Like other parents, we carefully watched as our daughters went through their grade school experiences. Each had their own group of friends, their own talents and hobbies. Knowing that their self-esteem along with their physical abilities would benefit from extra help, I cheerfully drove Mary to her piano and singing lessons. I may not have been quite as cheerful about transporting Jen to her gymnastic classes since they were more frequent, but it was worth the effort to see her developing new skills and gaining self-confidence. Watching them both was satisfying although there were times when watching Jen, jumping and twisting on a five inch wide beam or swinging from bar to bar on the parallel bars was also terrifying. Just one misplaced toe, one over-extended arm or leg, just one moment of lost concentrate and there could easily be an injury. Before choosing the gymnastic club she would work with, we visited all the teams in our area and got information on all the programs that were offered. Even though music and gymnastics would not become a significant part of their adult lives, we spared no effort in seeing that our daughters received the right kind of training so they could be physically and emotionally prepared for the activities in which they would be involved.
Would we do any less to see that they were spiritually prepared?
There are many ways we help our children to grow spiritually. We recite the things that will help them. We discuss the things that will help them. We live so they can follow our examples. If there is anything else we can do to help them become stronger spiritually, we try to do it.
So can working on family history be helpful?
I could list dozens of ways family history helps our children in their usual scholastic challenges. Subtracting the age of a person at their death from the year of death to find the year of their birth is a good problem in algebra and an exercise in math. Tracing family movement on maps while considering the reasons a family might have moved, teach geography and social studies. Walking through cemeteries, squatting, twisting and stretching to get into the best angle to read a headstone may not be as physical demanding as working out, but it certainly is more active than playing computer games or watching TV. Finding out about an ancestors’ life in the culture of their times gives children good motivation for reading and actually learning history. Most schools consider the subject so important that they now have classes of genealogy in their curriculum.
There are other ways that these same academic skills can be taught but there are a different group of concepts that it would be hard to teach without family history. Family history gives children a sense of their heritage, a pride in their ancestors, an awareness of the cultures from which they come. They also learn of the sacrifices paid by their forefathers in order to provide us with the comforts and the liberty that we have.
There are few things in the Church that children can do that have the same significance as the things that adults do. Family history is one of them. Children can find alphabetically ordered names in vital records, do photocopying, copy names and dates off of gravestones. Any name and information they find is just as significant as that found by a parent, a teacher, or a bishop. They can be as involved as Saviors on Mount Zion as anyone else. What a confidence builder that can be!
And there is more. Much more.
For me, another essential skill that has been enhanced by my experiences doing family history has been that of recognizing the voice of the Spirit. In many cases it is difficult for members to know whether they are receiving guidance from the Spirit or if their thoughts are their own responses to a situation. It may take hours or days, even months before they are able to know with assurance whether the thought they question as being of divine origin is or is not from Heavenly Father. In the length of time it takes to discover whether the feeling was inspiration or not, they may have forgotten the original feeling and find it difficult to associate it with any specific sensation. It may be difficult to connect feelings with outcomes.
I have found that in the course of doing family history there are many times when responses to such thoughts can be experimented on immediately so the initial feeling is more easily associated with the outcome. When I feel that I should pick up a particular book and I open it to find the exact information I’ve been searching for, I am more likely to associate the feeling I had telling me to look at the book with that of revelations. After receiving this type of guidance many times, I am becoming more confident in my ability to recognize the teachings and the voice of the Spirit.
There are few things that I want more for my daughters than for them to be able to recognize and listen to the guidance of the Spirit. In family history, an activity where those involved often receive inspiration, they can receive this type of inspiration as well as hear others tell about such experiences.
The one thing that I feel is as essential for my daughters as recognizing the guidance of the spirit is having a testimony of our Savior and his mission to atone for the sins of all mankind. As parents we vocally bare our testimonies hoping the spirit will confirm the strength of our knowledge to our children, but it may seem difficult to find an endeavor that shows that we have such an overwhelming belief in the resurrection, not only of our Savior but of us and our loved ones, that we are willing to spend our time and energy so that his gift of eternal life can be made available for all. When we participate in any part of the process which grants temple ordinances to those who are unable to take part themselves, we are showing our own belief in the necessity of the work as well as the reality of the resurrection and eternal life. As Paul in 1 Cor. 15:29 questioned, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” Our labor in this work shows our children that we have no doubt in our Savior, and when we teach them a few simple basics and let them help us, often times we begin to build that same knowledge in them. Whether they become their ward’s family history fanatics or if they simply remember their experiences and the feelings they had as they realized that someone could be baptized because of their help, chances are good that their testimony will be strengthened.