“It remains the responsibility of each individual to know his kindred dead. … Even if the [temple] work is done, then it is still each person’s responsibility to study and become acquainted with his ancestors.” President Joseph Fielding Smith quoted in Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894–1994 (1995), 184.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately. We talk a lot, in the church, of it being our responsibility to do the temple work for our ancestors, and what great importance that is. And don't get me wrong, I fully support that.
But I hear so many people use the excuse that "all my work's been done" but there's just something they're missing.
Ok, I've been guilty of similar, I spend much more time on everyone else's work than on mine own because mine has way too many people working on it and it's a big overwhelmingly jumbled mess, but maybe that's why I've been thinking about that "something else" that other reason why we do family history, to get to know our ancestors (and in many ways, ourselves).
One of my favorite songs is "Guardian Angels" by The Judds. They originally released the tune in 1989, but it was nearly 10 years later when I heard it for the first time. I can still tell you the exact spot I was at when it came on the radio, before it was done I was headed to the music store to get my own copy.
I'll let you google the lyrics if you want them, but basically it talks about her great grandparents, who she knows well "from the stories my dear gma tells." It of course refers to them as her guardian angels and tells how when she's going through tough times, they are with her, encouraging her along.
At the time, I too was going through a difficult time in my life, and as I heard those words, somehow I knew it was true, that my own paternal grandparents, both deceased from my childhood, were there with me, watching over me, and trying to help me along.
I was blessed to have many more years with maternal grandparents, so I know them even better personally. Since Gpa died 6 months ago, I can't even begin to tell you the number of times I've felt him with me.
Often times it's in humorous ways, like on Memorial Day when I was cleaning out gma's flower bed and found his garden decor skunk, long forgotten, hidden behind a tree that's now much larger than it had been when the decor was placed there. I couldn't tell what it was at first so I jumped back a bit, expecting a live animal to come running out at me, and I could hear Gpa laughing that after all these years, he'd made me jump again.
Or like the other day, when I walked outside Gma's house after a monsoon and found that a very large redwood plank had floated down the ditch and stopped right in front of Gma's house. Gma said Gpa did it so I'd know he wasn't lying about all the things he'd found "floating down the ditch." But I'm still convinced that very few of those items were really found there.
Sometimes it borders on frustration, like when I went to take an electric hedge trimmer to some of his beautiful roses. I knew he'd be rolling over in his grave, and sure enough, would you believe, my hedge trimmer wouldn't cut through a single thing until Gpa and I had a "talkin' to." I assured him that I knew this was not the way he'd want it done but with everything else I had to do, if this was going to get done at all, it had to be done this way. Once that was settled, would you believe the trimmer actually worked better than it ever has! I'm always pulling the cord out a dozen times when I try to use that thing, but it didn't come out a single time while doing gpa's roses.
But most the time, it's just that strong, gentle hand of his that I feel, giving me silent encouragement and the strength to do what's necessary day by day.
I have no doubt that I have many ancestors who take their turn as my guardian angels. But it's my grandparents that I know best, so it's my grandparents that I can recognize as being with me.
So what if I knew my other ancestors better?
I know that I get my handshake from my Gpa Taylor, and when those hands refuse to be idle, that comes from Gma Taylor, My sweet tooth from Gpa Shields, and my love of reading, well that's been passed down at least from my mom and Gma Shields. But recently I learned that my Great-Gma Nielsen had a love of plants and gardening, and had quite the green thumb. So now I can't plant without thinking about her and wondering about her (wishing I could 'channel' her wisdom).
I'm fully aware that gardening is the most common hobby in the United States, so statistically, it shouldn't be all that hard to find someone that shares that trait, even in your ancestry. Still, there is something empowering in knowing someone you descended from had that same interest/skill.
So while I would never want to challenge a prophet or change his words, I must say "responsibility...to know their kindred dead" almost seems to harsh. I would say it's the JOY of every individual to know their kindred dead.
Have you researched an ancestor today?