“After my Grandpa Leo Johnson passed away, a friend of ours did some research on my family history,” says Johnson. His grandparents had joined the Church when he was young. They were sealed in the temple, but no further temple work had been done on the Johnson side of the family.
That friend sent Johnson’s dad an invitation to view the Johnson family tree on Ancestry.com. The names and stories that unfolded there were at first familiar, but as the family line continued back in time, there were new discoveries for Johnson and his family.
Johnson’s great-great-grandfather was named Osby, and his parents were Abraham and Mariah Johnson—Johnson’s third-great grandparents. Then the Johnson surname took a sideways step out of the family. “I learned that Abraham and Mariah had been slaves,” says Johnson. “Eventually they were freed [after the Civil War], but it looks like they kept the last name of their ‘owners.’”
Documents on Ancestry.com show that young Osby only went to school through the fourth grade, but he could read and write. This was progress for his family; it would have been illegal for his parents to be educated as slaves. History feels “more personal now,” Johnson says. “My family was there, and they made it through [the Civil War].”
Even more meaningful l for Johnson was the opportunity to be baptized for his ancestors that he found through his own genealogy work. “It felt really cool to know that I’m bringing my family together on the other side,” he says. Being baptized for his own relatives rather than strangers was a welcome feeling to him. “The Spirit is so much stronger because you’re helping your family, and there’s no greater thing in the world.”
So what’s next? “We’ve gotten the awareness and exposure we’re looking for,” says Reed. FamilySearch will continue to make more historical records, how-tos, and technology tools available. “We’re trying to enable as many members as possible to find their own ancestors to take their names to the temple—and to teach others to do the same. We’ve got a billion names already. But that’s just a start when you consider all the people who have ever lived. We have about 26 billion more names to go.”
This article originally appeared in the May/June Issue of LDS Living Magazine. Read more by picking up your copy in any Deseret Book store or on deseretbook.com.