“Finding Grandma Toth,” Ensign, Apr. 1991, 59–60
“That’s easy for them to say!” I muttered while mashing potatoes one Sunday after church.
With all my heart, I wanted to graduate from the family history class I was taking; now it was impossible. Our Sunday School teacher had announced that afternoon, “In order to graduate from this class, you need to submit a family name and have it cleared for temple work. Our goal is to have this done in time to make a group trip to the temple this March.”
There was no way I could find an ancestral name and have it cleared for temple work in just a few short months. The research had already been done for generations back on most of my mother’s lines. Any names with verifiable dates already had had the temple work performed.
“What about your dad’s line?” asked my teacher. He was not as willing as I was to admit defeat.
But that was no help to me. My dad had joined the Church fifteen years earlier and he had soon found that any significant family history research was impossible.
I told my teacher, “My great-grandfather was an orphan in Hungary. All our records are behind the Iron Curtain. My grandfather is nearly ninety, and his memory is no longer reliable.”
Although my heart was no longer in it, I continued to attend the class. As the deadline for name submissions came nearer and the other students’ enthusiasm grew, I was forced to reconsider. Maybe there was a possibility I had overlooked.
Then one day an idea came to me like a thunderbolt: Grandma Toth! How could I have overlooked her? I made plans to write to my mother before the day was over, but I was so excited about the idea that I decided to phone her.
“Mom, this is Pat,” I blurted out. “Has the temple work ever been done for Grandma Toth?”
There was a pause on the other end as my mother tried to think of an answer for this question that had come out of nowhere. “No,” she answered.
“Is there any reason why?” I demanded. “I mean, like the lack of documentation or dates or anything?”
Another pause. “No, I guess the only reason is that no one has ever thought of it before.”
My heart raced as I explained the class, the assignment, and the deadline.
“I’ll check things out and get back to you,” Mom promised.
Grandma Toth was my dad’s mother. She died when I was only eleven months old, so all I knew of her was what I had seen in a black-and-white snapshot. Now, twenty-four years later, we were about to be, in a way, introduced.
As my mother sent me certificates and passports, I pieced together the facts of Grandma Toth’s life. Soon there was enough data to submit her name for temple work. The class deadline had long since passed, but I no longer cared. What had once been my sole motivation now vanished in the overwhelming joy and spirit of the work itself.
How easy it became! The name submission form was not the monster I had feared. The data was entered, checked, and sent on its way.
One day in early October a brown envelope arrived from the Church’s Family History Department. With my fingers trembling and my eyes quickly clouding with tears, I tore the seal open. Yes! Yes! The name had been cleared and placed in the family file at the Provo Temple.
Now that my dream had become reality, I began to have doubts. Had Grandma Toth accepted the gospel? Would she accept the baptism? Was I doing the right thing?
Almost a year had passed since that frustrating Sunday afternoon in my family history class. The beautiful autumn sunshine glowed as I arrived in Provo. The temple workers guided me through the necessary preparations.
As we stood in the font, the young priesthood bearer who would perform the ordinance asked, “What relation is Mary Kerger Toth to you?”
“She’s my grandmother. She died when I was a baby,” I explained.
“I bet she thinks this is special,” he commented.
The earlier trepidations surfaced. “I hope she does,” was my insecure reply.
“I’m sure she does,” he said. “In fact, I’m sure she’s here with us today.”
When everyone was ready, we proceeded. As the elder spoke my grandma’s name, I felt a sensation like a flash of brightness somewhere inside me. It lasted only as long as it took for him to speak her name, but it left me with a glow of peace and joy. Now I had no doubts that what I was doing was right. The elder immersed me, and I came up wet and heavy with dripping clothing. But oh, my heart was light!
A kind sister instructed me to dress in my street clothes so I could be confirmed in my grandmother’s behalf. I changed clothes quickly and went to the mirror to comb my dripping hair.
As I stood there, the realization slowly crept over me that both my grandmothers were very near. I wondered if perhaps my Latter-day Saint grandmother had been the missionary to Grandma Toth. My heart swelled with joy. As the brethren confirmed me in behalf of Grandma and bestowed on her the gift of the Holy Ghost, I felt a glow and a feeling of newness come over me.
Three weeks later, my husband and I went back to the Provo Temple to do Grandma’s endowment work and have her sealed to her parents. As the session began, I was surprised to feel tears running down my cheeks. Grandma Toth was no longer the stranger in the snapshot.