  I thought.  A small message box asked if I wanted to save the item, and I clicked “No,” thinking it referred to the errant screen I was eliminating.  Too late I realized, the “X” button I had pushed belonged not to the problem window, but rather to the report I was writing; and in a mere second, three hours of unsaved prose disappeared before my eyes!  I tried everything I could think of to recover the information, but because I had “voluntarily” deleted it, it was gone. 

The Source of Our Blessings

The excitement of writing this client report was dead.  I knew I could rewrite the information while it was fresh on my mind.  But now I was discouraged.  My wife tried to encourage me with a “good things will come” statement, but nothing seemed to help.  Fortunately, I had learned in my youth, something that could help when I become discouraged.  I went into a quiet back room, and bowed my head in prayer, and asked my Heavenly Father for help and guidance. 

The answer was almost immediate, and I realized that my real problem was that I had been thinking only about me.  The response I received was the memory of the beginning of my trip to Philadelphia.  On that first day of research, I visited the Pennsylvania Genealogical Society on Broad Street in Philly.  Except for the librarian, I was the only person in the library, and I found myself hunched over one of the two or three microfilm readers in the back of the room behind the books.  I was worried about the research on the Tull family.  For two years we had searched and searched looking for the parentage of John P. Tull, and my client had indicated this would be the final effort.  I leaned into the microfilm reader, and closed my eyes, and plead with the Lord for help and inspiration; asking that somehow I might know what to do, and be lead to information that would reveal the family or clues for which we were looking.  Then I went to work. 

With the return of this memory came the understanding of why my report was lost.  I needed to remember the source of my blessings, and of the important information in this research project.  When I started working that day in Philadelphia, I began by searching for cemetery records.  Soon I was absorbed in the research, and forgot all about my prayer.  The Tull family had previously been found in early 1800’s records of the First Presbyterian Church in Kensington; but the local cemetery in the area for that time period was the Methodist Cemetery.  To learn about the cemetery, I had to search the records of the Kensington Methodist Episcopal Church (1809-1900), and was surprised to find the mother and wife of John P. Tull listed in the membership rolls the 1840’s.  I was reminded of how diverse Joseph Smith’s family had been at the time of the First Vision in 1820. 

Research at the Pennsylvania Historical Society, later in the day, was spent studying old newspapers for marriage and death notices.  Dozens of entries were found giving me names of family members, with ages, and dates of birth, marriage, and death, along with historical details, and many other clues we could use.  Upon returning to Salt Lake City, I used these clues to find family entries in census records, passenger lists, and vital records.  Most exciting, the new clues led to the discovery of two family lineages on Internet data files that confirmed information found in Philadelphia:  John P. Tull was the son of John Tull Sr. and Sarah Pastorius.  These files revealed the Pastorius ancestry back six generations, and traced the descendants of John and Sarah through their daughter Sarah Tull Hay, the older sister to John P. Tull. 

As I thought about the prayers that had been made, I realized the information “I had found” was given me by a loving Heavenly Father, who guided me in my research.  I was amazed to see that the two lineages found on the Internet were posted the day I began my research in Philadelphia and on the day after returning from my trip.  When I sat down to rewrite my report on the Tull Family Research, it was with the realization that this information came from Heavenly Father, and I was only acting as his servant in bringing to light the family of my client. 

I have borne testimony to many groups in the past, that if they wished to experience the power of personal revelation from our Heavenly Father, they needed to do genealogy research.  But every now and then I need to be reminded of that fact myself.  This is His work, not mine.  I am but a cosmic speck in the universe, if that much; but the genealogy research that I am doing is so important to Him, that the Creator of Eternity is willing to tell me that He knows who I am, and what I am doing, and that He loves me.    This personal revelation is available to anyone who is willing to pray, and serve, and listen.  I invite everyone to join me in this wonderful, eternal work of redeeming the dead.

2004 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.