Family reunions

"Welcome cousins, it is nice to have you here."

This warm greeting came from Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve at the national Leavitt family reunion in Salt Lake City June 19-20, as he welcomed the Eastern and Western branches of the family, meeting together for the first time.But that could have been said at any one of the hundreds of family reunions held by Church members across the country this summer. Reunions are a time when families reunite, reacquaint and remember their ancestors.

Terry Olson, a BYU professor of family sciences, said family reunions are important because they help people relate to their own identity and because they help give them a place in the world.

"Everyone deserves a heritage and everyone has a heritage," said Brother Olson. Family reunions and family connections establish communication, helping people learn from and celebrate their heritage, he added.

Elder Haight's grandmother's maiden name was Leavitt. "There is something special about being welcomed by family," he said.

Speaking at a general meeting of the Leavitt family reunion in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, he said, "There is something interesting about families, family lines, and the genes that we know about today."

More than 2,000 people attended the reunion. They traveled from 27 states, and Great Britain and Canada, attesting that families find strength in each other.

During the reunion, Leavitt descendants viewed genealogical displays and participated in individual family meetings. In addition to the general meeting in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, family members also participated in a family get-together at the Utah State Capitol, a western cookout at This Is the Place State Park on Salt Lake City's east bench, and a reception at the governor's mansion, hosted by Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, a reunion co-chairman.

After learning in late 1997 of the National Association of Leavitt Families, Gov. Leavitt invited the group to hold its annual reunion in Salt Lake City, instead of in the eastern United States.

The event reunited a family divided in 1800, when a small group split off from the family, moved to Canada and eventually joined the Church.

Ardeth Greene Kapp, former general Young Women president and a Leavitt descendant herself, said family reunions help people get a sense of their roots.

Sister Kapp, a reunion co-chairwoman, worked with the governor, reunion chairman Dean Barnes, and numerous other family members to organize the event. Being surrounded by family, she explained, is a very powerful motivating force.

At the reunion, she recalled watching family members come together and bond with a remarkable outpouring of love. "There was such a spirit of oneness," she said. "We met as strangers and felt an instant kinship. It was inexplicable but undeniable."

Elder Haight said he has always cherished his Leavitt heritage.

Elder Haight's grandmother, Louisa Leavitt Haight, as an 11-year-old girl, walked across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 with her mother and two brothers.

After Elder Haight spoke, family members participated in a readers' theater, written by Anne O. Leavitt, detailing the Leavitt legacy.

During the program everyone at the gathering stood and sang "Faith of Our Fathers," "America the Beautiful," and "Families Can Be Together Forever.

Many of the participants called this opportunity to sing with extended family the most enjoyable part of the reunion, said Dixie Leavitt, president of the Western Association of Leavitt Families.

Thomas Leavitt, vice president of the National Association of Leavitt Families, did not know much about his western cousins before the reunion, but was quick to say he will never forget the opportunity to sing with them. "We were gathered together for music and prayer," he said. "It was just like a scene from Norman Rockwell. . . . I don't think you will find any unhappy people here."

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