Standing In Holy Places

by James W. Petty, A.G., C.G.R.S., BS (Genealogy)

“Stand Ye in Holy Places”, quoted Elder Dennis B. Neuenswander, in the Sunday morning session of General Conference this past weekend. He spoke of our need to have places of refuge, where we can go to feel the Spirit of the Lord, and enjoy relief from the daily trials and influences of the World. Specifically, he identified first our Homes, then Sacrament Meetings, and then Temples. These are places where we can reach out to our Heavenly Father, and receive personal communication from him, and be uplifted from the cares and contentions of society.

As I pondered Elder Neuenswander’s counsel, I realized how blessed I had been during most of my life, in having Holy Places to stand in. As a Professional Genealogist much of my time is spent working at the Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City. To many people this is simply a library where thousands of people, both members of the Church, and non-members, visit and work on a daily basis. I know this is a House of the Lord, dedicated and consecrated by Priesthood authority. Each day when I am there, I am constantly reminded that it is a place where the gospel is shared, and service is given. It is also a place of business, where business is conducted, but because it is a holy place, all activities conducted there are influenced by the Spirit of the Lord. It is a place of peace, and hope. I find great joy working there.

For me the Family History Library is a place of revelation, because I am constantly reaching out across the veil, requesting answers of either the Lord or of others doing similar work in the Spirit World. Individuals on that side of the veil are also reaching out to me, prompting me to search here, or examine sources there. A few weeks ago I met in the home with one of my clients (we’ll call her ‘Sister Smith’). She had come to me months before, and explained that she had been searching for her family for over thirty years, but didn’t know how to search the records further. Together we determined that her ancestors, David Shetterly (or Shutterly), and his wife, Sarah Jones, were married in 1788 in Pennsylvania. They had settled in Wilmington, Delaware, where Sister Smith’s ancestor, John Shetterly, was born about 1800. We had found references to births of other children in the baptismal records of Old Swede’s Church in Wilmington. This was information Sister Smith and others had seen for years, but had not been able to move forward with it. Studying original records of these sources, I discovered that the first two children in the Wilmington records were christened at the family home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before the family made the actual move to Wilmington. This was a big breakthrough in the research.

After leaving Sister Smith’s home, I went directly to the Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake. I intended to research another client’s family, but the thought came to mind that I should search the records of the Old Swede’s Church in Philadelphia for the Shetterly family. I knew from my studies that there were several ‘Old Swede’s Churches’ in the area of Delaware, Philadelphia, and New Jersey, all descending from the colonial Swedish Protestant settlements established there during the 1600’s. I went to the records of the Old Swede’s Church of Philadelphia, and discovered the marriage of David Shytterley to Sarah Jones on Nov. 17, 1788.

Then another thought came to mind. I was prompted to search the volumes “Pennsylvania German Pioneers, 1727-1808” by Ralph B. Strassburger and William J. Hinke. This was a listing of German immigrants to the port of Philadelphia. These volumes had been studied over and over again, by previous researchers looking for the Shetterly family, both in connection with Sister Smith, and also other relatives to this family with whom we had corresponded. Nothing really positive regarding David Shetterly had been found in earlier searches of these lists. Still I was prompted to search them again. But this time I was focused on a time period close to the 1788 marriage of David Shetterly to Sarah Jones. I studied the lists of names back from that date in 1788… and found him. He was right there all along. He was listed as ‘David Shutely’ on the Ship ‘Patsy Rutledge’, arriving in Philadelphia from Hamburg, Germany on August 29, 1785. In German, the letter ‘e’ is pronounced similar to ‘er’. Also, a German name spelled with a ‘u’ is often not pronounced as ‘oo’, but rather as a ‘ue’ or similar to the ‘eh’ or ‘ih’ sound. Consequently this name would have sounded like ‘Shihtterly’. I didn’t have documentary proof yet that this David Shutely, was indeed the David Shytterley who married Sarah Jones three years later; but the prompting in my mind and heart that led to this information was so clear and distinct, that I knew this was the same person.

I realize now that I was “standing in a holy place” when I received those promptings at the Family History Library. As I thought on this, it also dawned on me how many other places in my life have been “holy places.” I grew up in an LDS home where the gospel was taught by thoughtful and loving parents. As I child I attended schools in Provo, Utah, where the Church was a dominant influence. I attended BYU, where I received my first genealogy research education. Upon graduating, I went right into service for the Church in Salt Lake City, at the Family History Library, and for many years served in various aspects of microfilming and library service. When I left my Church employment and began my own research business, I still found my self standing in holy places because of the places where I chose to do my work. As Elder Neuenswander encouraged, my family and I have sought to make our home a place of prayer, our meetings were a place of testimony and learning, and the temple has been a place of worship and meditation.

But now an even more inspiring and uplifting thought dawned in my mind. When I was a young missionary in Florida, everywhere I went I was in a “holy place”, because I was in the service of my Father in Heaven. When I traveled for the Family History Department of the Church, and met with business men and archivists, in libraries and warehouses, across the country, I stood in “holy places” because I was in the service of my Father in Heaven. And when I was working for myself, and visiting cemeteries in the hills of Tennessee, or court houses in Massachusetts, or standing in front of an ancient altar in a pagan temple in Bath, England, I was standing in “holy places” because of the genealogy work I was doing; I was in the service of my Father in Heaven.

We are not limited to only a few places, where we can go to “stand in holy places” and feel the rest and peace of the Lord. His rest and peace can be found wherever we go, if we are in His service. I have been fortunate to be doing genealogy as my vocation. My former Stake President was a Banker, and would often come to the Family History Library during his lunch break. This experience helped lift his spirits, and affected how he dealt with people during the day. Being in the ‘service of our Lord’ isn’t limited to genealogy or Church work. We can be in that service in everything we do, whether we stand in the high councils of the Church, teach addition to grade school children, attend to the sick, or look at rolls of microfilm at a Family History Branch Library. Whether we sell cars, plant corn, do visiting teaching, or raise families, we have the opportunity to be in the service of the Lord, and thereby always Stand in Holy Places. We must seek out the opportunities to do this.

2002 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.