On a Mission to Turn Hearts

By Tiffany Tolman

As a Church-service missionary in the family history center in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Elder Steve Hiltbrand is turning hearts and experiencing the spirit of Elijah through his service. 

Elder Steve Hiltbrand has felt the spirit of Elijah turning his heart to his ancestors for a long time—since 1960 to be exact. At the age of 12, Elder Hiltbrand learned about family history from a Sunday School teacher who took time outside of class to teach him and his friends about four-generation charts and family group sheets. In those days, before the convenience of computers or FamilySearch, Elder Hiltbrand pursued his hobby by studying old microfilm records and recording information by hand. Since then, much has changed for Elder Hiltbrand with family history work, but one thing has remained the same—his desire to find the names of family members and bind them together eternally in temples.

Elder Hiltbrand and his wife, Lorraine, had always wanted to serve a full-time mission. But employment obligations and aging parents made that option difficult. So when the call came to serve a six-month Church-service mission in the family history center in Idaho Falls, Idaho, he readily agreed. A Church-service mission was a perfect opportunity for Elder Hiltbrand to serve the Lord right from home, use talents and abilities he had developed over a lifetime, and still meet the needs of his family. Not only could he continue to do something he loved, but he could help many others do the same.

Like many Church-service missionaries, Elder Hiltbrand has extended his original six-month call—in his case, to four years. Officially, he serves 16 hours per week in the family history center, helping patrons research their own families and teaching classes on various family history subjects. Unofficially, he spends many more hours each week preparing video presentations, learning more about the tools available on FamilySearch and other family history websites, and continuing to work on his own family history. And he does all this while serving as a ward clerk and family history committee member as well as supporting his wife in her Primary and Cub Scout callings.

Even though Elder Hiltbrand has always been drawn to family history, his mission has magnified his efforts and deepened his appreciation for the promises of Elijah. As he has helped others with their family history through his mission service, he has come to understand more fully the positive impact of doing his own family history. He shares, “The more I’ve done it, I’ve found that it’s no longer just a name and a date. It’s the person. It’s their story.” And through this work, he is coming closer to the Savior. “These are our family members,” he emphasizes. “We don’t want to lose them. And realizing that it’s not just about finding them but about getting their names to the temple so we can be bound together as a family forever. That’s what it’s about. And all of that is made possible through the Savior.”

How long does Elder Hiltbrand plan to serve in the family history center? As long as the Lord needs him there, he says. As he sees it, “We each have talents we’ve been given. If we can’t use them to help somebody, what good are our talents?” For Elder Hiltbrand, a Church-service mission in family history is the best way for him to show his love for the Lord by helping others experience the heart-turning promises of Elijah firsthand. And he plans to do it for a very long time.