Thalia's Child has written some really great Soap Opera Sunday entries lately about people in her own family. She inspired me to tell this story. (If you are new to the SOS scene, you should know that it is the brainchild of Brillig and Kate; see their fab sites for links to all sorts of great tales of love, grief, and drama.)
We call the simple and beautiful ceremony of eternal marriage 'sealing'; it is a sacred ritual performed by proper priesthood authority in any of our Temples around the world. Children are also sealed to their parents, ensuring that those who are faithful to their Temple covenants will be together again after the resurrection.
We also believe that God, being no respecter of persons, has provided a way for those who have died to receive these sealing ordinances, if they desire to accept them, in the afterlife. In the Temple, these ordinances are performed by proxy, which means that the living can serve in place of those who have gone on. We call this 'temple work.'
This is one of the reasons many LDS people, including myself, are avid genealogists. We want to find our ancestors and provide them with the opportunity to be sealed together as one great family from generation to generation, again believing that they are always free to reject these ordinances if they so choose.
We believe this is the meaning behind the gorgeous scripture in Malachi, chapter 4, which reads:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and
dreadful day of the LORD:
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the
children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite
the earth with a curse.
I first started doing a little genealogy (or family history) nine or ten years ago, when Christian and James were small. Imagine my surprise to find out that I had many ancestors from the Lake George area. In fact, my first relative to join the church, my great-great-great-great grandfather John Tanner, had once owned the very property on which The Sagamore now stands, part of a town called Bolton in Warren County.
John Tanner was a wealthy landowner with twelve children. Unfortunately, at some point he contracted a disease in his leg that forced him to be in a wheelchair. He was in this handicapped
condition when he met Jared and Simeon Carter, newly called Mormon missionaries, in 1832. He believed their message of a Restored Gospel, with restored priesthood authority, and told them that he would get baptized if they would heal his leg.
The Carter brothers commanded him to rise up and walk, and he did: he got up, walked a mile to Lake George, and got baptized. Soon after, he sold all his property, traveled to Kirtland, Ohio (where most of the Latter-day Saints were living at the time), and gave all his money to the prophet Joseph Smith to help get the church out of debt. Later, he walked all the way to Utah with his family and settled there.
So the next time we went to the Sagamore, I decided to do a little cemetery reconnoitering and see what I could find. In the big Bolton Cemetery down by the lake, I found the grave of John Tanner's first wife and a few of their children who had died in infancy. I wrote down the names and dates and took photos of the tombstones. It may sound a bit creepy to those who think graveyards are scary places, but I had the cozy feeling you get at Thanksgiving, when you are surrounded by people you love and who love you.
There were a couple of other, much smaller cemeteries on the Bolton map I'd gotten; I looked for those next. The smallest was hard to find; it's in a grassy, overgrown field not far from a golf course, easy to miss as you're driving by. But I spotted after about the third try, parked, and got out.
These stones had not been well tended; their writing was much harder to read. But almost immediately I found two that captured my interest. One read:
wife of Harvey D. Tanner
died May 2, 1842
aged 25 years 4 mos & 29 days,
and the other read:
son of Harvey and Dorcas W. Tanner
died May 2, 1842
aged 4 years & 5 mos.
I had a different feeling about these two graves: a sense of sadness and loss. How had these two died on the same day in May so long ago? Disease? Fire? Catastrophic accident? I didn't know, but I felt very concerned about these two people.
Call it a hunch, or the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, but I HAD to find out who these people were and if/how they were related to me. I started looking once I got home.
LDS Church records showed that the first graves I'd found at the big cemetery were all relatives whose temple work had been done.
Church records also showed that Harvey had been sealed to his wife Laura Cooledge, whom he married in 1843, and their two children, Dorcas Anna and Morgan Harvey (who has a very interesting story of his own--he married a certain Sarah Eliza PERKINS in 1888!).
But there was no LDS Church record anywhere of Harvey Dean having an earlier wife and son.
A little digging in census and Warren county records confirmed, though, that Harvey had indeed been married before. I submitted Dorcas's and Horace's information through the Temple Ready program. I did Dorcas's temple work, and then Patrick and I were able to stand in for Harvey and Dorcas when they were sealed and when little Horace was sealed to them.
Later, I found Dorcas's family going back a few generations; I've gotten their temple work done as well.
This was the first time I'd had a confirming witness of what I had been told by a Church patriarch in a special blessing many years earlier. There IS genealogical work in my family lines that only I can do. All the family I know of from this line is out West now. What other relative of mine would have occasion to be up prowling around Lake George while these tombstones were still legible?