“When Your Family Isn’t LDS,” Ensign, June 1982, 28–30
Family organizations aren’t just for large LDS families with pioneer ancestors. My wife, our three children, and I are the only members of the Church in a family association we helped to organize—and we find that it is helping us fulfill our genealogical responsibilities and develop close family ties.
The sketchy stories about my ancestors that I heard as a boy stimulated my imagination and whetted my appetite to know more about them. As I was growing up, I often felt embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn’t confidently answer questions about the origin of my last name. My longings to discover my heritage grew over the years.
These feelings were put into action when my wife and I were baptized into the Church in April of 1969. Encouraged by the Church to seek out my ancestors, I consulted with family members about their knowledge of our family history and began searching town records in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I accumulated dates, wills, inventories, pictures, and stories, and located homesteads and other sites pertaining to the family.
During this project, I realized how much I needed the assistance of the rest of the family—and how much we needed each other’s assistance. So in September 1979 I wrote the first issue of the James Greenhalgh & Family Newsletter—a one-pager—and mailed copies to all the relatives I knew about: forty family members and friends in Canada, England, and the United States. I told them what I had collected and explained: “I feel this priceless information should not remain solely in my possession, but should be passed on to all descendants of James Greenhalgh. For this reason, from time to time this newsletter will be mailed to you for your enjoyment. I hope it will develop a deep appreciation and love for our ancestors and our heritage. And I would like to invite you to send me any stories, important events involving your family, family history, pictures, etc., for publishing in our newsletter. Stories told to you by your grandmother or grandfather, mother or father, aunt or uncle would be a valuable contribution to the Greenhalgh family history—as well as making interesting reading.” I didn’t have any idea what my relatives, many of whom I didn’t even know, would think of my short newsletter.
To my delight, it was favorably received! We printed an issue monthly—and didn’t run out of material after the first few issues, as I had feared. Family members sent words of encouragement, histories, dates, genealogies, newspaper articles, and stories. They supported the newsletter financially with contributions. (No fee is charged for it.) Some contributed their time.
In the one-year anniversary issue, I encouraged the family to keep their copies in a binder. “It won’t take long,” I wrote, “for those single pages to accumulate into a book—a book about the history of the Greenhalgh families.”
Since our first year had been so successful, I took a big step. In the anniversary issue, I proposed that “the descendants of Greenhalghs join together to establish a family organization for which officers will be elected and an annual reunion planned. The goal of this organization will be to preserve the Greenhalgh family histories, traditions, and genealogies.” I explained some of the benefits of joining together and proposed that we meet to discuss the possibilities.
The outcome of that planning meeting was the first Greenhalgh get-together. On 11 April 1981, fifty-five members and friends of the Greenhalgh family gathered in the George D. Greenhalgh Memorial Hall of the Chepachet Union Church, Chepachet, Rhode Island. The evening began with a display of family records and pictures, including information most family members weren’t aware of. The display also included how-to’s for writing a personal and family history.
After a delicious dinner served by the Ladies Society of the Chepachet Union Church, we had a guest speaker, a noted local genealogist, historian, lecturer, and author. Her talk, “Up in Grandma’s Attic,” was very informative and fit the evening’s theme very well.
Next, members of each family introduced themselves to the group. Then I conducted a brief session on how to begin to do research, walking everyone through the experience of filling out a pedigree chart and a family group sheet.
At the end of the evening, we elected officers and heard the treasurer’s report. We voted to hold a reunion every year, open to all descendants of Greenhalghs, whether their research ties them into our lines or not—or even whether or not they’ve done any research. Most of us visited for a while before leaving.
Our 1982 reunion included time for family members to display talents and hobbies. We again had dinner, a speaker, and short presentations on record keeping.
We’re proud of our name and heritage. And we’re grateful that our family is working so well together to learn about the past—and about each other.