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Generations Connect Through Personal Histories and Life Stories

“In all of us,” wrote Alex Haley, author of the popular novel Roots (based on his own family history), “there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage — to know who we are and where we have come from.”

That “hunger” is growing throughout the world. People are discovering that to understand better who they are, they must know the stories of family members who went before them. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among those who have a desire to connect in a personal way across generations by researching their family history, gathering written personal histories, preserving oral histories and recording interviews of the life experiences of elderly family members for the benefit of posterity.

New Zealand man, Sasha Gurevitch, can relate to this desire to connect with earlier generations. After attending a family history class at his local Mormon ward (congregation) earlier this year, he started creating a timeline of his personal and family history. Unfortunately, there were many gaps in his knowledge so he asked his father, Nahum, to help fill them.

His father was at first reluctant to talk about his and his family’s experiences in their homeland in Eastern Europe. That changed after Nahum attended a Mormon worship service where two of the speakers — a retired couple from the United States serving as records preservation missionaries for the Church — spoke about the importance of seeking out our family’s stories for the benefit of younger generations.  After the service Nahum approached this missionary couple, Elder Barr Cannon and Sister Nancy Cannon, and said, “I will tell you my story.”

After five evenings together, the Cannons and Sasha learned a great deal from Nahum about the Gurevitch family history. They learned of their emigration from Eastern Europe in the 1970’s in search of a better life. They moved to Israel, then Germany, Austria, Africa, and finally New Zealand.  In Austria the family met missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were baptized into the Church in 1980.

After 28 years in New Zealand Sasha feels that he knows himself better now, as he is coming to know more about his family’s experiences over the last several decades. He also says he feels an even deeper love and appreciation for his parents because of their sacrifices on his and his sister’s behalf.

Mormons believe the family is ordained of God. They also believe the family is the fundamental unit of society and central to God’s eternal plan for His children. This belief impels older members of the Church to share the important, life-changing moments of their lives with children and grandchildren who, upon hearing and preserving these experiences, develop a stronger sense of family and belonging. With the knowledge of their forbearers’ accounts of strength over adversity, children and grandchildren become better equipped to overcome difficult challenges in their own lives.

“As we contemplate what those before us have gone through that we might be here, as we sense their faith and courage and feel their love for us and our love for them, we realize what is really important,” said former Church leader Elder John H. Groberg to a worldwide conference of Latter-day Saints in 1980. “We realize that so-called problems are only what we see when we take our eye off our eternal goal.”

Latter-day Saints focus on their family history for another reason — their belief that families can be together after this life. They research names and other information so sacred ceremonies and rites can be performed in behalf of their ancestors in Latter-day Saint temples, thereby exercising faith that they will be linked to loved ones as an eternal family.

Mormon youth worldwide are becoming more involved in seeking out personal histories and stories of their family members.

“It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies,” said Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the senior governing bodies of the Church.

Examples of such tools are the Family Tree and Memories features recently launched by FamilySearch. The new Memories feature allows users to easily upload and manage family photos online and to tell their favorite ancestor stories. With photos, faces can be identified and linked to the respective ancestors’ profiles in a user’s family tree, ensuring they will be accessible for future generations. Photos and stories can also be seamlessly shared via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and email.


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