The concept of “Turning the Hearts of the Children to Their Fathers” took on a new and special meaning for me this week.  As a professional genealogist, the scriptural covenant language associated with genealogy and family history work is part of my living lexicon.  “Turning the Hearts” and “A Record Worthy of All Acceptation” have become not only my work, but the way I look at life.  Accuracy in research, solving brick-wall family history problems, loving ancestors for who they were rather than simply for their names and dates or status and translating all that information into precious temple ordinances and saving covenants, have all been themes around which my daily life has revolved for many years; but just this past Tuesday my children and grandchildren taught me about what “Turning the Hearts of the Children” really means in the Eternal sense.  On September 21, 2011, my Mother, Medalou Winter Petty passed away a few days following her 89th birthday of 9-11; and we laid her body to rest six days later.  This time this redeeming language was personal.

Behind the Curtain

My mother was a wonderful person, a saint who impacted the lives of many people around her at home and abroad.  The funeral was beautiful, and the family gathering was full of happiness and joy, because as a family we knew and understood where Mom was, and what her role was in our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation and Eternal Life.  But this article isn’t about her, or her death, or any of the imagery that is associated with Death.  It is about the actual “Turning of the Hearts” that Malachi (Malachi 4), and Moroni (Doctrine and Covenants 2) spoke about. 

Mom spent the last ten to fifteen years of her life struggling with that dreaded debilitating condition, “Alzheimer’s; during which time she slowly lost the ability to mentally “connect the dots” of her thoughts and memories and also lost the strength to physically take care of herself.  For the adults around her, her husband, children, caregivers, and friends and family, it was difficult to watch this once vibrant lady of adventure, style, and service dwindle over those many years, unable to stop the progression of her illness, and feeling helpless about it.  My father, the physician, heroically cared for her clear up to the last few months, when she was finally taken to a hospice care facility.  He gave up all of those years of his own life to be with her, to provide for her needs, to be a shoulder for her to lean upon, and a source of strength and security for her to hold onto in all of those increasingly, dark hours; until he too, at 87 years of age faded with his own frailties.

My brother and sisters and their families visited Mom, and provided what we thought she needed; and longed to see positive responses in her diminishing words and expressions. We tired from the ordeal as she slowly sank deeper and deeper. During the last few weeks of her life she spent much of her time lying still upon her bed, or sometimes sitting hunched over in a wheelchair as we were lulled into believing that her light was dimming.  For us it was Mom who was failing; but I think now, that much of the failure was with me and the other adults in her life; for we were to learn, that actually the light was bright, only the curtains over her windows were getting thicker, making it more difficult for her to share that light with us. That was where my children came into the picture. 

Reaching Out with Love

Over the years, my sons, JimR. and Thomas, along with my other children and their cousins had visited their grandparents on a regular basis.  They had shared memories, their hopes and dreams, their young loves and eventually their own children with G’Pa Bob and G’Ma Medalou, and then continued to visit Mom when she went into nursing care.

In those final weeks, Thomas always brought flowers and spoke to her as his “beautiful lady”, which she had loved to hear in the days when she was more expressive.  He would also massage her back with his strong but gentle hands.  JimR. came again and again while she was in the rehab facility, even though Mom was unable to express herself following a number of small strokes.   

Many times he brought his children to share their lives and activities with Great Grandma, spending time and sweet thoughts and phrases with her.  JimR’s kids would come and they would sing songs to her as she lay on her bed.  As they did so, residents in neighboring rooms would gather around the door in their wheelchairs to listen.  JimR. would hold flowers up to her nose for her to smell and she would open her eyes in appreciation. 

During the last week as JimR came to see Mom, he would stop and visit an old gentleman in a wheelchair outside in the hallway.  He would talk to him and try to understand, when the man would struggle to express himself in very garbled words.  The attendants would stand nearby and chuckle, because they could understand what the man was saying.  After several days of visiting him, JimR began to understand the gentleman’s mixed-up language to be “Get me the **** out of here!”  JimR was shocked at first, but realized that with this old man, his mind was clear, but he had lost the ability to clearly communicate.

My boys realized from this experience that they needed to make a greater effort to communicate with their Grandmother.  Thomas would hold family pictures up where she could see them, and he continued to stroke her back.  Often with what little strength she had she would turn over slightly and tap her favored left shoulder, asking in her own way for him to keep massaging her.  When the boys would come into the room, she would raise her hand and wiggle her fingers in a greeting.  None of us other visitors experienced these precious communications. 

Later, following the funeral, we talked about the experiences my sons had had with their G’Ma Medalou, and the tremendous sense of love they experienced as they shared their time and efforts with her.  I realized that their “hearts were turned” just as hearts are turned in genealogy and temple service.  And even more so, I realized that in genealogy research, as in personal relationships, when we make the sacrifice of extra efforts to search for and reach out to our ancestors with love, that Eternal answers are discovered.  Too often when people come to the Family History Library or research online, they expect the Fathers, or maybe even Heavenly Father to open the books for them to the right page, so they can gather their genealogies.  In reality those revelations come with great efforts, a loving heart, and meaningful prayers. 

Out of the Mouths of Babes

At the funeral for my Mother, JimR’s eight year old daughter Megan (my Granddaughter and Medalou’s Great-Granddaughter), said, “I will miss Great-Grandma, but my Daddy taught me that she is in Heaven playing with my children.”  What a wonderful Eternal perspective for a child to have.

  Love is what it really means by “Turning the Hearts of the Children to Their Fathers.”


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. (, 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  for free consultations and ordering custom family tree research services, and his genealogy blog .