“Family History Reflections,” Ensign, Sept. 2008, 69–70
In the summer of 1979, I was surprised to learn that some of my mother’s books and papers were stored in a backyard shed of ward members in my hometown of London, Ontario. In salvaging what I could from several moldering cardboard boxes, I discovered partially completed pedigree charts on my family, some family group records, and a few research notes. The real treasure was a four-page personal history written by my mother, who died when I was 11. This wonderful handwritten history describes her childhood in England during the 1930s and her life through World War II. Finding these records stimulated my initial interest in family history and turned my heart to my ancestors.
Almost two years later, in April 1981, my father died unexpectedly. Among his effects I discovered a ring that bore his initials, CMY, but I couldn’t recall ever seeing it on his hand. He must have worn this ring as a young man while serving on a Canadian Navy minesweeper during the war.
Now, upon his death, I was the only living person appearing on my one-page pedigree chart, so I had to rely on extended relatives to gather more information. One of these was Betty, a sister-in-law of my grandfather, still living at the family home in Bexleyheath, Kent, England. I had always hoped to visit and learn more about my mother’s family, but as a single college student, I did not have the financial means to do so. Now, with the modest amount bequeathed to me after my father’s passing, I could fund a trip across the ocean to visit.
On the day I went to visit Aunt Betty for the first time I felt nervous. Would she understand my great desire to learn more about earlier generations? I looked at my father’s ring, now on my own right hand, reflected in the window of the double-decker bus I was riding in. It brought me comfort, as if his hand were resting on my knee in support of my errand.
Happily, Aunt Betty received me warmly and revealed many new and helpful details about my family, including the fact that my great-great-grandfather had built the home she was living in. That night I even slept in my grandfather’s childhood bedroom. I never met him, but from the photos she shared, I learned that I bear an uncanny resemblance to him. She generously gave me some of these old family photos, letters, and a family Bible listing the full names, birthdates, and birthplaces of two generations of my ancestors starting in the 1830s.
It has been over 25 years since that rainy September afternoon in England, when my tentative steps took me from the bus stop to an uncertain welcome at my ancestral home. Since then I have discovered a treasure trove of information from extended family members about my ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic, allowing me to ensure their temple ordinances have been done.
I will always remember walking up to the front door of number 32 Oaklands Road and seeing my own reflection in the glass. Now I know that the familiar face reflected back at me was not unlike the young face of my grandfather welcoming me home.