T. C. Christensen Emphasizes Importance of Journal Writing at Family History Conference

Contributed By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer

  • 14 August 2014

T. C. Christensen has won more than 270 national and international awards for his work in directing and photography.  Deseret News Archives.

Article Highlights

  • Writer, director, and producer T. C. Christensen’s remarks focused on lessons learned from the life of Ephraim K. Hanks and other Mormon pioneers.
  • He emphasized the importance of writing down history, because without it we wouldn’t know many stories about the pioneers.


Writer, director, and producer T. C. Christensen, known for his work on LDS films such as Ephraim’s Rescue, 17 Miracles, The Work and the Glory, and Joseph, was the keynote speaker July 31 at the Family History and Genealogy Conference held at Brigham Young University. His remarks focused on lessons learned from the life of Ephraim K. Hanks and other Mormon pioneers.

“I love to come and speak about pioneers and family history,” said Brother Christensen. “One of the things I realized early on with making films is that the research is everything.” As an example, Brother Christensen mentioned that in his research for the film 17 Miracles, he came across some information about a little man with disabilities they called “Albert” in the film. A historical reference describes Albert as “the most deformed of any traveler I had ever seen.”

Emphasizing the importance of writing down history, Brother Christensen said, “The only reason we know anything about Albert is that one day he got separated from the group and got trapped under a log with two wolves snapping after him. Some of the men couldn’t find Albert, so they searched for him, found him, and saved him from the wolves.” Because of this incident, a number of Saints wrote in their journals that night about what happened, and that’s how historians know Albert existed.

One journal even went as far as to say that there was a group of Saints with disabilities who were put together to travel in the Martin company, said Brother Christensen. Even though the average lifespan for a man in 1856 was 52, Captain Martin put a 70-year-old man named George P. Wah in charge of these Saints with disabilities and tasked him with making sure they made it to Zion.

“Now that’s a movie,” said Brother Christensen. “I would love to make a movie about those 25 or so souls trying to get to Zion, but I never will. And do you know why? Because we don’t know anything else about them.” Their experiences were never recorded.

T. C. Christensen’s movie Ephraim’s Rescue centers around the theme “decisions determine destiny.” Deseret News Archives.

Director T. C. Christensen is the director of 17 Miracles and Ephraim’s Rescue. Deseret News Archives.

A number of times during his presentation, Brother Christensen showed movie clips from the film Ephraim’s Rescue. One clip depicted Ephraim Hanks involved with three miracles that allowed him to become a rescuer for the Saints stuck out on the plains.

Speaking about these miracles, Brother Christensen said the first occurred in a cabin in Draper. Ephraim Hanks is so in tune with the Spirit that a man in a gray tweed suit appears to him in a vision and asks, “Ephraim, the handcart people are in trouble. Will you help them?” In response, Ephraim readies his horse and heads to Salt Lake.

The second miracle occurs on Ephraim’s way to Salt Lake, said Brother Christensen. He crosses paths with a messenger sent by Brigham Young, who was looking for Ephraim Hanks. He lets the messenger know who he is and explains he is already on his way.

The third miracle happens when Ephraim Hanks and others gather with Brigham Young in Salt Lake and are asked who is able to go and rescue the Saints dying on the plains, said Brother Christensen. Some brethren agree they could go in a few days, but Ephraim Hanks raises his hand and says, “Brother Brigham, I am ready now.”

Brother Christensen gave two reasons why Ephraim Hanks was so well prepared. First, he had spent the last 10 years delivering the mail from Salt Lake to St. Louis, including during the winter months. He knew how to sleep out on the ground with only a blanket and stay alive.

Second, Ephraim Hanks had an exceptional gift of healing. Brother Christensen said, “Later in life, in central and southern Utah, if your wife was sick, forget calling the doctor, you called Ephraim Hanks. He would ride his horse for hundreds of miles, and he gave many blessings that were especially effective.”

Brother Christensen suggested to audience members that the next time they were called in by a Church leader and asked to do something, instead of giving a list of reasons why they couldn’t serve, they should act in faith and tell the leader they are ready.

“The theme of the film that I learned from Ephraim Hanks that this film typifies is that great things can happen when opportunity meets preparation,” said Brother Christensen. “Ephraim Hanks prepared himself his whole life, so he was ready when he was called, and he was a great blessing to many.”