The Family Photo Album

by Ileen Johnson

[Although this was written nearly 20 years ago, it still brings back pleasant memories.  Pick up your pencil, pen or iPhone and start writing.  Write the way you talk and about common, every-day things.  Your posterity will love it!!]

I hope I live long enough to get my photographs in albums. This has been an ongoing project through the years but somehow never quite finished.  At one time I started albums for each child and attempted to place copies of all the “good” pictures
therein.  The children loved to look at their books,  and this was a good activity, but it required constant monitoring to preserve the photos from the ravages of little fingers.  “Is this me?” they would ask as they pointed to each baby picture. These albums were quickly outgrown and became much too expensive and time-consuming to maintain. “I’ll finish these when I have more time,” I rationalized, “and give them their albums when they get married.”

Only our first six children had photo albums; the younger three only knew manila envelopes. That was the makeshift method to sort out and store the photos until we could get them properly placed.  More than once I tried arranging the contents of the envelopes in chronological order.  Some progress was made, but usually I had too much “help,” from those who wanted to just enjoy looking at the pictures. Once again the photos went back into envelopes and on the closet shelf.

I wonder if teachers know how much stress they cause by asking students to bring a baby picture of themselves for this or that activity. Finding the “right” picture always meant sorting through every picture in the envelope. There is also the problem of
protecting the photo from damage during its trip to school and, hopefully, back. Too often this results in a blank spot in the album where a picture once was. I don’t think teachers will change in the future, but if I had it to do again, I think I would have copies made of those babies to use as loaners.

I found school pictures to be the biggest challenge.  They come around with regularity, thanks to the person who created this tradition, and also multiply by
children and years.  Add to this the issues of hand-me-down clothes and similar genes, and a problem of identity arises. “Is this Brian, or Mark in Brian’s old
shirt?” More than once we had pictures of the same child in the same favorite outfit for two years running.  “Was this Ann’s fifth grade picture, or her fourth?”

One summer Jennifer and I tackled the school picture problem once and for all. We put up a folding banquet table in an upstairs bedroom and laid them out, children on the Y axis and years on X.  Careful scrutiny of 30 years of school pictures ultimately revealed correct years and children. That was a productive summer resulting in every photo being placed neatly in albums!

The cycle continues, however, and now in the autumn of my life I feel a pressing need to get my life in order–including the photos. They really need to be taken
out of the sticky albums and mounted on acid-free paper, under acid-free plastic sheets, and properly labeled. That’s my current project.  I began by purchasing several three-ring binders, a ream heavy, black, acid-free paper, and began
punching holes. That was my first mistake. Now we need a new paper punch. Hindsight would suggest one have a copy center do the holes. Next, I bought three
boxes of photo corners and began pasting.  It seemed I had barely begun when they were all gone. So, I went back to the store and bought ten more boxes. If
that doesn’t do it, I will have to put corners on my Christmas wish list.

Computer file folder labels were used for the labels.  I had labeled perhaps 8 or 10 pages of photos when Kristen said, “I didn’t know Howard’s middle name is
spelled R-e-i-d.”  “It’s not,” I replied. “Well, that is what it says here.” Sure enough there it was, typed with my own fingers!  “Oops! This is not right. This
is Jennifer in the cupboard, not me. Just remember, Jennifer in the cupboard, Kristen in the fireplace.”

I admonish you not to procrastinate properly organizing, labeling, and storing your precious family photographs, an essential part of your family history.  I plan to use my albums to help construct the journal I never kept. I think this year at Christmastime I will gather the children around the kitchen table, bring out
the albums, turn on the tape recorder, and sit back and listen.

The contents of the family photo album can have a profound effect on later generations and help answer the gnawing questions of “Who are we?” and “Where do we come from?”  I remember how much fun it was as a child to look at
my mother’s albums. They were stored in her cedar chest under lock and key, and carried with them a nostalgic cedar fragrance. I hope our children and
grandchildren will remember our family albums and the people whose likenesses they contain with similar fondness.


Family History Centers and Me

by Ileen Judd Johnson

I have always been interested in family history. As a child I remember with fondness the times relatives stopped by to visit. I was fascinated with their talk of home and family.

After I graduated from high school I attended business school in Salt Lake City. That’s when I discovered the Genealogy Library housed in the basement of the old Montgomery Ward Building on Main Street. There were shelves and shelves of big binders containing family group records submitted by Church members. Only one binder could be checked out at a time, relevant data carefully copied by hand, then promptly checked back in. I was delighted when the Library acquired a photocopier. With this new invention I could instantly copy an entire family group record for only five cents!

My marriage and move to St. Paul, Minnesota, far from home and far from the Genealogy Library, put a stop to the photocopying; but then ensued correspondence with relatives. This became my connection to “home”. I could not visit the Library, but I could type, and I had a typewriter. So in between typing theses for my husband Freeman, I typed family histories.

Eight years and four children later we moved to Northern Minnesota and the first real job! Over the next 10 years five more children were added to our family. There was little time for family histories. A new cash crop developed and Freeman was kept busy breeding hybrid oilseed sunflowers. The Europeans, especially the French, loved sunflower oil. This crop later took us to South Texas near the Mexican border to take advantage of the warm climate and extended growing season. Even though I studied the Spanish language, and attended bilingual church services, I could not carry on a conversation in Spanish. Then, after only two years in South Texas, the death of Freeman’s boss made it necessary for us to return to Minnesota.

As soon as we got “back home” I was asked to help staff the new Family History Center in Fargo–just across the Minnesota/North Dakota border–where I worked two days a week for the next nine years. During my sojourn there, I worked mostly with non-LDS patrons, organized and cataloged the Family History Center holdings and prepared patron how-to helps. Freeman now had an office in our basement with a photocopier, computers, and lots of filing cabinets. I have always liked filing things, and I love anything genealogical, so I enjoyed collecting and filing genealogical stuff and producing books about my own ancestors. When Personal Ancestral File 1.0 came into being in the 1980s, I jumped right in and started entering my family data. This occupied most of my evenings for nearly three years.

The French company Freeman worked for eventually decided they preferred producing their sunflower seed in France rather than importing it from the United States, but to do this they would need to hire someone who had worked with the crop and knew something about plant breeding. Freeman was offered the job, and rather than be unemployed, he accepted. Since he didn’t speak French, but did speak Spanish the company located the sunflower research program at a company-owned branch in Zaragoza, Spain.

In August of 1990 we called the movers, packed up household goods, arranged for transport of company equipment and automobiles, and visited relatives in Utah before leaving for Madrid, Spain. We left two boys (now young adults) in Fargo and took two girls 16 and 17 with us.

We couldn’t rent a vehicle at the Madrid airport that would accommodate four people and all our baggage, so we had to drive two cars on to to Zaragoza. The two girls were in one car with me, and Freeman followed us in another car with all our baggage. That was a hairy ride for a novice driver (me) who couldn’t stay awake. Freeman didn’t tell me we had to pass over a range of mountains. We nearly ran off the road, but not because I fell asleep. This big truck behind us wanted to pass, so I tried to drive as close to the shoulder as I could. He pulled out to pass just as another big truck came rolling around the bend towards us. The passing truck laid on his horn and I had to move over some more! I could feel the right tires of the car going off the shoulder twice, but fortunately our guardian angel was on duty, and we made it! I might mention too that this was a two-lane highway with no guard rails, and we were close to the summit. Pretty sharp drop off too. I still get scared remembering this 24 years later.

We did have a rental house near the U. S. Air Base in Zaragoza, and military families were kind enough to help us get settled and enroll the girls in the U. S. high school on Base. It was November, three months later, before our household and company goods arrived.

Plans were already under way to close the Air Base in the near future, and reduction of military personnel had left a vacancy in the local church district presidency. Freeman was called to fill this position and oversee the developing family history center. The District President was happy he could speak Spanish, albeit the Argentine/Uruguayan dialect.

The branch of the Church on the Air Base closed at the end of the school year, and we started attending the branch downtown Zaragoza on a regular basis. Our daughter Kristen, a senior in high school, returned to Minnesota to graduate from her previous high school and attend attend college. Jennifer, our 16-year old, continued high school on Base, and by taking additional correspondence courses she had enough credits to graduate a early at the end of her junior year when the Air Base closed.

President Javier Amigó had been researching his family genealogy and traveled every year to the Frankfurt Temple to perform the ordinances. He had prepared binders of family group sheets organized by year when temple ordinances could be performed. He knew the District needed a Family History Center and had commenced remodeling the church building in Zaragoza to accommodate it. The first time we entered the building downtown there were cabinets for microfiche and microfilm readers–custom built in Portugal–in the foyer ready to be installed. The only thing they didn’t have was someone who knew how to operate a family history center.

According to Freeman there was no discussion as to who should be called, only the declaration by President Amigó that “it’s about time we put Sister Johnson to work.” The start-up supplies were ordered. Thankfully there were English-speaking missionaries at the Frankfurt Distribution Center who could answer all my questions. Once the physical structure was finished and the start-up kit arrived, I spent two days a week at the church getting the reference microfiche and microfilms organized. The things I had copied from the Fargo Family History Center and my personal research experience were helpful, but what we really needed was a way to train the Family History Center staff. All my supplies and instructions were in English.

A way, however, had been prepared to overcome this problem too. A young, single adult sister in the Zaragoza Branch, Corporales Fernandez, had recently completed three years of school in the States, and her English was as good as mine! Even though she already had four or five church callings, she kindly agreed to help me translate an older out-dated English staff training manual to Spanish. Each Sunday I took her a few pages of the original English version and also my attempted translation using double or triple line spacing. With the English version in hand she compared my translation with the original and corrected or re-wrote words and phrases as needed. I don’t remember how long this took us, but in the end we had about 200 pages.

Using chapters from the book we had translated as a guide, training sessions were held with those who would staff the family history center. “Corporal” became the Family History Center director. I taught these sessions with Freeman translating. I couldn’t speak the language, but I knew enough that I could understand what he was saying. He liked to tell stories and add embellishments whenever he could, and sometimes I had to say, “no, that’s not what I said. . .” and have him correct his translation.

The high councilor over family history, Hermano Angel Del Solar lived in our branch, and as soon as supplies arrived he could be found at the family history center night and day researching his ancestry. He jokingly asked if he could move his cama (bed) over there so he wouldn’t have to go home.

We held an open house for members and invited the press. I wore a sign around my neck that read “Yo hablo Genealogia, Inglés y un poco de Espanol” (I speak English, Genealogy and a little Spanish). Announcements of our opening were in the local newspapers. Slowly word got out and we began to have patrons visit the Center. I worried about how I could help people with my poor Spanish, but I soon found that Spanish-speaking patrons enjoyed an opportunity to practice their own English.

I was in the process of formatting the final version of our new staff training manual when we learned that Freeman’s employment contract would not be renewed as we had expected; so we started packing up to return to the United States. The house we had been living in was quickly rented and the new tenants were happy to buy our appliances.

We printed five copies of our staff training manual and sent them out to the two or three existing family history centers in Spain and to Larry Jensen at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City literally as we were loading the truck the end of May 1992.

As I look back on this experience in the year 2016, I can see that we were sent to Spain for a purpose unbeknown to us at the time. Things just fell into place precisely when needed. They could not all be attributed to happenstance. Heavenly Father definitely had His hand in the timing of these events.

Welcome to the Temple

by Ileen Johnson

I looked forward with anticipation to the completion of the Mount Timpanogos temple, as this would be my first opportunity to attend a temple dedication. After I married and while we raised our children, we lived in the Midwest, great distances from any temple, so our temple trips were usually combined with infrequent visits to family members in Utah.

I was both surprised and delighted when my husband and I were asked to assist with security at the temple for an entire week during the open house. About a dozen brethren, young and old, and two sisters made up the group from our stake. We met at the Stake Center parking lot at 6 a.m. each morning for prayer and then car-pooled to the temple.

We sisters did not have specific duties, just be watchful and help anyone who may need our assistance. So I began my day in the waiting room just inside the temple
entrance; the other sister went upstairs near the Celestial Room.

Visitors gathered in large tents next to the temple, and at precisely 7:05 a.m. they stepped through the temple doors. In a steady stream, throughout the day and every
day of the week, came thousands upon thousands of visitors.

President Hinckley greeted the guests via video recording in his kindly and personable way.  “Welcome to the temple,” he began. “We are pleased to have you join us today. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the temple is the House of the Lord, the most sacred place on earth.” He explained briefly the purpose of temples and added his testimony. “I bear witness of the living Christ and pray you will feel a special closeness with him while you are here today.”

I had worked a late evening shift the previous day, and with nothing in particular to do, I had great difficulty staying awake that first day, so the next day I brought my scriptures. My eyes obediently moved over the pages, yet my mind comprehended nothing. I tried to read, but I could not ignore President Hinckley’s voice repeating over and over again, “Welcome to the temple.  . . Welcome to the temple.” Hour after hour his words thwarted my concentration until I finally gave up trying to read.

I began again to listen and observe. “Welcome to the temple. . .Welcome to the temple. . .” He really means that I thought. I was struck by the realization that Heavenly Father loves all his children and wants nothing more than to welcome them to His temple.  How diverse are our Father’s children! They came in all sizes, shapes, colors, ages, and backgrounds. They came as families dressed in their Sunday best; mothers walking hand in hand with sons; big brothers carrying little sisters; big sister leading little sisters, all in look-alike dresses; and fathers bouncing babies. Some came out of curiosity. A few were obviously tourists. All were respectful. Some walked quickly, gazing straight ahead; others lingered, casting eyes about, attempting to absorb everything.

Most notable were the children. One little girl about 2 or 3 years of age, with very blonde, almost white hair, stepped along fairly bursting with confidence and
energy. An 8 or 9-year-old boy had obviously outgrown his suit coat, for the cuffs of his new white shirt extended a good six inches below the suit completely covering his hands.

A wiggly little boy was so full of energy he was all over the floor, feeling and exploring everything within reach, but as soon as he entered the Celestial Room and
without prompting, he jumped up, folded his arms, and proceeded reverently.

For part of each day I welcomed the handicapped to the Celestial Room and was greatly impressed by the number of wheelchair visitors–the elderly, the handicapped, the infirm–all escorted by radiant young men and women.  On they came, the halt, the lame, the blind, the dumb.  Elderly couples came holding hands or pushing spouses in wheelchairs. Others carried canes or steadied themselves with walkers. A few trailed oxygen tanks.

I shall never forget the young man about 10 or 11 who passed by with his mother. He carried a white cane.  How could he, I wondered, appreciate the beauties of the temple without the gift of sight? Yet I could see the Spirit had touched his heart. He was crying as they left.

We worked security at four of the temple dedicatory sessions, and each time I received a witness that temples and family history work are a great blessing to both the giver and the receiver. I thought maybe after four sessions I could make it through the hymn, “The Spirit of God,” without getting emotional, but I couldn’t stop
crying, much less sing.

“Welcome to the temple. . . the House of the Lord, . . . the most sacred place on earth.”


Someone Up There Loves You

by Elder Boyd K. Packer

Genealogical work [including personal and family history] has, I fear, sometimes been made to appear too difficult, too involved, and too time consuming to really be inviting to the average Church member. Elder John A. Widtsoe said on one occasion:  “In many a science, the beginning courses are so taught as if the whole class were intending to become candidates for the Ph.D. degree in that subject.  Students fall out in despair.”  Brother Widtsoe concluded, “It took some time to make them understand that a good teacher does such work as to enable his students to pass, with ordinary diligence.”  (In a Sunlit Land, pp. 150, 90.)

There is a way that it can be done. And there is a place to begin. You don’t need to begin with the pedigree charts or the stacks of forms, or the blank spaces, or the numbers, the procedures, or the regulations. You can begin with you, with who you are and with what you have right now.  It is a matter of getting started. You may come to know the principle that Nephi knew when he said, “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (1 Ne. 4:6.)

If you don’t know how or where to start, start with yourself. If you don’t know what records to get, and how to get them, start with what you’ve got.  There are two very simple instructions. Here’s what you are to do: Get a cardboard box. Any kind of a box will do. Put it some place where it is in the way, perhaps on the couch or on the counter in the kitchen—anywhere where it cannot go unnoticed. Then, over a period of a few weeks, collect and put into the box every record of your life: your birth certificate, your certificate of blessing, of baptism, of ordination, of graduation.  Collect diplomas, all of your photographs, honors, or awards, a diary, if you kept one, everything that you can find pertaining to your life—anything that is written or registered or recorded that testifies that you are alive and what you have done.

Don’t try to do this in a day. Take your time with it.  Most of us have these things scattered around here and there. Some of them are in a box in the garage under that stack of newspapers; others are stored away in drawers or in the attic or one place or another. Perhaps some have been tucked in the leaves of the Bible or elsewhere. Gather all of these together; put them in the box. Keep it there until you have collected everything you think you have. Then make some space on a table, or even on the floor, and sort out all that you have collected.  Divide your life into three periods. The Church does it that way. All of our programming in the Church is divided into three general categories—children, youth, and adult.

Start with the childhood section and begin with your birth certificate. Put together every record in chronological order—the pictures, the record of your baptism, etc., up until the time you were twelve years of age.  Next assemble all that which pertains to your youth, from twelve to eighteen, or up until the time you were married. Put all of that together in chronological order.  Line up the records—the certificates, the photographs—and put them in another box or envelope.  Do the same with the records on the rest of your life.  Once you have that accomplished, you have what is necessary to complete your life story. Simply take your birth certificate and begin writing.  The Lord will bless you once you begin this work.

This has been very evident to us. Since the time we decided that we would start where we were, with what we had, many things have opened to us.  Things began to emerge once we got to work. We still are not, by any means, experts in genealogical research. We are, however, dedicated to our family. And it is my testimony that if we start where we are, each of us with ourselves, with such records as we have, and begin putting those in order, things will fall into place as they should.

There is an expression common among non-members of the Church when some unusual good fortune befalls a person. They respond with “Someone up there likes me,” and credit to some divine providence the good thing that has come into their lives.  You won’t get very far in putting together your own records and writing your own history until you find things put in your way that cannot have been put there by accident, and you are compelled to say, generally to yourself, “Someone over there wants this work done, and he is helping me.”

Ensign, January 1977, pp. 8-12.

Judge Not

Sacrament Meeting talk by daughter Ileen, July 29, 2012

My passion, as most of you know, is family history. All eight of my great-grandparents joined the Church in its early days and made their way from England, Ireland, Australia, New England and Canada to Utah. Many of these great-grandparents performed temple ordinances for themselves and their ancestors. Consequently, there wasn’t much research left to be done, so I turned my efforts to collecting and publishing details about their lives. When I consider their lives, one thing stands out–they kept going in spite of the hardships, they were committed to the Gospel and answered the call of their leaders to move again and again to help settle the West. I have come to love and appreciate my ancestors. I feel that I know them personally and look forward to meeting them in the next life.

Occasionally, when we come across a “colorful” individual in our family history, we have a tendency to label them as “rascals” or the “black sheep of the family.” One thing I have learned from my family history efforts is to refrain from judging others.

President Monson talked about this in a recent General Conference address. You will remember that he told of a  sister judging a neighbor because her laundry hanging on the line was not clean. Her husband rose early one morning and washed the kitchen window. It wasn’t the laundry that was dirty, it was the kitchen window. President Monson quoted the Savior when he said, “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye.” Or, as he paraphrased, “Why beholdest thou what you think is dirty laundry at your neighbor’s house but considerest not the soiled window in your own house?”

Learning more about my father and the conditions under which he lived has helped me to understand him better. From my limited view as a child, it was tempting to pass judgment.

  • Most of the time he wore striped bib overalls, a faded-blue long-sleeved shirt and high-top shoes.
  • He was in bed by 9 in the evening and up with the chickens at 5 in the morning. He prepared his coffee and cooked our mush.
  • By 9 o’clock, after working on our 1 3/4-acre lot, he would go to his work as a carpenter.
  • After work he sat in his rocking chair and listened to Gabriel Heator give the news.
  • He rolled his own cigarettes which he smoked–always outside, never in the house–one in the morning and one in the evening.
  • Much to Mother’s dismay, he would not pray with the family nor attend church.
  • I knew my father to always be doing something.
  • I remember him regularly keeping our push lawn mower sharpened and in top working order.
  • He repaired the kitchen chairs and other household items almost before they needed it.
  • More than once, I saw him take his dollar pocket watch apart on the kitchen table and soak it in kerosene to clean it.
  • The clippers Mom used to cut his hair he frequently took apart and sharpened the blades. These were hand clippers, not the electric clippers we have today.

Now I would like to share with you some things I learned about my father through my family history efforts.

Dad’s parents were married in 1886, close to the time when there was much opposition to plural marriage. The manifesto was issued in November 1890, so Grandma, who was the second wife, and her first born, then about 9 months old, were sent to live with Grandpa’s uncle and used an assumed name. Later she moved back to Arizona where she lived in a one-room log cabin, about 14 feet x 12 feet. There was one bed for their parents with a trundle bed underneath. Beds for the rest of the seven children were made on the floor each night and the bedding put away again in the morning.

Dad attended school in the winter when he wasn’t needed on the ranch. Because he couldn’t go all the time, he was behind in the class and older than most of the other students.

He couldn’t find work that was steady, so he raised sheep and cattle on the farm. He tried to save his money so he could go to school, but when he found that his younger sisters and brothers needed shoes and the family had to have flour, he would turn over his earnings to his father and go back to herding sheep.

Even though he could not go to school, he always had a desire for learning. When he was 18 years of age he came back from the mountains and went to the Board of Trustees of the school and asked for special permission to attend school. He was granted this privilege and attended school for six months one winter so he could finish the 6th grade.

My oldest sister Hilga writes, “Reading was his favorite pastime. He read whenever he could, and all subjects available. He seldom read novels or cheap literature; he read on all the political issues and current events, history and church works. He was always on a quest for the knowledge he had been unable to attain as a child and a young man. He was eager to learn from anyone, and although he may not have agreed with your views, he always listened.”

He enlisted in the Army during World War I, but was sent home after three months because of a bad heart due to rheumatic fever as a child. Another sister, Helen, told me that she used to go to work with Dad after school and on Saturdays to help him. Growing up I was never aware of his heart condition. After having had some heart problems of my own, I can understand why he went to bed at 9 pm. He was tired!

As a child, his family was much too poor to pay for a doctor, and instead used home remedies. His maternal grandfather was an herb doctor. At that time tobacco and coffee were used for medicinal purposes. Dad’s morning coffee and twice-daily cigarettes were, I believe, the stimulant he needed to get through the day.

At his funeral a coworker said of him:

“Perhaps you think he didn’t come to church much to know whether he had a testimony of the Gospel or not, but I have been with him when the Church has been challenged, and I have just enjoyed being quiet and listening to what he had to say about it. He could hold his own, perhaps not from a scholarly standpoint. I didn’t find him arguing with anybody, but in no uncertain terms, he gave several people that I knew of the occasion to understand that as far as he was concerned the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was worth while and those that didn’t have it were lacking.”

“I have seen him put a floor down in a home I was building, and by the time he’d get through with all the scraps he didn’t waste anything. If you have ever put a hardwood floor down, you know how easy it is to go across the floor til you get to the other side. The last six inches there is no place to pry against the wood, you have a plastered wall. It’s hard to get the nails in, and in some homes next to the wall you’ll see cracks left because it was too hard to put it down right. Just little things like that, Brother Ray Judd took just as much interest in getting the last three boards in the floor just right as he did the first ones. I think that that is the place where you find out what kind of an individual we are. Long as everything is going easy, it’s not too much trouble to do it right, but when it comes to the tight places in life, some people give up.”

Once we become better acquainted with someone we have criticized and can see things from their point of view, our judgment is more forgiving. Through my efforts to learn about my ancestors I have come to appreciate my father more. He worked as hard as he could and was good to us kids, even when I put my foot through the kitchen ceiling while stepping around on the rafters upstairs as he was laying the flooring.

Again, as President Monson said, “There is really no way we can know the heart, intentions, or the circumstances of someone who might say or do something we find reason to criticize.”

Eliza R. Snow wrote the text of Hymn No. 273, “Truth Reflects upon Our Senses.” This hymn addresses the topic of judging others. I particularly like verses 2 and 5:

Jesus said, “Be meek and lowly,
For ’tis high to be a judge;
If I would be pure and holy,
I must love without a grudge.
It requires a constant labor
All his precepts to obey.
If I truly love my neighbor,
I am in the narrow way.

Charity and love are healing,
These will give the clearest sight;
When I saw my brother’s failing,
I was not exactly right.
Now I’ll take no further trouble;
Jesus’ love is all my theme;
Little motes are but a bubble
When I think upon the beam.