In 1995, nearly 46 years after fleeing mainland China, Ching Ning returned to his hometown of Liuyang to a hero's welcome. He had been invited back to attend a Ning family conference.
On that day, standing in an open field where 6,000 delegates of the family were gathered, he was awarded a 175-volume set of his family's genealogy. The set included names of more than 200,000 ancestors dating to A.D. 602.
After completing the temple work for 24 generations during the past four years, Brother Ning offered the entire set of names to the Church for microfilming. On behalf of the Church, Richard E. Turley Jr., managing director of the Family History and Church Historical departments, accepted the paper-bound books during an informal gathering of family and friends in the Church's Family History Library on Dec. 20.
"This collection of names represents a monumental effort on the part of many people over thousands of years," said Brother Turley. "There are more people interested in this work than just those who are here in the room today."
The creation of the Ning family history came as the result of a series of small events that, considered individually, would seem unrelated but, when taken in context of the life of Brother Ning, have proven significant.
Born in March 1920, Brother Ning grew up honoring the family's ancestors according to Chinese culture, and became one of the few to learn the family poem that recounted the given names of the Ning family.
As one who felt a keen interest in the Ning family history, Brother Ning recorded what he knew on paper, and, in 1943, climbed a steep hillside to visit an elderly man who had been compiling the family history of a different branch of the Ning family. The two records were combined and put into the safe keeping of the son of the elderly man. In 1949, Brother Ning and his wife, Tak-Suen, and a 2-year-old son fled China prior to the communist takeover, living as refugees in Hong Kong.
In the coming years during the cultural revolution in China in the latter 1960s, a time when records and customs were destroyed, the Ning family records were preserved by being buried in the ground to avoid detection.
Brother Ning knew nothing of the Church until 1958 when he and his wife first met the missionaries in Hong Kong. Strolling past a nearby high school one evening, they noticed white-shirted missionaries teaching classes. Sister Ning invited them to visit.
The missionaries were not well received in the village, an aversion fueled in part by hostile comments made by a local minister. For the safety of the missionaries, the Nings kept the discussions as private as possible by dropping the door and closing the windows.
But the neighbors became aware anyway, said Simeon, one of the sons who was about 6 years old at the time. "When the missionaries would leave our home, the neighbors would douse them with water."
Despite the contempt of their neighbors, Brother and Sister Ning and two of the oldest children were baptized in September 1958. They were the first and only family in the area to join the Church. The minister, who supervised the housing complex where the Nings lived, was outraged at their baptism and demanded the immediate payment of three months back rent.
When former military friends in the national army heard of the pastor's demands, they quickly sent money to the Nings. The pastor relented on his demands when he saw the outpouring of support.
Brother Ning was brokenhearted when his wife died in 1967 and they had not been sealed. Determined to be sealed, he saved his earnings during the next 12 years from his noodle factory and, in 1979, flew to Utah where he had the sealing work done in the Provo temple. It was during these 12 years that he also helped support his two sons, Francis and Simeon, who served full-time missions in Hong Kong.
Years later, just after graduating from BYU in 1980, Simeon realized that the temple work for his immediate ancestors had not been completed. Using a pedigree chart supplied by his father, Simeon and his wife, Jolene,<!-- whom he had met at BYU, completed the temple work before accepting new employment in Colorado.
"This was when we caught the Spirit of Elijah," said Simeon. Buoyed by this newfound interest in the family, Brother Ning submitted additional names of ancestors. "Their work was completed in the Taipei Taiwan Temple," Simeon said.
Brother Ning immigrated to Bellevue, Wash., during the late 1980s and began working in the cafeteria of the Seattle Washington Temple. In 1990, he published an autobiography and sent a copy to a nephew living in China. The book piqued the nephew's interest in gathering all the history of the Ning family into one compilation.
During the next four years, this nephew contacted delegates of the Ning family living in the different provinces in China and, with the aid of more than 100 family volunteers, organized all the records from the various branches into one record. Brother Ning then donated the equivalent of six months of wages, or about $4,000, to his Chinese relatives for the publication of the family history.
Subsequently, in 1995 when the history had been printed and bound, Brother Ning was invited to China to receive a copy of his family's history during the family conference. "When he arrived in his hometown, the first time in 46 years," Simeon said, "he was greeted by several hundred relatives who had waited until 3 a.m. in the cold to see him. The next morning, he was taken to see the Ning family temple where a large banner recognizing him as a patriarch in the family had been draped. He was later honored with a marching band and firecracker display.
"My father is pleased with the successful publication of his family history," said Simeon, who now lives in Farmington, Utah, and who acted as translator for his nearly 80-year-old father during the informal presentation in the Family History Library. "This fulfills a lifelong dream of his."