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Latter-day Saint Church leaders offer testimonies and family discovery experiences

Members of the Church’s Temple and Family History Executive Council tell personal family stories and explain why family history matters

Later-day Saint Church leaders participate in a roundtable discussion about temple and family history work.

Left, Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and the executive director of the Church’s Family History Department, participates in a roundtable discussion with Primary General President Susan H. Porter; Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency; and other Church leaders at RootsTech on Friday, March 3, 2023.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


Latter-day Saint Church leaders offer testimonies and family discovery experiences

Members of the Church’s Temple and Family History Executive Council tell personal family stories and explain why family history matters

Later-day Saint Church leaders participate in a roundtable discussion about temple and family history work.

Left, Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and the executive director of the Church’s Family History Department, participates in a roundtable discussion with Primary General President Susan H. Porter; Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency; and other Church leaders at RootsTech on Friday, March 3, 2023.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

When President Susan H. Porter was a young girl, her mother delighted in telling the children about her parents and grandparents, their conversion stories and the sacrifices they made to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When praying with the family, her mother also repeatedly thanked Heavenly Father for ancestors for “whose sacrifice and devotion made possible what we have today,” said President Porter, who serves as the Church’s Primary general president.

“We use the phrase ‘family history work.’ Let’s get rid of ‘work.’ ... How about ‘family history excitement?’” — Primary General President Susan H. Porter

President Porter also told a grandson who loves math that he descends from a line of men who were scientists and chemists who also loved math.

The Primary general president cited the three examples in response to a question about how to help children feel enthusiasm for temple and family history work while participating in a discussion panel at RootsTech with other Church leaders in the Family History Department on March 3.

“Start with the stories when your children can feel the love. They can feel that connection,” President Porter said. “We start connecting them with these wonderful stories and pictures hanging in our homes of beloved ancestors, that will really help give them that spark.”

“We use the phrase ‘family history work.’ Let’s get rid of ‘work.’ How about if we say ‘family history experience or discovery?’ How about ‘family history excitement?’” she said. “But it is inspiring. It is wonderful. It is connection.”

Primary General President Susan H. Porter takes a photo with young people after participating in a roundtable discussion at RootsTech.

Primary General President Susan H. Porter takes a photo with young people after participating in a roundtable discussion at RootsTech on Friday, March 3, 2023.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Family History Department leadership roundtable was hosted by Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy who serves as executive director of the Church’s Family History Department.

Elder Hamilton was joined on the panel by members of the Church’s Temple and Family History executive council, including President Porter; Elder Kazuhiko Yamashita, a General Authority Seventy; Elder Randall K. Bennett, a General Authority Seventy; and Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency.

During the hourlong session, the group discussed topics related to family history such as growth in the industry, how family history is helping gather Israel and effective ideas for how individuals and families can engage in the work.

“I joyfully declare that the Lord is in the work,” Elder Hamilton said. “He lets us participate, we get to be part of this incredible work that is taking place across the entire earth.”

Some of the Church leaders also shared personal temple and family history experiences that have strengthened their faith and testimonies. Elder Benjamín De Hoyos, a General Authority Seventy, provided additional thoughts and insight in an interview with the Church News.

How temple and family history unites families

The Kindertransport was an organized effort to rescue children from Nazi-controlled territory prior to the outbreak of World War II.

President Porter’s father grew up in a Jewish family in Mannheim, Germany, in the 1930s. Fearing the outbreak of the war, his parents put the 9-year-old alone on a train. He eventually made it to England, where he stayed with a family he didn’t know and didn’t speak their language. His older brother later made it to England and stayed with a different family.

President Porter’s parents were able to get out of Germany a month before the war broke out in September 1939 and emigrated to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Their boys set sail from England more than a year and a half later. They crossed the ocean to New York then boarded another boat to reunite with their family. They later relocated to New York.

Some family members perished in the Holocaust. Others escaped to Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.

“So you can see that one family who had lived for 200 years in one little place was now scattered on three continents in a matter of less than two years,” she said.

After the start of the Korean War in 1950, President Porter’s father was drafted into the army and sent to Dugway, Utah, where he met President Porter’s mother, the youngest of 10 children in a Latter-day Saint family.

Primary General President Susan H. Porters speaks with people after participating in a roundtable discussion at RootsTech on Friday, March 3, 2023.

Primary General President Susan H. Porters speaks with people after participating in a roundtable discussion at RootsTech on Friday, March 3, 2023.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Their meeting started the process of uniting this separated family.

“It was the power of men that scattered them across these continents, but the power of Christ and His Atonement that offers them the covenants and ordinances we have been able to do as a family to unite them,” she said. “That is a powerful uniting.”

President Porter’s father was married to her mother for more than 50 years and supported his family’s activity in the Church but was never baptized. Shortly after his passing, President Porter said she had a sacred experience that let her know he was “rejoicing in his knowledge of the Savior and His Church.” One year later, she and her siblings performed his temple work and were sealed as a family.

“It was a joyful day,” she said. “I have had similar experiences participating in temple ordinances for other deceased family members.”

Participating in temple and family history work is a sacred privilege, President Porter said.

“I am so grateful for His gift to us and that we can participate in small ways in helping unite His family and bring us all home,” she said.

A descendant of Pocahontas

When Elder Bennett was a young boy, his family informed him he was a descendant of Pocahontas, a woman who many historians agree fostered peace between Native Americans and English colonists at the Jamestown Colony in Virginia and eventually married one of Elder Bennett’s 10th great-grandfathers, John Rolfe.

Elder Randall K. Bennett is a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Randall K. Bennett is a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

He also learned he learned he is related to some of the pilgrims who were aboard the Mayflower. Knowing this naturally drew him to want to visit and learn more about Jamestown and Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Elder Bennett was told all the temple work for these ancestors was completed, but while studying Pocahontas’s posterity, they found some family members who had somehow been missed.

“It was such a thrill to go to a temple with my wife and offer those temple covenants and ordinances,” Elder Bennett said. “Being assigned to serve in that part of the country was a great blessing to me, as these sites now feel sacred to me as I think about my ancestors, their lives and experiences and the blessing of knowing that they have been offered sacred covenants and ordinances.”

Elder Bennett has repeatedly learned by experience that temple and family history work is about “one soul at a time” and focused on Jesus Christ, His Atonement and Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness for His children.

“There are few activities outside the temple more powerful and strengthening than getting involved in one’s family history and providing covenants and ordinances to family members beyond the veil,” he said. “I believe that the technology we have today ... was inspired by God for His purposes and that there is no better use of our phones, tablets and computers than preparing names for the temple and the covenants and associated ordinances in the temple for our families.”

Finding blessings and healing

Sister Yee’s family tree includes an interesting mix of Cantonese, Russian, German, Scottish and more.

One grandmother grew up on a ranch in California where her father was the foreman. As a girl, her grandmother spent hours growing and preparing fruit to be sold on the side of the road.

Sister Kristin M. Yee is the second counselor in the Church’s Relief Society general presidency.

Sister Kristin M. Yee is the second counselor in the Church’s Relief Society general presidency.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

When Sister Yee was a teenager, her family moved from Sacramento, California, to Burley, Idaho, where they maintained a small orchard. She learned how to prune and pack fruit like her grandmother.

Another ancestor was the last in a family of nine children. The child’s parents gave him to a couple that couldn’t have children. Sister Yee is working with FamilySearch researchers to find out more about his original biological line.

Sister Yee has had the spiritual impression that so many family members are anxiously waiting for their work to be completed.

“If we are willing to heed that, He will put so many opportunities in our path,” she said. “But we have to do our part. We have to search and listen to those promptings.”

Members of Sister’s Yee’s family recently discovered an ancestor, added the person to the family tree and performed this ancestor’s temple ordinances.

“It’s pretty incredible to watch the Lord help us because there are people that need work done in our family,” she said. “Our family is being united, receiving those blessings on the other side of the veil right now. It’s a miracle. He has given us this sweet gift of family history to heal our families and learn about ourselves.”

Sister Yee said she has often done temple and family history work during the hardest times of her life because it blesses and heals.

“If you are seeking important blessings, things that you really need in your family and in your life, do family history work because the Lord will bless you with those things which you need,” she said.

‘Incredible experiences’ in the temple

Elder De Hoyos said he first gained a testimony of temple and family history work as a young man when his family traveled from Monterrey, Mexico, to attend the Mesa Arizona Temple.

Elder Benjamín De Hoyos is a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Benjamín De Hoyos is a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

On one occasion, the 16-year-old Benjamín De Hoyos was invited to be baptized for 60 deceased persons in the temple baptistry.

“It was an incredible experience for me,” he said in Spanish. “The Spirit was so strong that I asked if I could return the next day, and I was invited back. It was one of my most powerful spiritual experiences in the temple.”

His testimony of temple and family history work grew as he observed his mother fill out pedigree charts with ancestors. He has loved learning about his ancestors’ conversion stories, along with their faith and dedicated Church service for several generations.

Years later, as a member of a stake presidency in Puebla, Mexico, Elder De Hoyos helped organize two-day bus trips each year to Mesa where many Latter-day Saints received their temple blessings. The effort required great preparation months in advance, including raising funds for documentation and transportation.

“The experience filled everyone with the Spirit of temple and family history work,” he said.

Ideas and insights to consider

Audience members were invited to send questions during the roundtable, and Church leaders each shared thoughts, ideas and insights.

For instance, they were asked how to get fellow ward members excited about family history.

The panel members agreed that the best thing is to share one’s story with photos, teach the doctrine, and engage in the work and the ward members will feel something.

“With the Spirit of Elijah, use discovering experiences and teach, testify and invite members,” Elder Yamashita said. “That is a good starting point.”

It’s most effective to sit down one on one with someone and help them discover something about their family, said Elder Hamilton.

Latter-day Saint Church leaders participate in a roundtable discussion about temple and family history work at RootsTech.

Latter-day Saint Church leaders participate in a roundtable discussion about temple and family history work at RootsTech.

Screenshot from RootsTech.org

“We see that happen over and over and over, one by one,” he said. “A family history consultant with an individual helps get that fire started.”

Other practical suggestions for getting more Latter-day Saints involved in temple and family history work include:

  • Invite members to create a FamilySearch account.
  • Use the Family Tree app feature “Ordinances ready.”
  • Start small. Record memories of living relatives. Scan pictures and upload to FamilySearch. Look at the work already done and see what one can learn. Call siblings and coordinate with them. Watch demonstrations, in person or by videos, to understand what to do.
  • Involve the young people and give them a voice.
  • Don’t give up.
  • When the Spirit gives a prompting to get involved, do it.

Watch the full leadership roundtable at RootsTech.org. Online content from the three-day global family history event will continue to be available for free the rest of the year at RootsTech.org.

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