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.