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Family History: Stories of The Past Connect Us With Our Present

Finding your family history is becoming easier than ever, and the stories we can learn can give us the strength to meet our daily challenges.

With applications such as Family Search, Ancestry, and even DNA tests to show us the entire makeup of our genealogy, learning about our family history is becoming easier than ever. People are feeling so much excitement in finding their family history, finding photos of their loved ones, and compiling stories that illustrate the history of their families.

One of the greatest gifts we receive from doing family history work is learning about the stories of our relatives. As we are beginning to learn about the events of their lives, and the choices they made, we start to learn even more about ourselves. We start to see commonalities between our ancestors and ourselves. I recently discovered this while learning about my great, great grandmother Judith Jensen.

Judith Jensen. Photo courtesy of Deborah Justesen.

Judith was born in 1887 in Bergen, Norway. She grew up exploring the beautiful fjords and nature surrounding her hometown and loved her family. One day while going about some errands, she met two young men who said they were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They were kind as they explained that they were sharing a message concerning Jesus Christ and His restored church.

As Judith started to learn from the missionaries, she felt the truthfulness of their message. She agreed to receive baptism and became a member of the Church. She was the only member of the Church in her family, but they were accepting of her decision to join the Church. The missionary who taught Judith was a young man from Brigham City, Utah, by the name of Heber Anderson. He was a good young man who loved the Gospel. Heber was also an avid writer. Heber wrote beautiful letters home to his family about his time in Norway and even started writing poetry on his mission. After he returned from his mission, he would often write and tell stories about his love for Norway. Heber and Judith began to write while he finished his mission, and the two formed a strong relationship through the many letters that they wrote to each other.

As Heber returned home to Utah, he missed his dear friend he had met while serving as a missionary. As Judith and Heber continued to write to each other, their letters began to take on a more romantic nature. Heber expressed his desire to marry Judith and wished she could come and join him in Brigham City. As Judith prayed about this proposal of marriage, she felt that it was what she truly wanted, despite the incredible obstacles she would need to overcome to join him in Utah. She had heard about the large towns of Saints within Utah and wanted to be among those that had the same beliefs as her. Judith did not speak any English and she only had enough funds to get to Utah, but she knew it was what she wanted and what the Lord wanted.

Judith and her close friend moments before departing for the United States. Photo Courtesy of Deborah Justesen.

Judith sailed for 10 days until she reached the harbor in New York, and then another 2 days by train to arrive in Salt Lake City. Heber was waiting for her at the train station with eager anticipation. Once she arrived, the two of them made their journey home by wagon, all while planning their wedding which was scheduled for the next day. The two were sealed for time and all eternity in the Manti Temple the following morning, which began the first day of their 59 years of marriage. Judith and Heber had 7 beautiful children, and she immediately found a wonderful community that she fell in love with.

As my grandparents and mother compiled the stories concerning Judith and Heber, my mother and father felt that there was something they could do to further connect our family history. Through careful research, they learned that Judith’s family never left Bergen and that the living relatives were still residing within the beautiful seaside city. They purchased plane tickets and planned a trip centered on exploring the beautiful country where Judith grew up. Heber often wrote in his journal that he felt guilty taking Judith from her beautiful home of Norway for the growing community of Brigham City. Once my parents visited, they could easily see why he felt that way!

The beautiful fjords, rolling hills of green, and the oceanic backdrop to the beautiful homes that lined the coast was something they said they would never forget. But what struck them more was connecting with Judith’s family in Bergen. They were ecstatic to connect with family from the United States. They conversed over Judith’s story and learned new stories about her family that had stayed within Bergen. The Spirit filled the home as they conversed over the happiness they felt in bringing these families together nearly 100 years later.

Deborah Justesen, Judith’s great grand-daughter, meeting living relatives of Judith’s family in Bergen, Norway.

Family history connects us not only with the past but helps shape who we are in the present and future. Prophets and Apostles have consistently taught about the incredible blessings of family history work and the wonderful influences it can bring to our homes. Our Heavenly Father loves us dearly, and one manifestation of that love is through our families. As we learn more about our history, our stories, and the wonderful examples of our ancestors, we can begin to see that infinite love that our Father in Heaven has for each of us. Here are some simple ways to get started on your own personal family history work:

  1. Create a Family Search Account.
  2. Ask your relatives for their stories and write them down to be shared with future generations.
  3. Contact your local Family History Consultant to help create your family tree and find your relatives.

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About Devin Justesen

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Devin is a graduate of Brigham Young University where he studied English and Business Management. He is a writer, photographer, movie-fanatic, and a lover of street tacos. He served his mission in Tokyo, Japan.
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