“‘Finding the Posterity’ Is Kirtland’s New Challenge,” Ensign, Dec. 1982, 68–69
The dedication of a new Kirtland Ward chapel has prompted Church members in that area to look back in a very special way.
The October 17 chapel dedication, with President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve presiding, culminated the initial phase of a program designed to bring descendants of early Kirtland Saints into contact with the Church.
It’s called “Finding the Posterity.” Conceived a short six weeks prior to the chapel’s dedication, the program has seen immediate success and looks toward a promising future. Researchers estimate that some 300,000 descendants of early Church members are now living in the Kirtland area. Most are nonmembers, and many are unaware of their Latter-day Saint heritage. The program’s goal is to seek out these individuals and let them know about it.
With only a limited time before the dedication, Bruce Walborn, an advertising executive and a member of the high council in the Cleveland Ohio Stake, was called to plan and organize a reception for descendants. Working under the direction of Karl R. Anderson, Regional Representative, President William A. Groesbeck of the Cleveland Ohio Stake, and Bishop Jack Davis of the Kirtland Ward, Brother Walborn and his committee considered their assignment: “We thought, what would happen if we found this posterity, and what could happen if we told them we thought they were connected in some way with the Mormon pioneers? What would happen, then, if we told them we would help them search out their genealogy and discover if that was really true? And, if all of this took place, would they become inspired in some way? Would they be drawn closer to the gospel? Would, in fact, their own ancestors on the other side of the veil inspire them and prompt them to read the Book of Mormon? What a marvelous thing this could be! With those thoughts in mind, we began our search in earnest.”
Word of the effort spread quickly. “In no time,” recalls Brother Walborn, “people started coming to us. We couldn’t believe it.”
Links were established to 105 early Kirtland family names. Over 600 people attended the reception held in their honor following the chapel dedication; 52 were nonmembers, but all were related to early Latter-day Saint families. Family names were displayed at tables arranged around the room. “We asked the members and nonmembers to bring genealogy, family group sheets, artifacts, photographs, journals—anything they had that related to these family names—and we put them on these tables,” said Brother Walborn. “We catalogued everything that came in; there were thousands of pieces of information presented to us.”
As honored guests at the reception, President and Sister Benson greeted each nonmember personally. “They were so very gracious,” said Brother Walborn. “President Benson is deeply interested in this program, and our guests were delighted to meet and visit with him and Sister Benson.”
The dedication of the chapel itself was an historic occasion. The meeting was the first stake conference conducted in Kirtland since those at which the Prophet Joseph Smith presided in the 1830s. Theme of the conference was obedience to the Lord’s commandments and the role of sacrifice in building his kingdom.
Prior to offering the dedicatory prayer, President Benson addressed the congregation. “For the Church today,” he said, “Kirtland signifies a time of beginning, a time of growth, a time of unprecedented revelation, a time of disaffection, a time of persecution, a time of testing.”
Many lessons from the Kirtland period in Church history, said Elder Benson, are applicable to Church members today. “The first lesson is to follow God’s appointed prophet—and no one else. … A second lesson is that those who complain and murmur against the leaders of the Church lose their faith.”
A third lesson of significance, he said, is that Church members must strive to proclaim the truths of the gospel even in the face of false accusations and uninformed criticism. “We shall take the message of the gospel to all who will open their doors and their hearts,” he said. “We shall preach to them Jesus Christ and Him crucified and resurrected. We shall proclaim the restoration of His church and His gospel. We shall not revile against the revilers.”
“The strength of this Church,” concluded President Benson, “will ever be the individual testimonies of its members.”
In the wake of a successful first effort to locate posterity of early Kirtland Saints, Brother Walborn envisions “a long-range program where we’re going to try to find all of the posterity—all 300,000 of them!” He indicated that a fully equipped genealogy library is now in place in the newly dedicated chapel. “We’d like all members of the Church to be aware of this,” he said.
Persons who wish to receive additional information on the program may write to Roland Smith, Cleveland Stake Mission President, 10330 Thwing, Chardon, Ohio 44024.