Erma Rosenhan, of the Forest Dale 1st Ward, Salt Lake Granite Stake, has spent most of her life working on researching the names on her family line. Getting the records in the first place on the eve of World War II required faith, courage and more than a few miracles.
In 1938, no sisters were being called to serve missions outside the United States. Tensions between European countries were strained with threats of war and violence, especially in areas around Germany.
But Sister Rosenhan, the seventh of nine children born to German immigrant parents, felt the desire to serve in her family’s homeland, especially after her older siblings had served their own missions.
Additionally, she had received promises in her patriarchal blessing telling her she would do the work for her ancestors.
“ ‘Your kindred dead need the work for them done in order for them to be saved in the kingdom of God.’ ” Sister Rosenhan said, recalling the words of her patriarchal blessing. “ ‘True happiness consists in making other people happy.’ And that was what I was supposed to do.”
Because of this, she had a strong desire to go to Germany and find the necessary records.
During a period of peace, one of the sisters in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which Sister Rosenhan was a part of, was called to Berlin, Germany, on a mission. “And I thought, ‘Oh, maybe now I can go to Germany.’”
After waiting another year to save up more money, she approached the Church Mission Secretary, Harold G. Reynolds. Brother Reynolds had been one of the missionaries that found, taught and baptized her parents back in Germany.
“I told them that I wanted to go to Germany on a mission,” she said. “This man, when he found out who I was … then it was easy. They figured it out where I could go to see the relatives and everything.”
Soon enough, she received her call to serve in Germany, specifically in areas where she would be able to do family history research. While there, “I hired a German researcher to go to this town,” she said of Goldlauter, Germany, a town where her grandmother’s family lived. “He got me a lot of names and it turns out in this town I had dozens of ancestors.”
The researcher ran into an obstacle. However, several months later she obtained a history of the village, starting at the 1600s.
In August 1939, war officially broke out in Europe. “I [had served] ten months when president Joseph Fielding Smith and his wife, Jessie, were supposed to come to the town I was in, and we were supposed to meet him,” Sister Rosenhan recalled. “And instead of meeting him the war started and we got a telegram: Leave immediately for Amsterdam.” All American missionaries needed to be evacuated.
“I had a dress at the cleaners,” she said. “I never got that back. I think a member wore it.”
For the next two days, Sister Rosenhan and the branch president rushed to get her out of Germany and into Holland. In the middle of the first night, the mailman delivered military summonses including one for the branch president who was to report for duty the next day. Despite disagreements with policemen over border stamps and a taxi driver about carrying her trunk when gasoline was already being strictly rationed, the branch president and Sister Rosenhan prevailed, and she had passage to Amsterdam whose borders were already closing.
“I landed in Holland all alone without a penny,” she said.
Through a prompting of the Spirit, she found a Dutch missionary assigned to meet the American missionaries coming out of Germany.
Two months later, Sister Rosenhan was transferred to the Southern States Mission, specifically Brunswick and Savannah, Georgia, where she finished her mission.
When she returned, she began working for the Church again in the Financial Department. During this time, she began working on the names in the histories she had gathered on her mission.
“Everybody thought I worked for the Genealogical Society,” she said, “because I’d go over at noon and then stay late at the office and use their [microfilm] reader.”
She still has the book with the 500 years of history of Goldlauter. “I have written out that village, plus another village over the hill that was recorded. It’s taken me, I guess, about 45 years,” she said. “This was on my extra lunch hour and what have you.”
According to her nephew, Dan Mackintosh, she has completed the temple work for more than 400,000 names.
Today, Sister Rosenhan takes the bus from her home in Sugar House, a Salt Lake City neighborhood, to the Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City to continue her family history research three days a week. She will celebrate her 100th birthday on Feb. 28.