When I teach youths Sunday lessons or children about family history and genealogy, I like to share a certain story from my ancestors.
My mom rolls her eyes and says, "Why do you insist on that one?"
I respond, "Because it puts a human face on genealogy and shares their struggles and challenges, too."
The story involves my great-great-grandmother Inger Marie Jensdatter and great-grandmother Karen Marie Elizabeth Jensen. They and Karen's two older sisters joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denmark in the 1870s. Their father didn't, and he was pretty adamant about them not going to church or having the missionaries over. One history even refers to his actions as abuse, but I wonder if that has been substantiated.
Inger eventually took her daughters and left in the middle of the night. One history says Karen remembers her father, Henrick Jensen, calling for them in the street while they hid. Inger married Jens Jensen, the missionary who baptized her, on a ship in the North Sea. After reaching Utah, the two older sisters married into polygamy in Heber City. One account says it wasn't by choice but an arrangement to help Jens settle a debt.
There are other stories. Some of my ancestors met John Taylor, eventually the third president of the LDS Church, at Ellis Island. Some of my ancestors had to deal with a captain who tried to burn his ship when he found out he had Mormons aboard. My mom has also told me about two cousins who died in World War II. One was shot down during a bombing mission over Italy. The other died in the Battle of the Bulge.
My wife also has an interesting heritage. Her great-great-great-grandfather Stephen Nixon, born on the island of Malta, was a bodyguard for Joseph Smith and later helped others get ready to head to Utah from Winter Quarters, Neb. That was after his wife, Harriet Rushton, 39, died when the family struggled to get across Iowa after leaving Nauvoo, Ill.
Familysearch.org, which is run by the LDS Church, familytree.com
and ancestry.com are popular among family history enthusiasts of all denominations. The LDS Church has presented Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama with family histories.
There are conferences. More libraries across the country are offering material. The Internet, especially, has brought the research home. When I went to the genealogy library in Salt Lake City as a kid, it was microfilms, big books and a lot of copies. The last time I went, everyone had a flash drive with them.
If you are interested in family history, there are plenty of resources to help you. I think you are in for a treat and a time of discovery. For example, my sister-in-law is related to Idaho criminal ne'er-do-wells from the 1800s. Stories she doesn't mind sharing.