Family history unifies diverse ward

More than 30 Burton Ward women pen personal histories

Walk down the aisle of the biography section of your neighborhood library. Recognize the names? Churchill. Picasso. Lincoln. Roosevelt.

Famous folks seem to have claimed the corner on published personal histories. But the women from the Burton Ward, South Salt Lake Stake, say everyone has a story to tell — particularly Church members whose lives are heavy with accounts of faith and conversion.

The Burton Ward Relief Society is making final edits on a book of personal histories. Thirty-five women have contributed, adding their own unique voice to a slice of Church history that has prompted ward unity and greater appreciation and understanding of family history and journal keeping.

"We are so excited," said Burton Ward Relief Society President Martha Chavez. "Our sisters have written beautiful testimonies and stories."

Several months ago, Sister Chavez — a lifelong member from Piedras Negras, Mexico — was contacted by the family history library at BYU. A noted singer and voice coach, Sister Chavez was asked to write her personal story and donate family items for inclusion in a family history collection at the university. She made a trip to BYU, was given a tour of the library and was bitten by the family history bug.

Enthused, Sister Chavez approached her bishop, Juan Merlos, with the idea of asking all the Burton Ward women to participate in a family history project.

"We felt it was necessary to maintain our histories," Sister Chavez said.

A Spanish-language unit, the Burton Ward boasts a diverse membership. A few of the Relief Society women were born in the Church, but most are converts. Many hail from El Salvador, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, other Latin American nations and Spain.

For most of the women, writing a personal history was a maiden experience. Still, they went to work. Sister Chavez said she was touched and amazed by the many contributions.

"The women wrote of their [life] experiences, their baptisms, their conversions. Their stories were rich."

None of the authors is a public figure. Few outside the ward are familiar with their names. Yet their sacred stories demonstrate how much each person can offer, Sister Chavez said.

Reading each history "is a spiritual experience," said Bishop Merlos, who said the project has prompted unity in his young ward. Members know each other better. They appreciate the sacrifices many of the contributors have made for their faith, he said

"It's been amazing," Sister Chavez said. "We used to start Relief Society each week with four or five women in attendance. Now we're starting with 96."

A Salvadoran, Bishop Merlos wrote a preface to the book — sharing his own testimony of family history and journals. Each of the authors will be given a copy of the finished book. The Burton Ward histories will also be placed at the BYU family history library.

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