How family history became more real to me while shadowing Elders Uchtdorf, Bednar in Europe

Two Apostles on consecutive weekends last month visited their respective homelands, participating in events directly associated with President Russell M. Nelson’s call to gather Israel on both sides of the veil.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles rededicated the Frankfurt Germany Temple on Oct. 20, returning to where he grew up, raised his family and as Frankfurt’s stake president chaired the committee organizing the temple’s 1987 dedication events.

The following week at RootsTech London, Elder David A. Bednar of the same quorum conducted meetings with Latter-day Saints, emphasizing family history work and temple ordinances. He spoke of visiting London’s archives to see the actual marriage record of his great-great-great-grandparents and visiting the parish church where they were married on Dec. 25, 1851.

Whitney Peterson, a FamilySearch content strategist specializing in the British Isles, gives historical background for the St. Pancras Old Church to Elder David A. Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, on Oct. 25, 2019, in London.
Whitney Peterson, a FamilySearch content strategist specializing in the British Isles, gives historical background for the St. Pancras Old Church to Elder David A. Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, on Oct. 25, 2019, in London. Credit: Scott Taylor

Shadowing Elder Uchtdorf and Elder Bednar to share those moments for the Church News, I reflected on being in my own ancestral homelands.

On the temple grounds in Friedrichsdorf, I listened as Elder Uchtdorf testified of the Savior and eternal truths in his native German — and I thought of Johann Jakob Zundel, a fraternal fourth-great-grandfather, who is considered the Church’s first German convert. I later mentioned him to Elder Uchtdorf, who excitedly shared his knowledge of this pioneer member and missionary.

Zundel was born in 1796 in Wiernsheim, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Frankfurt. The Zundels had become Harmonists, a Christian theosophy and pietist society, and joined a group fleeing from persecution to the United States in 1805.

Later In Pennsylvania, the family became disillusioned with the Harmony Society, but Johann Jakob Zundel felt prepared to embrace teachings of Latter-day Saint missionaries and was baptized in 1836 in the Ohio River. He made a journey to Kirtland and was ordained an elder, then moving his own family to join the Saints in Missouri and later in Nauvoo.

Zundel taught his native German to the Prophet Joseph Smith, who likely used it in studying Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible. He worked on the Nauvoo Temple in the early 1840s, served a mission to Pennsylvania in 1844 and was one of the last “temple guards” to remain in Nauvoo through the late 1840s.

After emigrating west in 1852, he served missions to the Eastern States in 1869 and — at age 77 — to the Swiss-German Mission in 1874 before passing away in 1880 in Willard, Utah.

Watching a visibly elated Elder Bednar retrace his ancestors’ steps in London, I thought of my many British Isles ancestors and focused on the Barlows, from Prestwich, near Manchester and about 340 kilometers (210 miles) northwest of London.

James and Ann Crompton Barlow are my maternal third-great-grandparents. He was one of the town’s early Church converts when baptized in 1839 and confirmed by William Clayton of “Come, Come Ye Saints” fame. Other family members soon followed.

The eternal blessings, rewards and opportunities are identical for anyone entering into God’s covenants.

The Barlows’ youngest child — Joseph Smith Barlow, a second-great grandfather — was born in 1848. Within 14 months, James Barlow passed away, leaving Ann Barlow a widow and Joseph and his siblings fatherless.

With the Perpetual Emigration Fund, Joseph Barlow joined his mother and two siblings sailing to the United States in 1856 and joining the Martin Handcart Company. After enduring the well-chronicled hardships and harsh weather, Ann Barlow dissuaded Salt Lake City doctors from amputating the 8-year-old’s frozen-below-the-knees legs. Healing well enough to walk, he died at age 27 of appendicitis, leaving a wife, three children and a fourth on the way.

In Europe, I reflected on my opportunities and testimony as fostered by the efforts and sacrifices of the Zundels, Barlows and many more ancestors. And I reflected how the Church has grown in these homelands — from humble beginnings to today’s faithful congregations and the four temples operating in Germany and Great Britain.

As I contemplated my pioneering ancestors, I looked around in Friedrichsdorf and London  at the gathered Saints, recognizing many were “pioneers” in their rights.

The Savior’s parable of the workers in the vineyard came to mind, where all workers — whether working all day or just the last hour — are paid the identical penny wage. I used to think of the parable as unfair — longer work should earn a greater wage.

Elder David A. Bednar takes a photo of the outside of St. Pancras Old Church in London on Oct. 25, 2019. Elder Bednar's great-great-great-grandparents, Luke Syphus and Christiana Long, were married there on Dec. 25, 1851.
Elder David A. Bednar takes a photo of the outside of St. Pancras Old Church in London on Oct. 25, 2019. Elder Bednar’s great-great-great-grandparents, Luke Syphus and Christiana Long, were married there on Dec. 25, 1851. Credit: Scott Taylor

But Heavenly Father loves all of His children equally — the eternal blessings, rewards and opportunities are identical for anyone entering into God’s covenants, no matter if one has a family tree with multi-generational branches of membership and experiences or if one’s family tree is a new-member sapling just starting to take root.

Those eternal blessings, rewards and opportunities are identical as well no matter which side of the veil one finds himself or herself, if God’s covenants are accepted and followed. The choices, actions and covenants of my ancestors helped set the table for my own choices, actions and covenants.

And through ongoing family history and temple work, I and Latter-day Saints everywhere can continue to help set the table for ancestors still without covenant opportunities and deserving of their “penny wage” of identical eternal blessings, rewards and opportunities.