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Hearts Turn

By Brooke Benton

This morning the texts are flying back and forth like a frenetic game of ping-pong. I wish I were there. I can imagine the scene if it was 20 years ago, and my parents would have let us miss school for the day and we’d be snuggled up to cocoa in paper cups and those long Styrofoam packages of pancakes from McDonalds, sitting on a curb on Market, excitement warding off the chill from San Francisco fog.

But today I am in Utah, wearing woolen socks and wondering what to make for dinner, what needs rescue from the deep freeze. My little brother though? He flew up from L.A for the day; he is there. Waiting for the victory parade of the San Francisco Giants to begin in a few hours. He is there to cheer on his team, our team—to foil each of those memories we have of sitting late nights at Candlestick, cold, hopeful, loyal; or summer afternoons, hot and sprawled out in the bleachers, the sun burning our thighs, my patience wearing thin seven innings into the second game of a double header, and no runs on the board.

The stories of my childhood are golden to me, and precious. (I can’t even think about baseball this morning without an ache swelling in my throat!) I find I am nostalgic about even the most prosaic moment, or amused by what once seemed such a teenage tragedy. I find myself turning back to these stories, my own stories: my childhood, my children’s babyhood, and sometimes even to the upbringing of my own parents, often. But beyond that? I’ve yet to find an interest.

Is it a matter of being self-centered? I do realize the world and my family existed long before I came into this body, but somehow I feel separate from the splotches and splatters—names and dates, letters and numbers—of a time that I can’t fathom, but appear on the family tree anyway.

Sure I have my brief musings over “Rose Bonacci” and how it is that she came to raise my mother as a child, and how she lovingly called her Glory. And I feel a tug in my heart when I see the fuzzy photographs of little Glory as a toddler, her overalls prim, her hair blunt. But I don’t seek anything beyond it being what it was. I don’t frantically dig, I don’t fill out a card, I don’t do anything to ensure that the proper temple work is done…

(And everyone tells me this is a waste. ‘Cause I kinda go to the temple a lot.)

I want it though. I want an awakening, I want my heart open, turning, flip-flopping between then and now and ever wondering if I am this way because of so-and-so, or if my feelings match those of a distant uncle, a cousin… People I do not know at all, or know intimately without realizing.

But how does it start? Does it really start with fuzzy records? Is that why it’s fun? The mystery? And then what? I see the old census, yellow even on my bright computer screen, but then the deciphering seems too difficult and I’m immediately weary and certain that the work is probably done anyway, so….

(I’m shrugging.)

What compels you to do your genealogy? Has your heart turned? Why? How?

About Brooke Benton

(Blog Team) is attempting inner om with this writing stuff. Proud to claim four loud children, a patient husband and a fat black cat as family, she feels blessed to be their mommy-- their giver of kisses and baker of cookies. She is ever seeking a good novel and wishing for the sand between her toes, palm trees, the ocean.

16 thoughts on “Hearts Turn”

  1. I have always been fascinated by my family history. I love the old stories. I like knowing why people did things and how their choices influenced my life. I love learning my family legacies – traditions and convictions which stretch centuries past. This love is a gift I've been given, and with it I've been given the charge to seek out my ancestors. I love it.

    Though it frustrates me to no end the shoddy, undocumented research of others before me. My paternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather did an excellent job noting their research. Others, however, have left a legacy of names without verification. With more modern research tools at my disposal, I have found many errors and false assumptions made by my researching predecessors. So, for now, I'm focused on the 1850 to 1940 portion of my family history and attempting to create a solid, verifiable history of my family. It doesn't have the adventure of finding a "new" name, but I am always amused by the newspapers of the times.

    When Elijah speaks of turning hearts, he is indicating both children to their fathers and fathers to their children. Your love for your children, their history, their stories is very much in line with that. Keeping your current family record is a form of genealogy – and a necessary one so people like me don't have to fret over third-hand information!

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  2. We visited Western NY from Utah last summer. Everywhere we went, the theme seemed to be water: glorious downpours of rain, beautiful water-drenched Palmyra after the rain, Niagara Falls, the Erie Canal. I grew up in the Mojave Desert, and my children are growing up in Utah, where water comes drop by drop, or from far away, but our heritage (for half a dozen generations) is deluges of water. It was so glorious to see all that beauty and claim it for me and mine!

    So, yeah, responding to the actual question: find the good stuff, and embrace it!

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  3. I think it's a lot like visiting teaching–when they're just a name on a list and a duty, you don't love it. But when you know the person, you love them. Make the pedigree chart come alive–find a story about an ancestor, a photo, connect them with their historical context. Do some math with the dates and figure out how old they were when their three toddlers all died. Once they're a real person to you and not just a name, you will love them. And then you're hooked 🙂

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  4. I am a family history maniac. I love, love, love it. But I haven't always. For me, it started as wanting to tell my grandmother's story, who I dearly loved and missed. I wrote a small book about her for my family, and then my obsession built. To me, family history has three parts: writing family stories, preserving photos, and compiling temple names. My family history obsession built in that order. It built from one little writing goal into somethimg that now keeps me up until 2 AM hunting on Ancestry.com. (And I would definitely recommend starting there… it's SO EASY to build your family tree. They hunt through the Census records for you and serve it up on a platter. I hate yellowed Census records too!)

    Loving to write like I do, I couldn't resist writing about my family history obsession and how it started. If you're interested, it's here: http://butcanshewrite.blogspot.com/2009/11/obsession.html

    Not everyone loves the hunt, but the outcome is sure a lot of fun… knowing where you came from and what makes you you.

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  5. Disclaimer: I'm only 21 and haven't done much family history work myself.
    But I have done some. And the thing that brings me the most excitement is stumbling upon things that no one knows. No one living today knows this thing that I just came across and now I KNOW IT! I've been let in on the secret!

    That's the cool thing.
    Like you said, it's the mystery.

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  6. I have seen the genealogy-obsessed relatives in my family as they pore over old records and pictures. I myself don't get it either. It is a running joke in my family that one relative who puts together many genealogy books for extended family is quite "creative" with the facts, not wanting to air any family laundry that isn't snowy white. The sad fact is that there is so much dysfunction and pain in my extended family, it doesn't seem hardly worth it to investigate more misery and heartache. Our dysfunction seems to go way back. I prefer to focus on my little circle and to do all I can to prevent the abusive cycle that has permeated so much of our genealogy.

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  7. I like what Anita said, once you connect the dots, thinking about the reality of their lives, 'likening it to yourself' it comes alive. When I noticed that my grandmother was born only 7 months after the marriage of her parents I looked at those seemingly dour old people a lot differently 😉

    Several of the places I have moved ended up being connected to my family history. First Indiana, where I found a direct link with the man who settled the township where Notre Dame university is located. Now, living in PA, I find out that we have PA German roots, ancestors buried in Lancaster so long ago that the headstones are worn beyond recognition. I look at the Amish a little different now, wondering if we have a bit of the same blood in our veins as I pass their carriage at 60 mph in my heated mini van.

    FYI: The church is working on the technological side of family history all the time! They have a new site that merges many of the records at
    https://beta.familysearch.org
    Using technology makes the beginning of family history so exciting, because you can find info immediately. But like JtG pointed out, it needs to be backed up by real records (birth and death certificates, etc.).

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  8. To everything there is a season. When I was a young mother it was the season for enjoying the old people and nurturing and teaching the young people. Now that I am old it's a time for enjoying the young people and learning from the experiences (both admirable and not so admirable) of the older ones who are gone.

    When it's time, it will call you. Don't beat yourself up about it. Doing it out of obligation before it's time makes you susceptible to antipathy which will trip you up later on. Do keep the door open so that when interesting bits are available, they can enter and you can organize and tuck them away for when you are ready. When it's time for your immersion in it, it will call you and it will be sweet.

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  9. I love to find a name. Out of the blue I will log on to Ancestry and start plugging in the names and dates again and this time I see something I didn't see last time and I think, could it be? It's like playing suduko except real people are waiting for me to put them together. I am so excited when I find one of them. For my family just 2 generations back they are all lost. There is no one to give me information. They are all gone, so I search the Ellis Island records for hints about who they were laborors, merchants, spouses, mothers and children. I imagine their journeys across the Atlantic. Were the waters rough? Were they scared? Were people nice to them? Who were their family members in far off lands? I find little clues in draft cards, in census records and on ship logs. They call me from the other side. I am the only one looking for them and they help me find clues. I feel so close to each one. They are my eternal family. They love me like I will love my children's, children's, children. So I keep hunting for clues.

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  10. I was born to love family history. I ached to know those people and what to do for them. Once I started with my soon to be mother in law…I couldn’t get enough. I went every other Wednesday to the library and worked on names and did temple work. I longed for the day I would live in SLC so I could go any time I wanted. Well here I am 9 years later. I have been once in the 5 months I have lived here.
    Wait…
    I think my light went out??
    What happened—I had 3 kids, we moved to Kentucky (far from family) for medical school, then moved to Utah for the residency, now I am alone with 3 younger kids. I can’t go to the library very often. I am not even sure where I was when I somehow stopped.

    So now here I am sort of starting over. I have had to see where I am and where I can get there.

    Part of family history is about letting the desire swell inside so that you can plant the seed of faith. It takes work. It can be overwhelming…keep your eye on the part you love and the part you can do. Then Nephi says “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ.” Don’t give up on it. (Write down your stories too. That is part of Family History.)

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  11. I have had glimpses of that bug — the new familysearch is amazing, but I do agree with Mary above who says it is sometimes a times and seasons thing.

    I also think that there are many facets to family history — not just the poring over records for temple work (important though that is).

    I did a family history wall, sort of like a pedigree chart on my wall and it helps me feel connected to my ancestors more. And I have loved reading some of their stories along the way, too.

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  12. Not everyone gets that bug. Some get it and become addicted. And then there's that whole "time of life" thing. If you don't have time in your life, I wouldn't worry. Your children are more important when they are children. I think of the dead as outside time and they are probably busy as well.

    If you get the bug and you have the time someday, you can jump in get lost there without a problem.

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  13. I used to love it. I spent countless hours and much money searching for ancestors. I was so happy in dusty record rooms and dirty graveyards. I have spent entire holidays visiting different cities to see where they lived. Things changed when I had children. No time or money. Now the children are not so young I know I could pick it up again, I'm sure the excitement and love would come back if I put my mind to it.

    I have to say that we don't have to love every gospel principle, we just have to do them. We will never find every principle easy to do or accept. I'm not so good on prayer either.

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  14. I struggle with family history. I have spent most of my life trying to "break" the family chain – to start over and give my children better than I got. My immediate family history is generations of people with problems. I suppose every family is like that to an extent, but it makes it hard to desire to know more about family. I cringe a little whenever my mom talks about ancestors. It's sad.

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  15. I see no reason not to invite children to share in the joy and the process of finding and collecting family history. Sure, they may not be able to dig through databases when they are young. But it's easy enough to make activities that will help them to interact with what you find, and sharing stories and discoveries with them. If you are excited, they can share in that with you, and they'll never forget the love you had for the people you served in the search.

    When children grow older, it isn't so impossible to expect them to contribute. Many of my peers want to be engaged in that work, but hesitate because they don't know how or where to start. That wouldn't be a problem if their families took the time to teach them. We can avoid that same fate by starting early and teaching well.

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  16. I used to think people who were into genealogy and family history were a little crazy. But then I was bitten by the bug.

    I love jigsaw puzzles, and I love those logic puzzles that you use a grid or matrix to solve (where you get bits of information about several different people and try to figure out the rest of the information about all of them).

    To me, genealogy is the best combination of jigsaw puzzles and matrix/logic puzzles there could ever be.

    And when I can't find out any more about my own ancestors, I get to work on and help other people with theirs. Love it, love it, love it.

    Oh, how was I bitten? We had lived in West Virginia for a couple of years and were moving back to Utah, and on the way, I visited some places that a so-many-great-uncle had been to, before and after and during his involvement in the War between the States. One of the people I met discovered a will naming some of his aunts and uncles that no one in the family had known about, and that person sent a copy of the will to me.

    Success in adding to your ancestors is the best way to be bitten. And it changed my whole life. Did I say how much I love it?

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