“Whereas the study of family history gives individuals a sense of their heritage and a sense of responsibility in carrying out a legacy that their ancestors began . . .”1
How Family History Month Came to Be
On September 26, 2001, Senator Orrin Hatch introduced the “Senate Resolution 160 in 107th Congress (2001-2002)” designating the month of October 2001, as “Family History Month”. The Senate unanimously passed Hatch’s resolution. Take a moment to read some of the thoughts and words this resolution empathizes.
The Importance of Family History & Temples
In 2018, President Russell M. Nelson declared, “To help gather Israel on both sides of the veil is the greatest challenge, the greatest cause, and the greatest work on earth today.”2 This statement refers to the work of Salvation – missionary work and temple & family history work.
Elder David A. Bednar explained, “Missionary and temple and family history work are complementary and interrelated aspects of one great work that focuses upon the sacred covenants and ordinances that enable us to receive the power of godliness in our lives and, ultimately, return to the presence of Heavenly Father.”3
Elder Bednar also explained that, “Our purpose in building temples is to make available the holy places wherein the sacred covenants and ordinances necessary for the salvation and exaltation of the human family can be administered, for both the living and the dead.”4
Today, President Nelson continues to emphasize the importance of the connection between family history work and the temple as shown in the following statement from this past General Conference. “The ultimate objective of the gathering of Israel is to bring the blessings of the temple to God’s faithful children.”5
The Importance of Sharing Family Stories
Author Bruce Feiler’s New York Times article entitled “The Stories That Bind Us,” published March 17, 2013, revealed research showing shared family stories created resiliency in children and added to their ability to deal with stress. He stated, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”
Bruce Feiler continued, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned . . . The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”6
Sharing Stories Connect Generations
Rocking side by side my Great-grandma Osceola Henderson on her porch overlooking her side yard, garden, and apple tree, I listened to her recall stories of past lives. Being three generations and over 75 years apart, Great-grandma’s storytelling drew me closer to her and my ancestors. This bond between us has never faded.
Having asked Great-grandma Henderson about the two of her thirteen children I never met, Roxie, who died at 10 months old, and Ernest, who died at the age of 15, brought a look of deep reflection in her blue-gray eyes.
“Roxie was a beautiful baby. She was a good baby. She never cried. Roxie fell down the steps when she was ten months old. I was rocking her in my arms when she died.”
“Ernest went hunting with his cousin. He leaned his gun against the stone fence. As he was crossing over, the gun began to fall. It fired as it fell, and the shot hit him in the head.”
Though these tales may have been tough for my Great-grandma to recount, I knew of her fortitude without her explaining it even though I was a young child at the time. It dawned on me later how she bridged the gap between seemingly far off generations. Osceola Ferguson, (Henderson being her married surname), was born in 1884. She knew her parents, aunts & uncles, and her grandfather, James Ferguson, who was born in 1819 and died in 1908. So, today, the 200-year span between my Great-great-great-grandfather, James Ferguson (my 6th generation), and me, seems within my reach. Firsthand accounts of who he was, not just photos and projected descriptions, were recounted.
We can do this very same thing for our posterity. Some “ancestors” of our posterity, are those we knew and know, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents, siblings, and even children. Whether through conversations, written accounts, audio, or video; these precious memories can be captured.
Ben, who was a second cousin to my children, has many nieces and nephews. Many of these young people have never met their Uncle Ben. In 2012 at the age of 32, Ben died climbing the Palcaraju Peak in the Cordillera Blanca Mountain range in northern Peru. I knew him, and I bet all his nieces and nephews will come to know him, too; for Ben’s parents and family continue to keep the memory of him alive by retelling his tales, showing his pictures, and most importantly, expressing their great love for him.
John’s Journey of Gathering and Preserving Information
My neighbor John didn’t know much about his family’s ancestry even though his parents and one of his grandparents were still living. His parents were immigrants from Africa and were reluctant to talk about their past. Knowing I was actively engaged in genealogy work, John reached out for guidance.
First, since John was quite skilled on a computer, I recommended programs he could use to capture the information collected, and suggested online databases which could interface with those applications such as FamilySearch.org and ancestry.com. Immediately, John created an account on FamilySearch.org and began inputting (very quickly, I might add), what he knew. I guided him during this process by explaining the specifics of why and how to correctly add full names (maiden names for his maternal lines), dates and places of births, marriages, deaths, and immigration.
Once John finished what he knew, I suggested he contact his living relatives and ask for the missing information, specific details, and if documents, pictures, or written histories existed. John took action right then and there. He called his father, and he spoke with his grandmother. While he had them on the phone, he made arrangements to meet with them.
In the meantime, John recorded the new information gained from the conversations; then we began researching online. Online, we unearthed specific documentation of his family! John had firmly placed his “feet” on the pathway of discovery, connection, and preservation.
Celebrating Family History
As you consider what you can do to celebrate Family History Month, check out the activities and resources below. They may help you take the first step in your journey of discovery and connection with your ancestors or encourage you to continue moving forward; or perhaps give you ideas on how to share what you already know.
Beginning Your Family History Journey
Research & Preservation
- Senator Orrin G. Hatch. September 12, 2001. S.Res 160 – A resolution designating the month of October 2001, as “Family History Month”. 107th Congress. United States Government. www.congress.gov.
- Russell M. Nelson and Wendy W. Nelson. June 3, 2018. “Hope of Israel” [Speech for worldwide youth devotional in written format]. Church of Jesus Christ. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/.
- David A. Bednar. 2 October 2021. “With the Power of God in Great Glory” [Speech audio & written recording] Church of Jesus Christ. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/
- David A. Bednar. “With the Power of God in Great Glory”. ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
- Russell M. Nelson. October 3, 2021. “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation” [Speech audio & written recording] Church of Jesus Christ. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/.
- Bruce Feiler. March 17, 2013. “The Stories That Bind Us”. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/.