Family history. It’s one of the things on my list of “things that I should be doing that I don’t.” It’s right up there with exercising every day, eating healthy, and writing in my journal.
‘I’m too busy. I’m too tired. It’s too hard. I’ll do it some day’. Those are my “go to” excuses for everything I don’t do that I know I should be. Well, I guess God decided it was time for me to lose that attitude — especially when it comes to doing family history.
A few months ago I started a new job. Ironically, it’s with FamilySearch. I am by no means a professional genealogist or even an expert at using all of the amazing tools available on FamilySearch.org to find our ancestors. But, I do have an interest in stories. I have a passion for people’s stories. I know that behind every face and every name is a story. And, that is why I am so excited to be at a place focused on finding those who came before us, discovering their stories, and linking their legacies to our own.
“Find your grandfathers and grandmothers and your distant cousins who have gone before you,” said LDS Church leader, Neil L. Andersen.
As a FamilySearch employee, those words hit hard. How can I tell other people to find the family members in their family tree if I don’t embark on the journey myself? So, I started. I took the challenge and began with my paternal grandfather, Thomas Westerlund.
My Grandpa Westerlund died when I was only eight years old. He lived thousands of miles away on the South Pacific island of Samoa, so I never got to meet him while he was alive. When I was little, my mom occasionally shared stories of how his family was from Sweden, how he had sailed the seas as a captain, and how he often stood out in Samoa because of his blue eyes and fair skin.
I wanted to learn more about him. So, I visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. A sister missionary there sat down beside me, and helped me find a record online — a ship manifest from Sweden. On that manifest I saw a signature belonging to Thomas Anderson Westerlund and scribbled beside it the words “cabin boy”.
It’s hard for me to put into words the joy I felt from seeing this signature. In an instant he became real to me. I could not help but smile thinking that nearly 100 years ago, this man who I never met, but who is a reason I exist, signed this piece of paper. I could not help but think that perhaps this first journey as a cabin boy led to a love of the ocean and a life on the seas — a life that led him to the South Pacific and started the family legacy of which I belong.
In the weeks since I have accepted the challenge to find my grandfathers and grandmothers, I’ve felt my connection to them grow. The records, the dates, the ship manifest – they’re all proof that these people lived, worked, and loved. And, today, thanks to technology, we can find those records online and piece together their stories one search at a time.
I am still busy. I am still tired. And, at times, the work is still hard. But, the joy of seeing a simple signature is fueling me forward to find my family on FamilySearch, to upload my family photos, and to record the stories behind those snapshots of life.
There is a joy that comes in making connections. All you have to do is start.