Turning the Heart of This Child to The Fathers – A Personal Witness
by James W. Petty, A.G., C.G.R.S.
I have learned personally that doing genealogy and communicating with the world of spirits goes hand-in-hand.
Just recently I received a package from my field agent at the National Archives, in Washington, D.C. It contained the military pension of a man named Andrew Corrigan, the ancestor of a client, for whom I do genealogy research. As I began studying the pages of documents spread out before me, an image of Andrew Corrigan appeared in my mind. It began with just a figure, no details. As I read, features began to form on this figure.
He was an Irishman, about 27 years old in 1864 when he enlisted. A Union soldier, I could picture his form draped in the trappings of a dark blue uniform, and a cap, or “kepi” as they were known. The papers told of a man five feet, seven inches tall, with dark hair and eyes, but a light complexion. Friends and family told of his easy laugh, and his powerful muscles, and the way he enjoyed to work. The file drew me into a place in Georgia, a few miles northwest of Atlanta, called Peachtree Creek. It was July 20th, 1864, and Andrew was on the front lines of his regiment, the 3rd Wisconsin Infantry, in heavy forest, with three other soldiers, Privates Clinchman, and Cornell, and Corporal William Caine. The day was hot and sultry, and Andrew was uncomfortable. At about two o’clock in the afternoon, the rebel contingent in front of them began yelling and attacked in force. Private Cornell was killed, and Clinchman went down wounded. Corporal Caine ran back to the ranks of the 10th Wisconsin and took up the fight. He remembered stepping over Andrew Corrigan, thinking the Private was dead. Later that evening, to the surprise of Caine and his fellow soldiers in the 3rd Wisconsin, Private Corrigan was helped into camp. He was nearly blind, having suffered sunstroke during the preceding battle. He had lost his cap, and his clothes were badly torn.
In my mind, I saw the battle taking place, and felt moved by the events. The papers indicated that Private Corrigan recovered, and went on with his regiment throughout the remainder of the war. Afterwards, he returned to his wife and children in Waupun, Wisconsin. He raised a large family on his farm, until he died twenty years later. As a result of our research, Andrew Corrigan, his wife Mary Ann Coleman, and their twelve children will have their names submitted for temple work.
Who Andrew Corrigan was isn’t of special importance to me. He was important to my client, because he was that person’s ancestor. But Andrew isn’t related to me. He is but one of thousands of individuals that I have met in the course of my business, tracing the genealogy of other people. It is what I experienced while researching him and his history that is special to me. As his image developed in my mind, we connected. I began to think of him as more than just a name on a chart. I sympathized for him and his family as I learned about their difficulties after the Civil War, and the trials Andrew suffered in his life 130 years ago. Andrew wasn’t even my ancestor, but I could feel my heart turning to him. I only hoped that my client might be able to experience this feeling as well.
The experience of feeling one’s heart turn to the fathers, is not a cliche, spoken only in church to remind church members of another priority in an endless list of responsibilities. I believe it is a blessing given by Heavenly Father to us when we keep this particular commandment, to seek out our ancestors, and provide temple work for them. As a genealogist I often get to experience that feeling for the clients I work for, and I endeavor to share that experience with them. Many times, when I have spoken to groups at Church or other appropriate venues, I’ve shared some of my experiences, noting that I believe genealogy research and the resulting temple work is one of the greatest opportunities whereby members of the Church can reach across the veil and experience the communication, or personal revelation that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.
Many genealogists that I have spoken with have had similar experiences, in connection with their own ancestors as well as with ancestors of their clients. For us, the emotional contact made when searching for an ancestor is often a regular, even daily experience. And yet other members of the Church I’ve spoken with have never felt that connection of hearts turned to the fathers, and they can’t even imagine the feeling. I spoke with a woman who said that when she was young she received a blessing in which she was told that she would “dream dreams of your ancestors.” I asked her about her experiences, and she said she wasn’t aware of having ever had such a dream. I inquired about her genealogy; who her ancestors were, and discovered that she didn’t know even the names of her great, great grandparents who had joined the church and immigrated to America a century earlier. She had never sought to learn about her genealogy, expecting them to come to her instead. I suggested that her ancestors might have been there all along, and encouraged her to learn who her ancestors were, so that she might recognize them when they appeared in her dreams.
I never understood what it meant to dream dreams in the spiritual sense, until I experienced such a dream. I’d heard about a great musician who would sleep with his glasses on and a pen by his bedside, so that he could awake and record music that he experienced in his dreams. This seemed like a fantasy to me. It was something that happened to people in Bible times, but wasn’t part of my reality. I have always been a vivid and interactive dreamer. I remember many of my dreams.
One night, several years ago, after closing my eyes in sleep, I found myself standing on a rise with a great battle taking place before me. Guns were firing, and cannons boomed, and a huge mass of humanity pushed against one another on the field. As I stood on my hill, I saw two men separate from the battle and approach me. I don’t remember any features, or details about them; my only impression was that they came up to me and said “We are Derek’s Grandfathers.” Derek was a client of mine, whom I had been working with quite closely. He and his wife had been in my home, and I in theirs, in our pursuit of their genealogy. But we hadn’t been doing anything recently, and I remember feeling quite surprised by the statement of these two men to me in the dream. I don’t remember anything else that was said, and in fact I woke up right at that point, with the impression in my mind that these two men desired to be baptized members of the Church. I arose from my bed, and found that it was shortly after 3:15 A.M. I wrote the experience in my journal, and then looked up Derek’s pedigree on my computer. I found that eight of his great great grandfathers had lived at the time of the Civil War, and were old enough to have served.
In the morning I called Derek, and related my experience to him. He looked up his record of those eight grandfathers. Of the eight who had served in the war, six had previously received temple work. Two had not. The experience moved us both to tears. Soon, research was undertaken to gather information on these two men and their families, and their names were submitted for temple ordinance work. Now, whenever I read of an early Saint receiving information from a dream, I understand what that means. And more importantly I know that it is true.
A Voice Came into My Mind
Over the years I have come to understand what the Prophet Enos meant, when he said “…the voice of the Lord came into my mind…” It isn’t a voice heard in your ears, or a booming sound. It is the appearance of words and thoughts that you didn’t conceive, but they are there as clear as if someone had stood in front of you and spoken them. I have learned to trust ideas that spring to mind from seemingly nowhere, and to believe that powerful, warm feeling in my heart when it becomes apparent that information I find is correct. Whenever it happens the records and documents come together to confirm the truth.
For me, genealogy research has been a source of constant testimony and revelation. That does not mean I am better than others, or that I do not experience tremendous trials. What I know is that genealogy research, and communicating with the spirit world go hand-in-hand. If anyone wants to find out what it means to experience a spiritual lift and connection, genealogy and temple work are the way to do it. The promised blessings of genealogy research and temple work come from the sincere effort of reaching out to others who have passed on, combined with careful study, thoughtful pondering, and constant prayer. Of that I bear my personal witness. My experience with genealogy has given me insight in the gospel of our Savior, and strengthened my belief in Him. I believe it will do the same for anyone who will open their heart and mind to this great work.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.