When it comes to family history work, two of the most common reasons given of why people don’t do it are, “It’s not for me” and “I don’t know where to start.” For Amanda Phillips, 23, California, she had another excuse. She had no idea where her real roots lie.
Amanda’s mother was adopted from Mexico and she has no information on her biological family. Amanda’s father passed away when she was only three years old, and she and her older brother lost all contact with that side of the family.
“My family tree consisted of my mother’s [adopted] LDS side with generations of family history work already completed by the dozens of diligent cousins, aunts and uncles who, I believed, were more qualified to do this kind of work,” she said. “On my paternal side, it has always been a mysterious dead end.”
Over the years, Amanda had tried to discover the hidden branches in her family tree, but always hit dead ends in her research. That all changed when she saw Elder Neil L. Andersen’s Temple Challenge on LDS.org.
Accepting the Challenge
Elder Andersen recently invited all youth to help prepare as many names for the temple as baptisms they perform in the temple. He promised that those who accepted the challenge would have added strength and an increase in faith and knowledge of the Savior.
When Amanda came across the challenge, without even thinking, she clicked the “I Accept” button at templechallenge.lds.org.
“Having served a mission, I had learned the power behind such invitations extended to us by the Lord’s ordained servants,” Amanda said. “I had learned well on my mission just how powerful and full of meaning these invitations from the brethren are. They are direct invitations from the Lord.”
And, she felt that this one in particular was just for her.
Finding a Name
Amanda began her Internet research, just as she had done several times before. But, this time, she was convinced that the Lord was guiding her search. Within an hour, she discovered a key link on her biological father’s side. She found her late grandfather’s real last name, and it opened up a whole new branch of her family tree.
“With just a couple of hours of sleuthing, connecting, and transcribing, I was able to sit back in my desk chair and behold how the sad stump of a family tree I started with had blossomed into a mighty oak,” she said.
“I couldn’t stop staring at all of the ordinances that needed to be done. Over a hundred! I felt this unbelievable, electric spirit pushing this work forward and urging me to keep going.”
She noticed that she didn’t have any links to her father’s maternal side. She couldn’t find anything on his mother. And, the only thing she remembered about her grandmother was her first name: Ann.
As Amanda stared at this website that had given her so many fruits on her family tree, she noticed at the very bottom, in small print, the name of the person who had compiled the information. It read, “created by: Ann”.
Amanda immediately had the thought, “Could it be her?”
She eagerly emailed the web site creator, questioning whether this Ann could be her paternal grandmother. A day later, she received this response:
“Hi. For over 17 years I searched for Robbie’s children. Too many blind alleys, too much money spent and a lot of disappointments and more tears than I can count when I thought they had been found only to find out it was another false lead. So I finally gave up.”
Wide-eyed and in shock, Amanda responded to the email. She answered the questions that Ann had asked in order to prove her identity. And, in response, Amanda received an email that changed her life:
Yes, yes, yes, I am your REAL grandmother and my emotions are very high right now. You and Joshua have a large family here in South Carolina that have loved you just as your granddaddy and I have.”
“Twenty years is a long time not to be a part of someone’s life and we can’t change any of that but we can build from today forward.”
Amanda could hardly believe what she was reading. She had found her grandmother.
“With my heart almost bursting, I grabbed my phone and dialed the number she left at the end of that second message,” she said. “We talked and laughed and cried and rejoiced, each of so happy that after twenty years, grandmother and grandchild were getting to know one another.”
For Amanda and her brother, this experience changed everything.
“We finally had a link to our identities, our heritage, our past, everything. A bridge rebuilt.”
As Amanda got to know her grandmother, she discovered that Ann had a love for genealogy. Although not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ann had been completely absorbed in family history work for 17 years in hopes of finding her lost grandchildren. In the process, she had developed chains of hundreds of family records stretching all the way back to the thirteenth century.
“Hundreds and hundreds of the Lord’s children that I thought were long lost and would be waiting for years to come for their work to be done are now accessible to me,” Amanda recalled excitedly. “They can be saved.”
Going to the Temple
With the help of her grandmother, Amanda added these family members’ names to FamilySearch.org and prepared to take those ancestors to the temple.
At her ward baptism night, she had a stack of 60 family names to take to the temple.
“For the first time in my life, I brought my own names to the temple, just as the apostle promised I could do,” she said.
In the temple that evening, Amanda said she felt a fulfillment of the promise by Elder Andersen that in performing temple ordinances for your own family members, “your knowledge and faith in the Savior will increase, and you will receive a more certain witness that life continues beyond the veil.”
“I truly felt the spirit of Elijah,” she said. “I honestly have never felt more joy than at that moment, a joy only matched to the joy I felt as I served the Lord full time as missionary in Salt Lake City and in Spain.”
The experience reminded her that the Lord is all knowing and has a plan for each one us.
He had inspired her grandmother to research and record the names of generations of ancestors for nearly 20 years. He had inspired Amanda to answer an apostle’s challenge, and in the process literally connected her with family – both living and dead.
“How many blessings has this one occurrence brought? I couldn’t count if I tried,” Amanda said. “He will give us strength where we are lacking and intellect that surpasses our own by and through his holy spirit.”
“His gospel is spreading to both the living and the dead, and He uses all of us, weak in comparison as we are, to carry out His sacred work. In His hands, the weak become strong. We become deliverers of His saving message.”