I remember driving Grandpa Goddard up Emigration Canyon to home teach the Ramseyer family. I was a glib 16 and he was a mature 85 years old. Every month we went to visit the Ramseyers, and it seemed that every month he told the same stories from his mission to Germany. I would sigh and the Ramseyers would nod patiently.
Because I was just a dumb kid, I didn’t pay much attention to Grandpa’s stories. I wasn’t interested. Now I can’t remember any of them. And I am old enough to wish I knew much more about my grandfather—as an esteemed scholar, a Church leader, a respected professional, a committed family man, and a fine Latter-day Saint. I would now give anything to hear Grandpa tell those stories one more time.
I think there is a reason that the whole earth will be smitten at the Lord’s coming if we have not bound our hearts to those of our ancestors. We need our ancestors. They are our connection to heaven and history.
Let’s jump from our provincial, earthly perspective to the heavenly perspective for a minute. Imagine that you have passed to the other side of the veil and are looking down on earth on your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. What is your attitude toward them? Would you beg Heavenly Father to allow you to look after them, sending messages of encouragement and inspiration for living? Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to help your descendants in their mortal journeys?
When I depart this world, I will be asking the heavenly scheduler to let me look after my grandson Ian to be sure he is happy and hopeful and to look after Eliza to connect her with good people and uplifting experiences. I want to be sure that Sam is growing and Anna Claire feels safe and loved. I will be looking after every beloved child, grandchild, and great-grandchild with more power and wisdom than I ever had on earth. You can see why we should turn our hearts towards those heavenly beings who are looking after us.
Our ancestors are in heaven looking down on us and wanting to help us with every challenge we face. They are our heaven-assigned ministers. Just because we don’t know them yet, doesn’t mean they don’t know us. They are deeply invested in our lives and want to uphold and strengthen us as we make our journeys through life. As we connect with them, we draw heavenly power into our lives. When we make them a part of our lives, we live more joyously and purposefully.
So, I am repenting of my youthful disinterest in my grandfather’s life. Over the last few weeks, I have been typing every word of J. Percy Goddard’s missionary journal into my computer. I hope I can find the stories that were so important to him—the stories that I once dismissed. I hunger to have them back. I want to connect with Grandpa!
We may think of family history as something both mysterious and tedious. Until we do it. When we start connecting with ancestors, we find deep personal satisfaction and great excitement. There is hardly anything more rewarding.
All of this connecting starts closer to home than we might imagine. Family history starts with keeping some kind of record of our own lives. As we make a record and review it, we will see God’s participation in our lives. Family history also includes being curious about the people we think we know. Do we ever ask our own parents, “What are the five most important things you have learned in your life?” “Who are the people who changed your life?” As we take an interest in the people who gave us life, we learn more about their hearts. Then we can ask questions about grandparents and great-grandparents. We can ask to see pictures and hear stories. Our hearts will be tied to those who came before us, and whole new vistas will open for us as we climb the family tree.
When I was a young adult, I started to ask a few questions about our ancestors. I remember interviewing Aunt Ruth with whom Grandpa Goddard lived the last years of his life. She lit up as she talked about her father. I was starting to get the bug. Then, years later, Aunt Ruth asked me if I would like a dusty old box of Grandpa’s papers. It had sat in her basement for decades. No one had opened it. No one cared about it.
I took the box home and started to sort through it. There were old, dusty newspapers that had no obvious connection to the family. There were business letters and Church correspondence. I sorted them into piles. Every once in a while I found a treasure. I found a poem that Grandpa had written to Grandma. I found letters and pictures. As I found more treasures, it became more engaging than watching Nicolas Cage in National Treasure.
Then the greatest treasures! I found letters from my great-grandpa to his teen son at home while he was serving a mission to New Zealand. Imagine holding letters from the 1890’s between two admired ancestors! The letters invited me into their lives, their concerns, their goodness, and their love. Grandpa is now a vital part of my life.
In the thirty years since Aunt Ruth gave me that box of dusty papers, I have also become best friends with my great-grandfather. I have come to know and love my Grandma Goddard who died when I was a baby. I have come to cherish every object that was passed on to me—including Grandma Wallace’s cookie jar, a vase from my great grandmother, and an opal tie-tack from my grandfather. I feel surrounded and protected by their love.
I have learned more compassion as I discovered some of my ancestors’ mistakes and limitations. If we don’t condemn them for their imperfections, but instead give thanks to God, we may learn from their mistakes and be wiser than we would otherwise be. (See Mormon 9:31)
The formula for connecting with ancestors is surprisingly simple. The blessings are highly predictable. Are you interesting in finding more meaning and connection in your life? Here are a few ideas to help you.
1. Turn toward your ancestors. Be open to being taught and blessed by them.
2. Ask questions. Ask relatives what they know about your ancestors and their stories. Ask about their papers and keepsakes.
3. Check Family Search. If you don’t already have an account, open one and enter what you know about your ancestors. It will connect you with a world of relatives.
4. Do those things you feel directed to do. You may feel drawn toward one ancestor or another and you may feel directed to do one thing or another. As you follow impressions, you will bind your heart to your ancestors. The blessings don’t come without making an effort, but when the blessings come, they are in vast disproportion to our meager efforts.
5. Using your talents, share with family members. You may create a display in your home or write stories about ancestors’ experiences. Step by step you will be led to the next things you should do.
As you do these things, you will be creating eternal bonds. You will be binding hearts. You will feel joy.
In future articles, I will share ideas about gathering, organizing, and sharing the treasures of your family story. I hope you will join me on this joyous journey of binding and healing hearts.
Thanks to Annie Foster for her insightful contributions to this article.