A talk I gave in our Sacrament Meeting on May 20, 2012.
On a cold February Morning in 1910, Vincenzo di Francesca found a copy of a book that appeared to be scripture, but contained names of people he had never heard before. However, the name of the book was burned from the cover, and the title page had been torn out of the book. Still his curiosity led him to clean the book and to study its contents for the entirety of that day.
At the end of the day, and after having read the book three times, Vincenzo knelt in prayer to put the promise of Moroni to the test. As he prayed, he felt a warm gladness come over him, and he knew that the book was true.
As a pastor in the protestant faith this made Vincenzo’s life very difficult. Knowing that it was true, he felt a great desire to share it with all he could. Ultimately, his testimony of the book had him censured by his fellow pastors. The committee advised him to burn the book with no known name, but Vincenzo said that he looked forward to the day when he knew the church that the book belonged to so that he could join it. This lead the committee to strip the rights of his position in the church and he was barred from preaching.
Eventually, he returned to Italy. In May of 1930 Vincenzo was searching through the dictionary, and accidentally came across the word “Mormon.” From this he learned about the Mormon Church, and sent a letter to the Brigham Young University in hopes of learning more. The letter was forwarded to President Heber J. Grant, who replied to Vincenzo with more information about the Church.
Two years later, arrangements had been made for Vincenzo to be baptized by the President of the European Missions, Elder John A. Widtsoe. But due to political unrest, Vincenzo was unable to make the appointment. Five years after that, in 1937, the new mission president, Elder Richard R Lyman wrote a letter to Vincenzo to come to Rome so that he could be baptized. But by the time the letter got to Vincenzo that appointed day had passed.
Due to the World War, Vincenzo was cut off from all communications with the Church. But in 1949, he started up the communication again. I will continue this story in Vincenzo’s own words: “On January 18, 1951, President [Samuel E.] Bringhurst arrived on the island and baptized me at Imerese. Apparently, this was the first baptism performed in Sicily.”
Vincezo continues, “When I came up out of the water, I said, ‘I have prayed daily for many years for this moment.’ As President Bringhurst and his wife left, I shook their hands tenderly and told them, ‘My dear Brother and Sister Bringhurst—you can hardly imagine how sweet those words brother and sister are to me. I say them with a feeling of affection and appreciation that I have never before experienced, for I know that you have led me through the door that will eventually bring me back to my Heavenly Father, if I am faithful.’”
This story has been one of my favorites. And for the longest time I believed that it was a story of one’s testimony of the Book of Mormon. And while it is that, it is also a parable for the important work we have before us today.
Forty-one years! That’s how long Vincenzo di Francesca had to wait before he was baptized. Forty-one years! He knew that the Book of Mormon was true in February of 1910. But it wasn’t until January of 1951 that he was able to participate in the blessing of Baptism.
Timothy Carter was born in the late 1700s. He married Sarah Kemp and became the father of 5 girls, Sarah, Caroline, Frances, Cordelia, and Julia. He loved his family dearly, and wanted nothing but the best for them. He felt blessed to live in Boston, Massachusetts.
Eventually time overtook him and his daughters and they were taken from this earth. He rejoiced as each of his precious daughters were reunited with he and his wife in the Spirit World. As the years passed in this post-mortal existence, Timothy and Sarah was taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. His daughters also learned of the atonement and the gospel. They had accepted the gospel and wanted so dearly to be baptized. However, he knew that for his work to be done, he needed a descendant to do that work.
He quietly whispered in the ears of his granddaughter Annie Baker to marry Ralph Rollo Grant. Finding Ralph to be a suitable man for marriage, she followed that prompting. Annie and Ralph eventually moved to Utah. Unfortunately, this was not enough to open the doors to baptism. So, Timothy and Sarah waited patiently.
Eventually, Annie’s grandson, Arthur Grant, married Virginia Buchannan, who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Timothy, Sarah and their 5 daughters rejoiced to think that they were so close to the day they had been praying for. But they were disappointed to see that marriage end in divorce. They again found themselves waiting for the blessing they so desired.
At the age of 19 Arthur and Virginia’s son, Richard, was baptized in the LDS Church. Again, Timothy and Sarah hoped that this was now the time for them to be baptized. And this lead the first of Timothy and Sarah’s daughters to baptism. They rejoiced when Cordelia was brought to the waters of baptism, for they knew that they would soon be next. But, the records weren’t available to show the connection between Timothy and Sarah, and the other sisters. Again they found themselves anxiously waiting.
In 2010, Travis Grant was perked by the request of a Stake President to do family history work. Travis had dabble in it before, but never had much time for it. However, with the new technology available today, Travis eventually found the connection between Cordelia and her parents, and a few of her sister. The family rejoiced at the new baptisms that were happening.
However, It wasn’t until 2011, that Travis was able to finally make the family whole. All the sisters, their husbands and the parents have been eternally sealed as a family.
While most of that story has been fictionalized, Timothy Carter and Sarah Kemp are my ancestors. They did have 5 daughters, and they have finally be sealed together as a family. Much of the rest is just my personal license. However, I believe that the spirit and intent of the message is true. A family in my line was seeking the gospel. I know that. I have felt it as I have done the work for this family. I know that they have accepted the gospel, and they rejoice in the ordinances that were performed for them.
Brothers and Sisters, we all have family out there hoping, praying waiting for us to help them come to the gospel. We just need to do the work. It has become much easier. The Church has made it easier with improvements to FamilySearch and to many of the tools we use to research our ancestors, record their information, and to perform ordinance work for them.
Elder Bednar in October 2011, reminded us that “as members of Christ’s restored Church, we have the covenant responsibility to search out our ancestors and provide for them the saving ordinances of the gospel.” He continues, “We are the Lord’s agents in the work of salvation and exaltation that will prevent ‘the whole earth [from being] smitten with a curse’ (D&C 110:15) when He returns again. This is our duty and great blessing.”
There are blessings associated with this work. Although he is specifically talking to the youth of the church, I believe that many of these blessings apply to all who will seek out their ancestors.
Elder Bednar promises that “As you respond in faith to this invitation, your hearts shall turn to the fathers. The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be implanted in your hearts. Your patriarchal blessing, with its declaration of lineage, will link you to these fathers and be more meaningful to you. Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives.”
There are many ways that you can get involved. One of the best ways is to start Indexing. This is a nice way to learn about the different things that are important to family history research. You can learn what a census is, what they look like, and why they are important. You can learn what information you can find in a birth certificate, death certificate, or marriage certificate. You can learn how to read a tax record or immigration record. All of these are important part of family history work. And it will help to lay a foundation for researching your own family.
Once you feel comfortable with the documents that you might be working with. Take some time to use the familysearch.org website. It is free. Soon, the 1940 census will be ready for us to search on the site. Most of us have met and relative who lived in 1940. I personally can’t wait to see my father (who was born in 1936) listed on the Census. I check on a daily basis to see if the Utah portion of the Census is available. As these records become available it will be easier for many of us to start.
If you don’t know where to start, don’t think that you must go to the “end of a line” to start. This is incorrect thinking. Start with yourself. I know that seems like you will be redoing a lot of other people work. But don’t think of it that way. Rather think of it as preparing to do a big job. You wouldn’t make and addition to your house without first laying a foundation. Studying the work that others have done is the foundation you will need to get started on family history.
Also, pray about it. Seek the spirit as you start this work. I know that it was through my listening to the promptings of the Spirit, that I was lead to Timothy and Sarah Carter. My eyes were opened to things that I couldn’t see. I continue to pray for guidance as I seek out new family members to bring to the temple. The hardest part is the listening and obeying. Because often we get ourselves stuck in a rut or a belief that we cannot succeed.
As a final word of advice, get your whole family involved. Tell them stories of their ancestors. Invite them to help you seek out new ancestors with you. Encourage them to index. Teach them the tools they need to be a good family history researcher. But also open your heart to learn from them.
Elder Bednar counsels us: “Parents and leaders, please help your children and youth to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah. But do not overly program this endeavor or provide too much detailed information or training. Invite young people to explore, to experiment, and to learn for themselves. Any young person can do what I am suggesting… Aaronic Priesthood quorum and Young Women class presidencies can play an important role in helping all youth become acquainted with these basic resources. Young people increasingly need to be learners who act and thereby receive additional light and knowledge by the power of the Holy Ghost—and not merely passive students who primarily are acted upon.”
I have been amazed by the things that my oldest daughters have helped me find as we worked together on Family History. Their hearts are open to this. Their minds are better capable for this task. As we work together, I rejoice to think that this is a work we all can and should be doing.
As I have prepared this talk I can’t help but think of a couple of my favorite missionary scriptures. The first is Doctrine and Covenants 4:4. “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;” As we do this saving work for our ancestors, we are also doing saving work for ourselves.
The second scripture that comes to mind is Doctrine and Covenants 18:15. “And if it so be that you should labor all your days,… and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” I am deeply touched by the words of Vincenzo di Francesca to President Bringhurst after he was baptized. “I know that you have led me through the door that will eventually bring me back to my Heavenly Father.”
As I have done the temple work for my ancestors. I have felt that phrase in my heart. I have felt the spirit testify to me, that my ancestors are saying, “I know that you have led me through the door that will eventually bring me back to my Heavenly Father.” You too can experience this joy, if you will labor in the vineyard. I humbly testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.