My grandmother was a frank woman.
Witty, intelligent, refined, bold. And very, very frank.
Over the years, I came to appreciate this quality in her, but it wasn’t always easy. One conversation in particular struck my heart hard.
I was visiting for Thanksgiving and I had just pulled up our family tree on Family Search. I showed my grandmother the research I had done and the names I had found. For years I had been invested in learning more about my ancestors. My grandmother had been a convert and our nuclear family was quite small. I had always felt a bit out of place without a big family and family history had always been a way for me to feel connected and supported.
“I want to know the stories,” I told her. “Tell me stories about our family.”
“You don’t want to know these people,” she replied. “They’re evil.”
Something cold ran through me and my stomach dropped. I don’t remember how I replied, but I know I did. It was probably something along the lines of, “Really?”
I won’t forget the story she told me next, which involved my biological grandfather (who had passed away before I was born) attempting to poison her to induce a miscarriage. We ended the conversation there.
I also won’t forget how it made me feel about my ancestors and, more importantly at the time, my life.
I was going through an intense period of loneliness. I was desperate for connection. My family was struggling and family history made me feel I had someone on my side. Now, I felt that had all been taken away.
With all of the wind out of my sails, I stopped doing family history right then and there. The desire, the joy, and the spirit of the work were gone. I put it out of my mind.
Months passed. Then, the following spring, my grandmother passed away.
In reflecting upon her life, I realized how small her imperfections seemed now that I missed her so much. I loved her so much. I wanted to be with her so much. Gradually, the Holy Ghost began to teach me a lesson about charity.
I began to realize it wasn’t up to me to judge the lives of my ancestors or decide if they wanted the gospel. It wasn’t my role to try and interpret their actions or make statements about who they are currently.
I’ve simply been asked to join Christ in giving them a chance at something eternal.
Family history continues to be a blessing in my life, even if it isn’t always a pleasant process. I know there are a lot of families out there who don’t want to do family history because of the drama or the trauma. I’ve learned it is important to do all we can to move forward and recognize the blessing it is to offer grace and the Atonement to our ancestors.