Prayer and the Parish Register

“Prayer and the Parish Register,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 40–41

Prayer and the Parish Register

When I was fifteen, I received my patriarchal blessing, and it became clear to me that the responsibility for tracing our family genealogy lay mostly with me. However, it was not until I was a student and living away from home that my heart really began to turn to my forefathers. I became increasingly aware of the vast amount of research to be done, and what little effort I had made up to that time.

In particular, I began to think about my mother’s side of the family—the Carrs. Stephen Carr, my grandfather, ran away from home when he was a young man and, to my knowledge, never returned. Consequently, my mother knew very little about her grandparents, apart from the fact that they were farmers and had lived somewhere north of us in the region of Malham in Yorkshire.

Knowing very little about the method of genealogical research, I decided to write to the parish church in Malham. I had never visited Malham and didn’t know if there was a church there. But I supposed it was worth a try, because most English villages have a church of some sort.

I really didn’t expect a reply to my letter, and as I became caught up in my studies again I almost forgot about it. Then one morning an envelope in unfamiliar handwriting and postmarked “Yorkshire” came through my letter box. I was excited as I opened it and scanned the pages.

It contained good news and bad. First, the letter came from a church in Rylstone, the parish church for Malham; the vicar had people by the name of Carr living within his parish so he thought I might find what I was looking for. That was the good news. The bad news was that I would have to pay a fee for each year of records that I searched. Living as I was on a student grant, this was going to be difficult. It would be costly enough to make the journey to Rylstone; and I had hoped to search at random through the records, having no idea when my great-grandparents died. That was now out of the question, and I had to try to find out when they died before I made the journey.

I made phone calls home asking for help and even wrote to my great aunt living across the Atlantic in Canada with whom I had never corresponded before. Although this contact revealed some interesting details about my great-grandparents, it didn’t bring the information I was looking for. My great-aunt was in her nineties and couldn’t remember dates.

Finally I decided to make a calculated guess and reckoned that at least one of my great-grandparents had died between 1898 and 1900. Having come to this rather unsatisfactory conclusion, I decided to make the arrangements for my trip. After all, I did have one more avenue of help open to me.

I had read in Church magazines and heard in talks of the miraculous help some people had as they did genealogical research, so I knelt to ask God if he would help me. I knew that he could somehow make it known to me. I felt justified in asking for such specific information because I had made every effort to find out myself and failed. I told him when I thought they had died and asked him to tell me which year to search.

Thereafter followed one of the most spiritual experiences I have ever had. I didn’t see any writing on the wall; no heavenly messenger presented me with a piece of paper, nor did I hear a voice. But the Lord told me convincingly which year to search. It was as if a voice in my head repeated over and over, “1903.” I was surprised at the power and immediacy of the answer; in fact, I really wondered if it was only a figment of my imagination. So I decided to search the three years I had calculated as well as 1903 just to see.

The next day I traveled to Rylstone, set in the picturesque countryside of the Yorkshire Dales. It was a beautiful day, and I spent a little time looking at the lichen-covered gravestones before I made my way to the rectory to find Reverend Fairhurst. He turned out to be a very amiable gentleman, most interested in my search. He had the books all ready for me to look at.

They were large, leather-covered volumes, and I asked first to see the 1903 records. My heart was pounding as I opened the pages, and there staring up at me was the name of Eliza Horner, my great-grandmother. Not only had Heavenly Father given me vital information to help me with my genealogy, but he had strengthened my testimony that he lives and will answer prayers.

I went on to find information about both my great- grandparents, their marriage date, some of their children, and also my great-great-grandparents. It was a wonderful day!

I look forward to the time when I can meet all these people who are now just names in books to me, but who have all contributed in some way to the person I am today.