The Hidden Book

“The Hidden Book,” Ensign, July 2001, 58–59

The Hidden Book

In the summer of 1973, I succumbed to an unexplainable urge to go to Europe in search of family history records. That is how my two granddaughters and I ended up copying records inside a large old building in Kappeln, Germany.

I had felt impressed to concentrate my limited time on searching out my Grandfather Thomsen’s people, who had lived in this region, and the building we were in housed the civil and religious records of Kappeln back to 1764. We were unacquainted with the German language, but fortunately the English-speaking curator explained to us enough terms to understand the well-kept records.

My granddaughters and I worked as fast as we could to get the information I needed until they left for England in keeping with our itinerary. I felt I could not leave yet; my urge to search the records of my grandfather’s family line now seemed like true inspiration.

It didn’t take long for the staff at the Kappeln archives to learn how important their records were to me. I was waiting at the door each morning when they opened, and I did not stop for lunch. They responded generously: not only did they allow me to stay when they closed for lunch, but they offered to open their doors an hour earlier each morning. Given my limited time, I was grateful beyond expression.

When I had searched through the births, marriages, and burials back to 1764, I asked myself, Where do I go from here? I knew the records before 1764 had to be somewhere, but where? At that moment I had the impression, “You haven’t looked.” Somewhat astonished, I went to the building’s vault where the records were kept and muttered, “Where haven’t I looked?”

Some books up on the top shelf caught my eye. The spines on the huge volumes were four inches wide. I mused to myself, I’ll bet the records are in those big books that no one has looked at for ages. To reach them I had to step up on the bottom shelf. As I reached with my right hand to remove one of the large volumes, I placed my left hand in a recessed corner to brace myself and felt something there. After retrieving and setting down the massive book from the top shelf, I looked to see what I had felt with my left hand. It turned out to be a much smaller book, about one inch thick, over 14 inches in length, and about six inches wide. Its cover was the same color as the shelves, a nondescript and unobtrusive tan. I opened it. Old Gothic script spread across the page. What was it? Understanding it was hopeless for me.

I flipped to the back where the writing was more modern and found the name of a child born to parents whose records I had already assembled going back as far as I could, to 1765. What I was looking at now was the record of an older child born to those same parents in 1763.

I was afraid to hope, but as soon as the staff returned from lunch I took the record book to the archivist. After some discussion and a long wait, he returned to tell me that the book was, in fact, just what I had thought—a record of the christenings of Kappeln going back to the mid-1600s. “You are right,” he said. “This is the Kappeln record, but we have never seen this record here,” he said.

Having only a day and a half left to cover the entire record, I made arrangements with the staff to have a copy made. The 101 sheets I received covered the christenings in Kappeln from 1656 to 1764 and produced many names my family and I would later submit for temple work. Paper copies and a film of the book are now available in the Church Family History Library.

I gratefully acknowledge the help that the Lord gives to those who sincerely seek the records of their ancestors. This experience confirmed to me the wisdom of the scripture: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5–6) .

  • Ruth Dorsett is a member of the Bloomington Hills Second Ward, St. George Utah Bloomington Hills Stake.