To Go Forward, Go Back: How to Complete the Four-generation Program

“To Go Forward, Go Back: How to Complete the Four-generation Program,” Ensign, Feb. 1978, 26

To Go Forward, Go Back:

How to Complete the Four-generation Program

RUSS: Let’s talk to Donald Mayne and his family about the four-generation program. I’m his high priests group leader. Don is married to the former Kay Williams. They have eight children and are one of the happiest families in their town. When we’ve finished helping Don with his four-generation pedigree, you will be able to follow his example and do your own.

Hello, Don. Do you know what a pedigree chart is?

DON: Yes, it’s a chart going out from me with a bunch of lines showing my ancestors, right?

RUSS: Right. It looks like this.

Now, Don, you and your brothers and sisters on your family tree (pedigree) represent a generation. Your parents are another generation, your four grandparents are another generation, and so on. Look again at the pedigree chart and tell me how many generations could be placed on it.

DON: One, two, three, four—four.

RUSS: Right! And how far would four generations take you back into your ancestry?

DON: What do you mean?

RUSS: I mean would it take you back to your grandfather, your tenth great-grandfather, or Adam, or what?

DON: Let’s see. The first generation would be me, my parents would be the second, my grandparents would be the third, and then my great-grandparents would be the fourth generation. So four generations would take me back to my great-grandparents.

RUSS: That’s correct. Have you heard of the “four-generation” assignment the Church has asked us all to fulfill?

DON: Yes, I have but, ah … I haven’t done it yet. But I intend to.

RUSS: Good! Let’s do it now. Here’s a full-size pedigree chart. Let’s lay it out flat so you and Kay can see it. There now. Here’s a pencil. I’ll time you on my watch and we’ll see how quickly you can put all the names on the chart. All together you’ll need to write fifteen names. Kay, you help him if he gets stuck and then he can help you when you do your side of the family. All right, go! You’re doing well. You’ve written your name. Now you’ve written your parents’ names. Are those their full names? Okay, what about your grandparents? What’s your grandmother’s maiden name?

DON: I don’t know.

RUSS: All right, just do your best and keep going.

DON: I guess I don’t know any more.

RUSS: Well, you’ve done fine. Let’s see, you have yourself and your parents, and we know those are correct. Right?

DON: Right.

RUSS: You know your grandparents, but you’re not sure of their full names and maiden names. Then you’ve really drawn blanks on your great-grandparents. I must go now, Don, so I’ll leave you, but in a week I’ll return. See if you can find all fifteen names by the time I return.

DON: Just a minute. Where am I supposed to get them?

RUSS: Look through all of your old family records and papers. You’re bound to find something now that you know what you’re searching for. Phone relatives or visit and ask them. Just start, and as you get involved you’ll know where to look.

[A week passes. The high priests group leader returns.]

DON: Come in and look. My mother had half of what I needed and my father’s sister had the rest. I’ve got the entire chart filled out.

RUSS: Good! Now we’ll start on the family group record form. You’ll need eight of these and so will Kay. So I brought you thirty sheets. You can practice on some of them.

DON: Why do I need eight?

RUSS: Count the names on the pedigree chart.

DON: There are fifteen.

RUSS: How many married couples?

DON: Seven, and Kay and me. That’s eight.

RUSS: You’ll need to fill out one of these for every married couple on the pedigree chart.

DON: How long do I have to do that?

RUSS: As long as you need.

DON: I’ll need at least a week.

RUSS: I’m sure you will. At least a week and perhaps longer. The important thing is to get started and keep at it.

DON: Let’s see. I’ll need the names of each couple. I’ve got those. What else? Birth dates. Birthplaces. Marriage places and dates. Children and their dates. Hey, this is a bit more detailed than the pedigree chart, isn’t it?

RUSS: It is, but one step at a time will get you through.

DON: Where do I go for help on these?

RUSS: The same places as before. But because this is a bigger assignment I have some additional suggestions. First, get eight folders and put a family group record form in each one. Label the first folder with your name and Kay’s. Label the second folder with the name of your parents and so on until you have a folder for each of the eight couples. Then you’ll be organized and ready to go. Which folder should you begin to work on first, Don?

DON: Well, I suppose our own—Kay’s and mine. Right?

RUSS: Right. Begin collecting any document or certificate relating to you, to Kay, or to any of your eight children that will prove to your satisfaction that the required information on your family group record form is accurate. Keep copies of those records in your folder for documentation. As each record is found, enter the needed information on your family group record form.

DON: Can’t we just go from memory on our own? I mean, I remember when I was born.

RUSS: You could go from memory, but it’s better to have documentation. When my wife, Pam, began looking for documents to substantiate her birth date, she found plenty of them by searching through several drawers in our home, looking through some cupboards in her parents’ home, and visiting aunts and uncles. She located her birth certificate issued by the State Bureau of Vital Statistics, another issued by the hospital, and still another given by the doctor. Then she found a newspaper clipping announcing her arrival to the world. She also located an announcement her mother had sent to one of her aunts telling her about the great event. Her mother had written the happenings of that eventful day in a baby book. Her blessing certificate recorded her birth date and a visit to the ward clerk also confirmed it on her membership record. So she found eight sources very quickly proving that she was actually born on a certain date, even though she gets younger every year!

You should go through this same process to verify each date and place on your family group record for each individual member of your immediate family. Some of the information will be quick and easy to find. Some will be more difficult, but can be found with a little perseverance.

When you have completed your family group record and documented it accurately, then go on to your parents’ records. Find out first if they have already completed them. If not, offer to help them do so and begin looking for documents to prove their dates and put them in their folder.

You’ll find some interesting and exciting things as you do this.

DON: About all you would be doing would be proving with documents what your parents already know.

RUSS: Not always. Sometimes what they think they know isn’t accurate. For example, my father, Harmon, always celebrated his birthday on the twenty-ninth of October, the same day as his father, Albert. His mother, Mary, recorded both their birth dates in a family record book as 29 October, and a check of the ward records indicated the same date. But when we started to document his birth date, we sent to the Bureau of Vital Statistics of Tennessee and got a birth certificate that said he was born on the thirtieth of October, and it was signed by his mother and the doctor. He still has his birthday party on the twenty-ninth, but now we never worry too much if our birthday card arrives in the mail a day late!

As you start looking for other information on your parents and brothers and sisters, they will also begin looking for their certificates and records, and they’ll become enthused and begin helping. It becomes a real family affair. More and more information will turn up and it will get more and more exciting. But you can handle all the information because you organized and planned before you started. You will have your files prepared and can put in them the information you find in your searches.

After completing your parents’ record, start on your grandparents’. You may already have found much information on them while looking for records about yourself and your parents.

DON: They are a little further back in time. Wouldn’t the work be a bit more difficult with them?

RUSS: A little more difficult, but by working on it one step at a time you can do it. Suppose you are trying to locate the marriage date and place of your grandparents. Where might you find the information you need?

DON: I haven’t the foggiest.

RUSS: The first place to look would be in your own home, your parents’ home, or your aunts’ and uncles’ and your grandparents’ homes. They may have a family Bible, an old family record book, newspaper clippings, or even the original marriage certificate.

DON: I don’t think our family has much stuff like that.

RUSS: That’s what I thought about my family until I started to search. When looking for my own grandparents’ marriage date and information regarding it, several relatives helped me. My grandparents, Albert Barton and Mary Layton, were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1911. A third cousin gave me two pictures taken of them on their wedding day. My father found in an old trunk a newspaper clipping telling of their reception. An uncle found an invitation to their reception in a box in his basement. My cousin found some more pictures and located their marriage certificate and their temple recommends used at the time they were married in some old drawers, where his mother kept family information. He also gave me the wedding rings that they exchanged at that sacred event, but later replaced with new ones. An aunt gave me a family Bible in which their marriage date was recorded. Those items and documents helped me to relive that wonderful occasion as my ancestors did.

DON: That’s great! I’d give anything to find things like that.

RUSS: You will, Don, you will. Following the completion of those two family group records for your grandparents, you and other family members can then proceed to search for information on the four family group records of your great-grandparents. In your case, that will put you back to about 1850. You will have found much information already while searching for materials on the previous generations. You’ll constantly be amazed because you will be actually finding the things you’re looking for. You will make new friends and increase your knowledge about certain aspects of research. Let’s suppose, Don, that you are now looking for your great-grandmother’s death date. Where can you look for such information?

DON: The same places as I did for my grandparents, I suppose.

RUSS: That’s right. Here are some examples. When my great-grandmother died, a death certificate was filled out and filed at the Utah State Bureau of Vital Statistics. A copy was obtained by the family. When looking around the home, I found an old newspaper that had an obituary about her. She died Thanksgiving Day, 1918. Her brother-in-law in Oregon could not attend the funeral, so he wrote a most moving letter to my grandfather and his brother, Oscar, sharing his recollections about great-grandmother and the trials and afflictions she had suffered during her life. I was in tears after I read it.

A second cousin in Thatcher, Arizona, while looking for the death information on another great-grandmother, found a letter in an old trunk written by my mother’s father, Owsley Reneer, in Kentucky, then fourteen years old, to his uncle in Arizona. He told of his mother’s death, mentioned how sad he felt, and wondered what he was going to do. All he could think about in school was his mother dying. It was a sad letter, a sad event, and you knew it after reading it. We later went back to Kentucky and found her tombstone and recorded her death information. We also found that same event recorded in a family Bible in Missouri at the home of my mother’s aunt.

KAY: Do I do my own and let Don do his?

RUSS: I’d suggest you each lead out on your side of the family. But now that you are married you are as one. It will be much more interesting and fun if you both work together on each other’s four-generation pedigrees. Let the eight children help, too. Well, I’ve got to help some other people, so I’ll leave you now, but I’ll see you again. Let me know if you have any questions or problems. I’ll be happy to help you further if I can.

[The high priests group leader leaves.]

DON: Where’s the flashlight? I’ve got a little record prospecting I need to do in the attic. Coming?

KAY: I wouldn’t miss this for the world!

  • George D. Durrant, director of the Church Priesthood Genealogy Division, is a Regional Representative and a member of the Melchizedek Priesthood General Committee. He lives in the Park Ward, Provo Utah Central Stake.

  • Noel R. Barton is manager of Priesthood Projects and Services, Church Priesthood Genealogy Division, and serves in the Farmington First Ward bishopric, Farmington Utah Stake.

Illustrated by Ron Stucki