Wendy Watson Nelson, the wife of the prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a big fan of family history. She talks about doing family history as one way to open the heavens.

I was impressed as I listened to some of her experiences that she has recorded specific family history miracles.

So I wanted to record a recent experience.

Elmer C. Mathews and his wife, Addie Ostrander Mathews, distant relatives of mine, had a child listed in FamilySearch, but the program flagged this child as being born before the mother was able to have children (birth years were only 8 years apart). Also, the last name of the child was different (Rae). So I dug deeper.

I love looking for the original records (not indexes, if possible). There was a census record available. I looked at it and at first, couldn’t make sense of it. I asked questions in my mind about what could have been possible. Could this be a child from another marriage? Could the dates have been recorded incorrectly? Then I noticed that James Rae’s name was not indented in the census as children usually are. His name was recorded as though he was a head of a new household.

That led me to look at the address section of the census record. It said “See page 8A4.” I was on page 13 of the census. So I went back a few pages…and sure enough, on page 8A, line 4, there were James M. Rae and Harriet P. Rae.

I was so excited to be able to update the records in FamilySearch (each record represents real people!).

I worked then on merging the records that already existed for this family (and finding more original records to verify that James Rae is indeed James N (not James F as originally indexed…hard-to-read handwriting sometimes means errors in indexing).

With more of this work, I discovered that James’ middle name is Nathaniel (as per a typed directory that shows him living with his father, James M…at the very same address that was listed on page 8A, line 4: 367 Pennsylvania Avenue in Elmira, NY)!

After a couple of hours working on cleaning up the records, I was also able to create a new record for a different James and Harriett. I also found James Nathaniel’s baby brother who died at age 1. The census that was so strange had indicated that James and Harriett had had 4 children, 3 living. Now Charles D. Rae can be sealed to his parents, once temples are once again opened for what is called proxy ordinance work.

Family history is a true love of mine, both because it’s just such a fun challenge (a kind of data science) and because of my deep belief in the eternal nature of life, and God’s desire for families to be connected through priesthood authority beyond death’s door.

I love bringing families together through family history. Bringing their records together. Using records to tell more of their stories. Mourning with them as I learn more of their stories, as many of them had very hard lives. Rejoicing with them, too. I feel the power of family woven throughout their stories…seeing widowed parents living with their children, or siblings taking in single siblings, for example.

The power of family is as old as time (and older). I feel like these people know that I’m here trying to help them, and sometimes I feel their desire to help me do that. It usually takes a while for me to find a groove each time I open up FamilySearch, but almost every time I do family history work, something like this happens. There’s a ZING of energy as pieces of a family’s puzzle come together. I feel a little like we’re having a little bit of a family reunion through the veil.


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