Ancestor Feature: Anita Stewart
I want to tell you about someone very important to me. She died on July 3, 2019 at age 78 but we’ve been mourning her loss for the past 10 years because she suffered from early onset Alzheimers. She could no longer talk, walk, or eat on her own and relied completely on others for her constant care. We met as a family the following weekend in Vernal, Utah to share our memories of her and to bury her alongside her parents.
She met Kenny at a dance and they got married when she was 19 years old. They moved around a lot with the military and had 6 children. I grew up loving visiting her house because there was always plenty of chocolate, soda, and books to read. The more I learn about her, the more I realize I am a lot like her. We share a lot of the same interests and habits, things I had no idea I inherited from her!
Anita was born in Vernal but moved to Murray when she was a baby. Her parents were not active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so she didn’t start attending until a neighbor friend invited her to go to primary with her. During her teenage years, she spent the summer with her grandma in Vernal helping around the farm and it was there she learned the principles of the gospel and made a temple marriage a goal.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned she was also an avid genealogist and had spent years compiling data to do temple work for her family since so many were not active members. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask her about this until years after her memory was already gone and everything she had learned was lost. She didn’t keep a journal and was an only child so the only memories we have of her or her family members who are now deceased are from my grandpa.
I share this because my grandma is one of the reasons I started doing family history. I didn’t want anything else to be lost to dementia so I started asking questions to all my family. Who is going to take up her task and finish what she started, or is it already all done? Pres Russell M. Nelson has taught that the Spirit of Elijah is “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family” (“A New Harvest Time,” Ensign,May 1998, 34). This distinctive influence of the Holy Ghost draws people to identify, document, and cherish their ancestors and family members—both past and present. (The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn, Ensign, Nov 2011)
I believe my grandma is working on it again, but instead of searching through old records in the library archives like she did in the 90’s, she’s going to be leading missionary efforts and inviting her family to come unto Christ in the Spirit World. I think of myself as her companion on Earth who finds their records and acts as a proxy for them in the temple. Elder Cooks says, “Don’t underestimate the influence of the deceased in assisting your efforts and the joy of ultimately meeting those you serve. The eternally significant blessing of uniting our own families is almost beyond comprehension.” April 2014.
“Many of you may think family history work is to be performed primarily by older people. But I know of no age limit described in the scriptures or guidelines announced by Church leaders restricting this important service to mature adults. You are sons and daughters of God, children of the covenant, and builders of the kingdom. You need not wait until you reach an arbitrary age to fulfill your responsibility to assist in the work of salvation for the human family...I invite the young people of the Church to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah. I encourage you to study, to search out your ancestors, and to prepare yourselves to perform proxy baptisms in the house of the Lord for your kindred dead (see D&C 124:28–36). And I urge you to help other people identify their family histories... As you respond in faith to this invitation, your hearts shall turn to the fathers. The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be implanted in your hearts. Your patriarchal blessing, with its declaration of lineage, will link you to these fathers and be more meaningful to you. Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives.” (The Hearts of the Children Shall Learn, Ensign, Nov 2011).
I know I need those blessings for my family. Thankfully, I have an easier job than my grandma did because now, FamilySearch makes it so easy! I get emails when a member in my tree might have available work to do or if they’ve connected documents that mention my family members to my tree. I can open the FamilySearch app on my phone and search for ordinances that are ready in my tree just try clicking on the temple icon. The Family Search app also lets me add photos, documents or record audio and upload it right into a family member’s profile.
As we prepared for my grandma’s burial, I went through all the photos I’ve digitized and added them to her profile so all our family and friends could view them. I made a slideshow of the photos for the viewing and was able to text the link to the album so everyone had a copy of it. While we were sharing memories, I opened the app and recorded all our memories-here let me show you--
We’ve been admonished time and again that “family history is not simply an interesting program or activity sponsored by the Church; rather, it is a vital part of the work of salvation and exaltation. You have been prepared for this day and to build up the kingdom of God. You are here upon the earth now to assist in this glorious work.”(The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn, Ensign, Nov 2011)
Ask your family history consultants to come over and teach your family how to use the app so you too can enjoy so many of the blessings I have. My testimony of family history started with just a small little ember of curiosity and now I love sharing my experiences because I want everyone else to see and feel the Spirit of Elijah work in their family. I love my Savior, and I want to help Him accomplish His work and desire to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of ALL men. By participating in the holy work I draw closer to Him and I know you can too.