Latter-day Saint Life

Sister Nelson on the Angels and Miracles She’s Witnessed Doing Family History Work


When you hear the words family history, do you go into a coma? Believe me, until a few years ago, I could have matched my coma with yours any day.

It used to be that if I wanted to have a really good sleep, all I needed to do was to think about doing family history work. Just the prospect of doing it was better than ether!

But now, for me, there is not a faster way to have the heavens open than to pray to be led to those who live on the other side of the veil who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ and are eager to make covenants with God and receive their essential ordinances.

After years, even decades, of carting boxes of family history materials to one apartment or condo after another, in December 2012 I was finally ready to take the plunge into family history research in an entirely different way. The impetus for me was a message by Elder Richard G. Scott in his October 2012 general conference address, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead.” 

When Elder Scott spoke, it felt as though he was speaking directly to me and allowing 15 million others to listen in. At the end of his talk, when he said, “What about you? Have you prayed about your own ancestors’ work?” I heard it as, “What about you, Wendy? Have you prayed about your ancestors’ work?”

No, I hadn’t. And I hadn’t even thought about doing so. The thing I had done the very most about my ancestors was to feel guilty. I had done a lot of that!

But on this December morning in 2012, I was ready to do more than feel guilty. I was ready to do more than attempt to “organize” the family history records my grandmother had bequeathed to me. I was ready to have the heavens open to help me find my ancestors. As my husband and I read the Book of Mormon that morning, I noticed several mentions of the word durst.

Durst. The word stirred something in me. That word is used eighteen times in the book of Alma. At the time it seemed far more than 18 times. It felt like durst was every other word. And every time my husband and I would read the word durst, I had the same unusual feeling.

A few days later, I happened to open an old notebook of my grandmother’s containing genealogical information in her own handwriting. The first name I saw was that of Kathryn Durst!

I wasn’t sure what to do with that name, but I was ready to find out. To say I was a beginner would be an understatement. The first time I opened the FamilySearch website and, with a friend on the other end of the phone coaching me, tried to learn how to use it, it was a disaster. At one point I said, “At this moment my computer screen doesn’t look like anything you are describing.” I thanked her, hung up, and fell to my knees and pled: “I don’t know how to do any of this. If this is important, please help me.”

That prayer was the first small step in opening the heavens for me with regard to family history research. Little by little, as I began to understand some of the basics of the FamilySearch website, I also began to experience what Elder Scott taught when he said that family history is “a monumental effort of cooperation on both sides of the veil, where help is given in both directions.”

Over and over again during the first few years, I was amazed to just “happen” to meet a person who could help me learn more about how to research names more productively. And I never take it for granted when, seemingly out of the blue, I find a piece of information I need. 

There is no doubt in my mind that angels from both sides of the veil are assigned to help us with this work and that we are rarely, if ever, alone in our efforts to find family names and prepare them for sacred temple ordinances.

So, what do we need so we can do our part in family history work? What is it that we don’t understand?

The first step is to ask. Ask. Ask. Ask. Pray. Pray. Pray. And then follow each and every prompting. I have learned that my family history research goes better when I kneel and begin with prayer.

Many involved in family history research have come to believe, as I do, that our ancestors know where their own records are and that they will help us find those records.

Let me share just two such experiences, as I recorded them.

“March 20, 2016: Day of Provo City Center Temple dedication. “Record of William Townley on top of pile of papers on my desk by computer. I had not put it there. “Opened to ‘Person’ on FamilySearch and it opened right to him! I had not been working there. “I looked to see why William Townley was so eager for me to find him. “Answer: several of his children—three, actually— had been overlooked. They needed their ordinances completed.”

A few days later, still in March 2016, I recorded the following regarding a different man whose first name was also William:

“William Henry Thompson: There were four choices for a wife that fit with his name and the time he lived and even the location where he lived. “I was confused and said out loud: ‘You’re going to have to help me.’ Suddenly, the computer screen showed his marriage record. It was not there before. I had scrolled through all the offerings that had given—several pages—and I had never been able to find his marriage record. And now—here it was.”

Those who have never felt the opening of heaven that doing family history research can bring may doubt—even scoff at—these experiences. I can only attest that these kinds of discoveries happen again and again. Because of one experience after another, I have come to believe that making a sacrifice of time to the Lord by doing family history research can open the heavens for you.

Here is another family history research note I made:

“April 1, 2019 “In six years of doing family history research, I found one person born in Italy—a man who married a young woman from the United States of America. “Now, since the Rome Italy Temple dedication [March 2019], I can’t work fast enough or long enough to keep up with the records I am finding for those born in Italy! I have found many—at least one hundred in just a few days—and I don’t know how I even got on that limb of our family tree. I can feel that they are excited. They had been sitting there—just waiting, more like longing, for someone to find their information and do their ordinance work.”

There is always an urgency associated with this work. That is what I feel when I am spiritually in tune with heaven. It is exactly as Elder Scott said, “This is a spiritual work.”

However, since the dedication of the temple in Rome, something new has been added to that feeling of urgency. I would almost call it a clamoring. This is a new experience for me. (Perhaps it is many expressive, energetic Italians rejoicing on the other side of the veil.) As one ordinance worker said to me in the temple at the completion of an ordinance: “Oh, there is going to be dancing in heaven tonight!”

So, if you are wondering if your prayers are heard, if you are longing for the heavens to open for you, may I suggest that you commence your family history research efforts with a prayer to be led to those who are ready to make covenants and receive their ordinances? And then, in an exercise of faith, expect for spiritual adventures to follow. It is my experience that family history research will make any extreme sport or high adventure activity pale in comparison.

Family history research, which involves working with the heavens, lifts me, strengthens me, puts other things in my life into perspective for me, increases my ability to be guided by the Spirit, and brings me personal revelation and such joy! And all of those things help me to be a better wife and help our home to be a place of refuge, rejuvenation, and revelation.

Here’s one more notation from my family history research journal. It demonstrates just how eager our ancestors are for their work to be completed:

“I just found this man. It’s his birthday today. September 29. “But what is more exciting and points out just how invested he was in my finding him—is that it was exactly 110 years ago today that he was born!! So literally today is the first day that he qualifies for proxy baptism.”

Oh, yes indeed, our ancestors want their work done!

Prayer and family history research open the heavens for me. In fact, I have learned to keep a pad of paper beside me as I’m working on family history to record ideas that flow into my mind and heart to help me in other areas of my life. I testify that the same blessing can come to you as you work to find your ancestors. The heavens will open!

Lead image from the Church News

Read more from Sister Nelson in The Heavens Are Open.

God speaks to His prophet on the earth today. And He will speak to you, too.

That is the powerful testimony of Sister Wendy W. Nelson, wife of President Russell M. Nelson, as she shares her personal witness of truths that will increase our capacity to receive and act on revelation from the heavens. In this volume, she offers a number of ideas for things we can do—and stop doing—in order to understand the Spirit’s direction more clearly.

“All I have witnessed, all I have experienced tells me that our Father wants to communicate with each one of His children and will do so commensurate with our desire and earnest seeking,” writes Sister Nelson. This remarkable book will help readers learn how to open that door.

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