The year 2010 was one of the best years in my life. At Christmas time 2009 my wife and I were called into the office of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and there the president, having been authorized by the prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, conferred on me the sealing power-one of the greatest privileges and blessings of my life. So during the first week of 2010 I began using that sacred power to seal husbands and wives to each other and children to their parents for this life and for all eternity.
Then, in the middle of 2010, my heart turned to my fathers (and mothers) in a dramatic way. Almost “accidentally” I began attending the family history class in our ward’s meetinghouse. Since I always like to see the big picture, I purchased a couple of copies of the giant, fifteen-generation pedigree chart, and got into the Church’s newfamilysearch.org. It is amazing how much is there! I just kept on going back, column after column on the charts, generation after generation of my ancestors, and my wife’s. Well, Elijah called; and as we say, he got a hold of me!
As I continued to lay out the basic details of our ancestors, I noticed some patterns developing. Many of them were buried in cemeteries in Utah. A strong desire came over me to visit and photograph their gravestones, so at the end of August and the first of September, I visited eight cemeteries in four counties in two weekends. When I entered the first cemeteries on that first, crisp summer morning-in Richmond and Smithfield, Cache County, Utah-I admit that I felt a surge of emotion: excitement and joy (it was pure joy) that I could do this little thing to find their final resting place and remember them. I felt to honor them.
From August through October 2010 I visited eight cemeteries for my ancestors and nine cemeteries for my wife Marcia’s ancestors, with one cemetery overlapping for both (Salt Lake City’s)-thus sixteen cemeteries in all.
It occurred to me near the end of my visits that I had stood, all together, among possibly 200,000 grave markers-monuments in stone to remember that number of people’s brief life on this planet far from our heavenly Home.
I was thinking about all the impressive monuments I have seen in the Mediterranean world, erected by Pharaohs, Caesars, kings, and other temporary rulers who wanted to immortalize themselves in some way.
English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a famous poem entitled “Ozymandias,” which is the Egyptian name for Ramses II, one of the world’s outstanding egotists who left strewn along the Nile the greatest portion of all the monumental structures still visible in Egypt. Shelley wrote:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies . . .
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Contrast all the grandiose monuments of the ancients-some of whom even considered themselves gods while in mortality-with the simple monuments of stone in these humble repositories of the remains of our ancestors, those who helped lay, in their inconspicuous ways, the foundations for Zion in the last days, as did some of my ancestors, the Ogdens, and some of my wife’s ancestors, the Hammonds.
Reflecting on the legacy of our ancestors I note that from the earliest of them there is nothing left but their grave, with their names carved in stone, as if to say,
“I was here . . . please remember me!”
So from August to October of 2010 I paid a little bit of attention to at least seventy of these ancestors, and then I continued my researches by collecting photos, family histories, and other documents that can show us descendants more about why we owe them an immense debt of gratitude.
I spent many hours in the Pioneer Museum and Church History Library in Salt Lake City, in BYU’s Special Collections and in the Religion and Family History section of BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library, plus using online resources such as the Mormon Trail Pioneer Database, “Pioneer Company Search,” etc. I am finding photographs of my ancestors, theses and books written about them, family histories, personal journals, biographies, copies of letters, birth and death certificates, and other documents that help me become acquainted with those who laid the foundation for my wonderful life.
For forty years I have been learning and teaching about the fathers (the patriarchs and prophets), but now this past year I have been learning about my fathers, my immediate progenitors or ancestors.
President Boyd K. Packer wrote: “The spirit of Elijah spoken of by the Prophet
. . . is something very real. When a member of the Church comes under its influence, it is a powerful, compelling force which motivates him with a desire to be attending to genealogical and temple work. It leaves him anxious over the well-being of his forebears. When that spirit comes, somehow we desire to know more about those forebears-we desire to know them” (The Holy Temple, 210).
“Gathered to their fathers”
There are two curious phrases used in the Old Testament: when a man passed away he was “gathered to his people” or “gathered to his fathers.” Those phrases were, in a sense, euphemisms for “died”-a nicer, softer way to express the stark reality of death. Here are five examples:
“And [Jacob] charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my father in the cave [of Machpelah]” (Genesis 49:29).
“Aaron shall be gathered unto his people” (Numbers 20:24).
(It is recorded that the Lord said to Moses:) “Get thee up into this mountain . . . unto mount Nebo . . . and die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people” (Deuteronomy 32:49-50).
(The Lord said to good king Josiah:) “Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace” (2 Chronicles 34:28).
The notion of being gathered to his people or his fathers is a clear hint that all of us will, upon leaving this mortal world, come face to face with “our people,” our ancestors. The phrase “gathered to our fathers” is also a subtle hint that we should do something about that relationship while still here in mortality. The scriptures poignantly present to us the divine injunction to be about our Father’s business, and about our ancestors’ business-to know their names, and to know something of their lives. As we come to know them, we come to love them and appreciate them. Time spent getting acquainted with them is one way we honor them.
Borrowing some words from Isaiah, addressed to those who have “joined themselves to the Lord” and “taken hold of His covenant”:
“Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
“Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their . . . sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar” (Isaiah 56:5, 7, emphasis added).
I noticed that the Prophet Joseph Smith expressed the same idea as Isaiah-using similar words-in the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple:
“We ask thee, Holy Father, to establish the people that shall worship, and honorably hold a name and standing in this thy house, to all generations and for eternity” (D&C 109:24, emphasis added).
I want to be among those who remember the people who have laid the groundwork for my mortal life.