Spirit and power available to those who do family history, speaker says

Credit: R. Scott Lloyd


To a conference of family history enthusiasts, a General Authority emeritus declared July 25, that they have relatives on the other side of the veil as anxious to be discovered and have their temple work done for them “as is your desire on this side to find them and to do the work.”

Elder H. Bryan Richards was the opening keynote speaker at the 49th annual Brigham Young University Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Elder Richards is patriarch of the Salt Lake Holladay Stake. He was a General Authority Seventy beginning in 1988 and later presided over the Bountiful Utah Temple.

He spoke of the appearance of the Biblical prophet Elijah to the Prophet Joseph Smith on April 3, 1836, to restore the priesthood keys of eternal sealing. Elder Richards said that event brought a spirit and power that is felt by those who undertake to do family history work.

“If that’s not included in your research, you’re missing a vital part and blessing of that work,” he said.

Speaking of technological marvels that have come about in recent years to facilitate family history research, Elder Richards said, “Something I think a lot of us may fail to realize is that along with the explosion of technology has come the explosion of temples and temple work.”

He said when he returned from his mission in 1956, the Church had nine temples; currently there are 155 in operation across the globe with three under renovation and 13 under construction and 21 pending construction.

Technology and the number of temples have exploded “to take care of the sacredness and expansion of this great work,” Elder Richards said.

He shared stories “of ancestors that have blessed my life and the miracles that have helped us find them and their families.” One of them was about Elijah L. Bryan, his great-grandfather, for whom Elder Richards was given his first name, Bryan.

Elder Richards said that in 1976, his father had a dream in which it was made known to him that the ancestral name was actually Bryant with a t. That helped open the door to his documenting his great-great-grandfather.

In a rare occurrence, he was sent on a business trip to Atlanta, Georgia, only about 70 miles from Whitesburg, where his ancestors had lived. Prior to the trip, he visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to find family information and failed in that effort. However, in his despair, he felt his great-grandfather Elijah sitting next to him in the car as he drove home and telling him he would find what he needed when he got to Atlanta.

After the conference there, he and his wife drove to Whitesburg, a tiny town with only a police station and a Baptist church. They inquired at the police station and were told by the person in charge that the police chief could help them, but he was not present.

As they drove away, he saw in the rear-view mirror flashing lights behind them. It was the police chief who told them he understood they were looking for someone. The chief gave them the name of a woman who lived six miles up the road.

They knocked at her door, but she was not at home. However, in driving away, they encountered her driving toward them, waving her hand to flag them down. She said to them, “I understand you’re looking for me.”

She said that she as a little girl had attended the funeral of Elijah Bryant. She told them where he was buried.

With some difficulty, they found the location of the unrecorded family cemetery. There they found the grave marker of Elijah Bryant bearing additional information about his wife and son plus two daughters who had both died in infancy. Of 43 markers in that obscure country cemetery, this was the only one with names on it.

“Why my great-grandfather chose me to uncover the facts necessary and to find such a love for a man I didn’t know in this life I shall never know here,” Elder Richards said. “However I have felt his presence so close on several occasions that I know if were to pass him on the street — and I believe this with all my heart — I would recognize him immediately. … Such is the joy one can experience in no other work.”

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