Why a Food Network champion who grew up in foster care fell in love with family history

All In guests photo collage.
Photo collage of various podcast guests. Top left, Tarsha Joyner, top right, Zeke Hernandez, bottom left, Danny Ainge, bottom right, Emma Nissen.

Tarsha Joyner didn’t grow up with a stable family life. In fact, she says the thing that gave her a vision of a happy family was The Cosby Show.

“That’s very ironic now, isn’t it?” she asks with a smile. “But I would sit and watch The Cosby Show and look at their life and think, ‘Oh my gosh, that would be so awesome to have brothers and sisters like that and a mom and a dad that actually cared about what was going on in my life, to actually have a home’ … because we didn’t have any of that.”

Tarsha would go on to create the kind of family she once only dreamed of having. She now tells others in similar situations to the one she grew up in that while they are not in control of their lives at the present, “this is practice for when you do. And the choices you make at this stage of your life are going to be reflected in the choices you make later. So, make good choices now so you don’t have to worry about trying to make good choices later. You’ll have practiced at this point in your life so that when you have actual full control of everything, you’re taking yourself in the right direction.”

Today, Tarsha is a wife and a mother. Her family owns a bake shop, Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats, in Lynchburg, Virginia, and she has been featured multiple times on baking competitions on Food Network. She has also found great joy in understanding where she came from.

Listen to Tarsha’s full episode in the player below or by clicking here. You can also read a full transcript here.

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.

Morgan Jones Pearson: You have a passion, Tarsha, for family history, which I love because I think, you know, we don’t often think of somebody that grew up in foster care as somebody that would be passionate about family history. So why is it so important to you? And why is it important for us to know where we come from?

Tarsha Joyner: Well, it’s important to me because I didn’t grow up with a family and I didn’t have people around me that had all of this information to tell me about where I’m from. So discovering it as an adult is that much more important. I think that this season in my life is when it needed to happen because when I was in my 20s, and 30s, none of that stuff was important to me. When I got called in the stake Relief Society presidency to be over temples and family history, I felt so inadequate. I’m like, “I don’t even do family history. How am I supposed to be that person?” I was like, “Okay, God, if that’s what you think, I’m going to go on and do this but I think you’re making a mistake. For the first time in history, you’re making a mistake.”

Well, let me tell you, I had to prepare for a conference where we were supposed to be teaching other people about this app that I actually do love—the ancestry app and Family Search. I love it. But I wasn’t doing all that I should have been doing. But I’m a tech geek. I love technology. So I was the perfect person to teach people about the technology of it. I’m just not the best person to say, “I’ve done my history all the way back to Adam.” That is so not true. But I did learn about my grandmother. And it might seem a foreign concept to some people to say, “Well of course you know who your grandmother is.” Well, I didn’t. I knew my mother’s mother, because she lived in the projects on the other side in the same projects that we lived in. But my father’s mother I never met. And I didn’t understand that whole side of the family. I knew that my grandfather was an alcoholic. And I would go see him at the bus station downtown in Rocky Mount, he would give me a few dollars, and I’d go buy candy. And that was our relationship. Well, I didn’t understand why he was an alcoholic until I did this family history. And what I learned about my grandmother, his wife, was that she had several children that died shortly after they were born. Now, I don’t know if that was the lack of care that they got in those segregated hospitals. I don’t know if it was an issue with her health, I don’t know. But she had three children that lived. And she had about five children that didn’t. And after the last child, she [my grandmother] died.

Now can you imagine being in the segregated South, your wife dies after giving birth to five children and they die and you have three small children that you have to raise on your own? You know, it’s depressing, right? And there were no therapies like there are now. You just don’t get on the internet and go to therapy back then. You just had to deal, and I think that his way of dealing with it was with alcohol. It made me see a different side of him. And it made me feel this tender connection to my grandmother whomt I’d never met. I didn’t even know what her name was. I didn’t know it until I went through Family Search.

Morgan Jones Pearson: And Tarsha being a member of the church and understanding the way that you know, temples work and temple sealings. Why does that all matter?

Tarsha Joyner: Because I know that we have work that we need to get done. Heavenly Father has commanded us to do it. And it will get done whether we help or not. I don’t want to meet Him saying, “Well, I wanted to, but I was crushing some candy,” which I do quite a bit of. But I don’t want Him to look at me and say “You had all of this time, all of this knowledge, that you could have been doing family history, and you chose to do nothing. You chose to be selfish.” Because there’s going to be a day of reckoning. And I don’t want to stand in front of Him ashamed of that time.

I’m not saying that every second of my time is spent doing something productive because God already knows. But He knows that I do make an effort to do some of the things He’s asked me to do. I can’t get it all done, or else I’d be wandering around like a crazy woman because I’m trying to be perfect. And I’m trying to be like Jesus but I’m so far from perfect, and I’m okay with that. It’s okay to not be perfect. You know what I’m saying? It’s not okay to not try to be because we’re supposed to try to be like the Savior, and He was perfect. So we’re supposed to try to be perfect. But there’s no point in walking around like you are...And you know, sometimes I get it done. And sometimes I don’t. But when I do, when I make that least little bit of effort, it gets magnified so greatly that it’s worth it, that little bit of time that’s spent.

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