Family History

Why It Matters More Now

Three years ago I produced the video below for Roots Tech. They were holding a contest for their annual family history event. Their purposes for such a video are obvious but for me it meant more.

The video is a variant of a theme I had produced earlier in another video about the importance of photography in family history. It was a personal project, one that made me weep then and one that still evokes great emotion – which is kind of the point of the message of the video, too.

Of course, I didn’t place in the contest. But the video has been used in a few church family history events and occasionally I get comments from folks who stumble upon it.

But the video has another story I feel compelled to share:

Winter of 2019, when the video was made, was the last time Roots Tech was held in Salt Lake City.

That was just a different time altogether. So much has changed for us all since then.

Back then my home was filled with children and grandchildren. I was working at a different place. The world at large was hardly at peace but it was not the drama and chaos it has since become.

My Dad at that time was living quite independently and getting along pretty well. He was traveling, enjoying visits with family at various events and keeping his cancer in check.

As with most things associated with this website and my efforts in family history Dad was supportive.

His journey with family history was different than mine. But in time this video shifted it all for him.

~ Dad’s Family History Journey ~

Our heritage has always been special to my father. It was just how he was raised. My grandparents were, in my view, pioneers of family history.

In my “treasure room” I have among my father’s things a file box that belonged to my grandparents. In it are examples of how family history was done in the 1940s to the 1970s. There are lots of family group sheets – and copies of letters sent to various entities seeking records of ancestors.

I often wonder what Grandpa and Grandma would think of the Internet and all we do with family history today. Grandpa, I know, would take to it like a fish to water.

In the days of my father’s upbringing family history was celebrated with stories, reunions, pictures and gospel discussion about why it is important.

But as the video suggests my interest and love of family history came as a result of my mother, not my father.

It’s not that Dad wasn’t interested.

Dad just figured a lot of his family history was “done”. He didn’t have the at-the-ready memory of all family past stories of my grandparents but he held his own pretty well. And that’s because it was just the culture of his family growing up to talk of those who had gone before.

But Dad didn’t have a Book of Remembrance. He never created or even looked at a family tree. His was, like many people, a secondary level of involvement. Family history for Dad was something of a spectator sport.

Dad’s family history journey took an unexpected turn when he met and married my mother. My mom was an only child and came from a difficult and disjointed family history situation. Hers was a blank slate and Dad did quite a bit to help my mother discover her family.

Because family history was important in the culture of his family growing up my Dad helped my Mom with her family history – at least for the sake of us kids. But again, while Dad lent his talents to the effort it someone else – my Mother – who put together the groups sheets, the photos and that side of the family tree.

In 1984, after returning home from a mission, I was living and going to school in Salt Lake City. I got a call one day from my father telling me that Grandma was coming to Utah to visit her sister, Aunt Elma, and to visit the brand new Family History Library adjacent to Temple Square. My job was to pick her up at the airport and to take Grandma and Aunt Elma wherever they required. Dad made me call him every day to see that all needs were met.

It was an easy assignment for me and I so enjoyed their company I moved my schedule around as best I could to be with them all day long. So I got to visit the brand new library as well.

In going there Grandma showed me how it was organized and how I could find information. In no time I was threading microfilm into readers and making copies of filmed documents. Wisely, Grandma instructed me to work on my mother’s line because she knew those records would be there and easily found.

She was right. I found stuff almost instantly and began calling my Mom each day as well with news of my discoveries. It ended up being a very exciting week for both Mother and me and it most certainly lit the fire of addiction in my family history pursuits.

~ My Own Family History Journey ~

This opened a dialogue between me and both of my parents about family history.

I made the decision after that week’s experience to drive to Minnesota, where my mother’s father’s family still lived. My goal was to meet my great grandmother, who was still alive.

I discussed this with my cousin, Bunni, and her father, Pete, my great uncle. They were supportive and felt it could happen and that it would be a good thing.

My Mom was very nervous about it. She had heard rumors of difficulties and misunderstandings between her mother and various family members after her Dad died in World War II. Of course, she never knew her father or his family. Her mother remarried after the war and for whatever reasons they were never in her life.

So Mom’s reticence about me going to Minnesota was perfectly understandable. She was still supportive and hopeful.

Dad, on the other hand, was not convinced all this was a great idea. He wanted me to wait. It had more to do with him just being a Dad concerned about a 21-year old son driving cross country by himself to somewhere he had never been before.

Well, I went. It was a joyous experience, one that left me with more questions than answers. But also one that allowed me to meet so many good people – family! – that I have never known. I also came home with copies of precious pictures and a more complete understanding of this largely unknown branch of the family.

No, I did not get to meet Grandma Begich. It was not in her heart to give in to the pleadings of Pete and Bunni and that was because in the tenderness of a mother’s heart it was still too much to deal with after losing her son in the war.

My Mom was a little hurt by that. She took that as a rejection. It would take her many years to come to understand. My Dad was frustrated by it too.

But there were hidden blessings by that whole experience. It fueled continued discussions between us, one that drove our efforts to seek out more information about my mother’s family.

It gave all three of us – Mom, Dad and me – a common goal that proved foundational in the years ahead of family history exploration.

~ The Video: All Sides of the Family ~

When I put the video together of course Dad and I talked about it.

Being who he was as an educator and a producer of television and video productions Dad peppered me with questions about my choices for the video.

One of his observations was that I began the video on his side – the ancient Westover family history we know – but ended it on my Mother’s side of the family. He thought that this would be confusing to people.

I learned long ago that when teaching a class or giving a talk my Dad would dissect it as if he was the one putting it together. As such, he always began with the objective – what’s the point of what you’re saying? – he would always ask.

Four or five years ago Dad and I both taught Gospel Doctrine for a period of time. Our Sunday phone calls would frequently become a gospel discussion of our lessons and how we would teach them.

I frustrated Dad a great deal because I never approached my church teaching with his methods of having a lesson objective at the top. In fact, I rarely went into these lessons with notes. I had studied and I had prepared. But I had learned as a missionary that gospel teaching was something different.

We didn’t disagree in these conversations. But we challenged each other and commiserated about our teaching experiences. It was a fun time, at least for me.

But when it came to this video, Dad was a little bit bothered, I could tell, and for a while I thought it was because my free-wheeling style was just too uncomfortable for him.

I learned later I was completely wrong about that.

This video turned out to be the catalyst that took Dad off the sidelines of family history.

In the late summer of 2020, as the pandemic raged, I continued my weekly phone calls with Dad as we isolated 100 miles apart. I grew concerned in these calls as with each passing week he seemed to sound worse and worse. I wanted to come see him but he refused, insisting he was fine and that we needed to stay within the guidelines of not gathering as family.

By the last week of September, he sounded so bad I just defied him and showed up at his door.

Conditions were not good. He absolutely needed help.

But I had not even been there for 20 minutes when a phone call came in that created no small amount of chaos for us both. His Covid test was positive and I was now exposed. The now familiar-to-everyone family drama ensued. I was forced now to isolate – 100 miles away from my family and my brand new job – and Dad was now forced to contend with the virus as a cancer patient.

That began my 15-month journey of taking up residence with my terminally ill father that would see him eventually pass away in November of 2021. That also began a new level of discussion about all things family history.

That discussion really began with picking this video apart. One night in October 2020 Dad and I pulled the video up and stopped it at each image. Then from a laptop on his bed, he compared the names and faces to where they landed on the family tree.

Finally, Dad was taking the deep dive we all need to take when it comes to family history: how does all this apply to me? How do I fit in with these people?

That five hour discussion – of both his family and my mother’s family – led to tears, something that was rare to see from my father at that point.

He already had an appreciation of his family and an abiding love for his heritage. But now he had details. Now he had personal connection. And it set him on fire.

During Dad’s last 15 months he fought all kinds of crazy physical sickness. But when he could set that aside he became very focused on family history. He began to piece in his mind ways to better share the history and connection with other family members.

He started working on writing my mother’s history and then working on his own. As I would work on my various projects we would discuss them and Dad began to embed himself in everything.

My projects became his projects, and his mine.

Last spring, in 2021, after many discussions with LaRee and Will, Dad found the energy to go on a little tour of cemeteries in southern and central Utah. What made it neat was to see him connect with ancestor past by recalling his own early years in Southern Utah and the places he lived there. He never knew – and likely because my grandparents never realized or knew – that they lived in the very shadows where beloved pioneer family members did their pioneering.

Dad and Me

It was thrilling to watch Dad connect his early childhood to those ancestors who were right there less than 100 years before he was born. Though his body was falling apart and challenged with getting through the long days of that trip it fueled inspiration in how Dad felt the family story could better be told.

Even while we traveled Dad began to make plans for written histories, videos, and website features to, as he explained it to me, “get people to look at the tree and connect”.

In fact, on the day he unexpectedly died, we had refreshed the list and prioritized it. He wanted to get back out there. He wanted more pictures, more videos and more understanding that could be found.

His list is now my list. I know exactly what he envisioned and frankly I don’t know if I have enough years left to accomplish it. That’s how ambitious Dad became about family history.

We last watched this video together about two weeks before he passed. At the time, I had gone to bring home my wife from caring for her folks so she could be home for the birth of a new grandchild. Dad was very invested in my daughter’s pregnancy and he was anxious for the little boy that would come to us.

On the night we watched this video again he told me that I had to make sure this new baby would see that video when he was old enough. I found it kind of a curious charge – because my goal has always been to get this video in front of the eyes of my kids and grands.

Dad passed in the early morning hours of November 16th. Baby Bennett was born later that same day.

Yes, the video, which already meant a lot, means more now.

That’s my lesson on several levels. It was also Dad’s lesson in his family history journey.

I have over the past several months since he left contemplated what it must have been like when he unexpectedly crossed over.

He knew faces. He knew names and dates. He understood connections.

This is what family history does for us. I think we all come around to it a little differently.

I don’t condemn my Dad – or anyone else – for being so absorbed by life of the present to the point where delving into life of the past is impossible. We have to grow up, get educated, build careers, and manage the stuff of the here and now. I get it. I was there for 50 years and guilty of not really getting into it.

The point is not when. The point is not whether you have the skills or the technology to do it.

The point is that we can. Despite it all, we really can. And we really need to. And it’s really worth it.

Family Tree

Hearts, Souls and Bones

I was recently released from my calling as a Temple and Family History Consultant. I’m sad to lose the responsibility because I have enjoyed it a great deal. I’ve served in that capacity for more than six years and even though it is the type of calling that gets people running the other way from you in the halls of the church it’s been a lot of fun to see people grow when they begin their family history.

The journey of discovery is a fun one, I don’t care who you are. It’s great to see someone go from the frustrated beginnings of not knowing where to start or being overwhelmed by the technology to actually learning their family and where they come from.

It does take a while to capture the vision. But once you’re hooked, you never quite get over the excitement of what family history really is.

I’m an opinionated person. Nobody really appreciates that much and in the calling of being a family history consultant there is a lot of needed restraint when it comes to opinions.

But now that I’ve been relieved of that responsibility I’m going to give you some opinions based upon my experience in trying to help others.

~ The Main Thing ~

The first rule of Family History is one that I use for a lot of things: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

What’s the main thing?


You are the main thing. And for many people that’s an absurd idea. After all, family history is the exploration of others, right?

But that exploration is really about you, at the end of the day. Like many things, losing yourself in family history is just another method of finding yourself. Most are really surprised by that after they have invested the time and work of family history.

But why is it such a singular thing when it involves thousands of people, at least in theory?

Because your family history is unique. You might share heritage with a sibling or a parent but your total family history is entirely unique.

When you marry you adopt a whole new line of family thanks to your spouse – one that will belong to your children. But theirs will one day be unique from yours.

In that respect, the family history of one is not the same of another. It’s like fingerprints. Nobody has the same family history.

That singular definition and pursuit of the same individualizes family history. And there are times when you will swear the lessons you continue to learn from it are individual as well.

You are the main thing. Nobody can do it for you. You have to tackle it alone. You have to make the effort alone. You have to leave it for others to discover somehow.

That makes it all a very daunting thing. It is work. It is time consuming. It can be expensive. It can feel like an insurmountable task, which it really is, and it will never be truly done.

So why do it?

We do it because of the heart, the souls and the bones. That’s the stuff that family history is made of. It’s a very personal thing.

~ The Bones ~

The bones of family history are found in cemeteries and in pedigree charts. They are the dry data of names, birth dates, places and relatives. They are what everyone thinks of when they think of family history.

Oh sure, family history is much more than the bones. But it’s where nearly all of us begin.

It’s necessary to get down to the details at this level. Frankly, it’s not my favorite thing, to be honest. Standing over a grave and getting a name and a date really does not tell me much beyond the fact that existence is proven.

But the bones are heartless and soulless. Meaningless, otherwise. If that’s family history to you it has to be the blandest of meals.

Real family history has more flavor. That’s the stuff of the heart.

~ The Heart ~

The heart of family history is found in the stories, the personalities, and the experiences of the person attached to the bones. It’s the fun stuff of family history.

Unfortunately, it is the hardest part to find, especially the further back you go.

YOU have the potential of being a heartless entity of family history if you don’t do something about the record you leave behind. That too is family history.

I have a grandfather who modestly wrote a one-page autobiography. He was a modest individual. But really if I had my way I’d like to lecture him about how it wasn’t enough. I’ve learned a lot more about him through the stories and experiences of others with him. It sure would be nice to get to know him through his own words and recollections.

That is worthy of your thought and consideration.

The heart, you see, is what we really all get the thrills from when it comes to family history. The heart is found in tragedies, tears and triumphs. It is born through the unchangeable stuff of gender, identity, roles and even in what some call “social constructs”.

You see, it doesn’t matter if they were famous. It does not matter even what they did for a living. Where they went, the houses they lived in and they stuff they did on a daily basis pales in importance to what they thought, how they treated others, and what their opinions were when they faced the stuff of life we all face.

That’s the heart.

That is what makes us appreciate the folks of the past that we have never met. And that is where the real work and the real payoff is in family history.

The heart is what leads us to the real blessing of the work: the soul.

~ The Soul ~

The soul is the spiritual side of family history. If you are a person of faith this is a concept that builds faith. If you are not a person of faith it is something you discover and may have trouble explaining.

Years ago, I met a man at Roots Tech who was not a person of faith. He was elderly and suffering from physical challenges that made attending Roots Tech problematic and that saw his decades-long hobby of family history one that pushed him in ever-more difficult directions. He openly asked my why he kept doing it, given all that he was dealing with.

I tried my best to explain that his ancestors, though long dead, were still alive. I tried to explain they were pushing him as much as he was pushing himself. I tried to explain that the work he had engaged in for years was one they appreciated and that someday when he crossed over to the other side he would recognize them and they him.

I did my best to explain the doctrine of “we without them cannot be made perfect and they without us cannot be made perfect”.

With tears in his eyes and a nodding head he agreed. He could not articulate what he was feeling. He did say that was the most profound and loving doctrine he had ever heard. But it helped to explain the power of the work and the influence upon his life for good.

Though unschooled in things spiritual he was not inexperienced. His family history work had exposed him to the souls of those he researched. He discovered that he loved them. How do you define love? Would you call it a thing of the soul?

The soul of the work of family history comes from connecting with those ancestors you research. Many reject that thought as crazy. Yet so many who might shy away from spiritual or “churchy” things cannot deny this is what happens to them the deeper they wade into the waters of family history. Love is the ultimate and unavoidable outcome.

If family history teaches things of the soul what does it teach us about the Divine within us?

What more can personalize the work than that?

When you discover the soul of others you discover the soul of yourself. The worth of souls is great in the sight of God. YOU – the main thing – are great in the sight of God. Your ancestors teach you this about yourself.

~ Bringing the Bones and the Heart to Discover the Soul ~

As I wrote when I first began this little website many years ago my goal was to leave my children and grandchildren a better record than I received.

I’m still working on that. I realize that not everything I share here applies to everyone. My family history is not exactly the same as anyone else’s, as noted above.

But the effort of sharing what I can find is put out there to help others help themselves. I’ve discovered a lot about myself in my efforts here to just share. I would not have discovered what has been so important to me if others had not done their best to share what they had.

So we will continue to evolve. I’ve shared in other parts of the website many times that we don’t really do the family tree thing here.

I have tried to steer as many people as I can to the efforts of the one-world family tree located at FamilySearch.

That’s still true.

I believe FamilySearch is one of the the most important projects in the world.

We all contribute to it. In my 20 years or so of working with FamilySearch it is amazing to see what it has become.

Yes, it’s frustrating that anyone can edit, add to and take away from the tree. That will never change.

But that capability is also it’s magic. The record only gets stronger and stronger as we move along.

So we don’t want to discourage its use. We will continue to link to it relentlessly and work to get you logged in there and using it.

But I also know there are many who are still so challenged with even the technology of a password that they will never go to FamilySearch and pay the price for learning how to use it.

I know there are people who need the visual of a tree or pedigree chart to understand the connections between people and generations.

So we’re soon to post up a family tree – free and available to all – right here on WFH. No login required either. Just click and it will be there.

Naturally, it will not be as complete as a family tree that any competent individual can build on their own. It certainly cannot have all the dynamics of what can be found on FamilySearch.

But it will be enough for those who cannot get to that level.

To it will be tied pictures, documents, histories, links, maps and the stuff of the heart and soul.

Oh, and the bones.


Attend RootsTech 2021 for Free

RootsTech this year is all online and it is free. It is scheduled for February 25th-27th and you can sign-up at or

What is RootsTech?

Rootstech is an annual convention for Family History enthusiasts. It features classes and speakers who address all levels of experience. Most major vendors of family history products and services are there — Ancestry, My Heritage, Find My Past, etc. Of course there are vendor showcases and all kinds of products for sale.

I have been fortunate to attend RootsTech every year for the past decade. I find it a very refreshing break from the rest of my year as a time to solely focus on my family history and new ways to find it.

At Rootstech I’ve connected with family I have not known or met before and have learned so many things over the years about how to research and discover.

If there is one good thing to come out of the pandemic its the fact that Rootstech is free. Usually I spend about $200 each year to attend the event, plus whatever hotels, meals and other incidentals may come up. I’ve never considered this much of a burden because I’ve been able to gain so much from going. But it is nice to think that this year I can take it all in from home, which is bound to be more comfortable than convention center chairs and miles on foot going from class to class.

One of the unexpected pleasures of Rootstech is the motivation you receive from attending. There is an energy to this event to be enjoyed as you hear speakers share their family stories. I’ve seen quite a few famous speakers at these events but despite their notoriety they usually reveal themselves for human beings as they share their family stories.

The spirit of this event makes it very different than just about any convention or trade show you can attend. I highly recommend you take in at least a sample of Rootstech this year since it is free and comes to you in the comfort of your own home.

Recording History

Recording History as it Happens

Where were you on November 22, 1963? What were you doing when you found out about 9/11? What about the day of the Challenger disaster?

In the course of our lives we all have those days when the world stops turning and a moment is forever frozen in time.

Sometimes we make a record of those things. Most of the time we do not think to so or feel it isn’t necessary because we can recall it so vividly even years later.

I’m not sure if March 11th, 2020 is one of those days.

Probably not.

But it is the first time since this whole “coronavirus” thing began that I saw the light kind of flip on for some people.

“Uh-oh. This is really happening.”

~ Is it History? ~

As I write this we really have no idea how much this changes the world.

Panic seems to be a word thrown around too easily. Markets are crashing, businesses don’t know what to do and, doggone it, there is no toilet paper and bottled water to be found anywhere.

I don’t want to speculate. History with this thing seems to be moving in slow motion and where it goes is anyone’s guess.

I just want to suggest something.

If your world comes to a halt, if you find yourself in quarantine with nowhere to go and time on your hands – let’s do some family history, okay?

~ Really, Jeff? ~

Yeah, really.

I see the downtime of the coming weeks and months as an opportunity. It’s a chance to do some good things with time you never saw coming.

It seems in our rush in latter-day life we have turned the term “family history” into something to avoid. You say it and eyes glaze over. At church, knowing my calling is in family history, I seriously run into to two types of people: those who are so into family history they want to talk and those who are so turned off by it that they run the other way.

Even in the family we have folks who won’t touch it.

And I get it. I’m not here to hound you.

But if you’re reading this and you think you’ve got some downtime coming please consider doing a little something when it comes to family history.

Don’t know where to start? Hate the idea of family history?

Let’s talk about that.

~ Things You Don’t Know About Family History ~

Some people think family history is all about trees, digging up genealogy and wading through the endless detail of names and dates.

I’d like to suggest there are lots of other ways you can do some family history:

– Record Your Thoughts Right Now

We’re going through something historic, right? Why not create a record of what you’ve seen and experienced with this thing? As I shared a couple of weeks ago, my great grandmother on my mother’s side tragically died from the last great pandemic. What I wouldn’t give to have more detail from that time. Why not put down on paper what you are going through with this event?

– Dig Through Your Closet

Everyone has hidden treasures tucked away somewhere. What do you have that might be scanned and shared? It might be pictures, maybe it’s Dad’s high school yearbook, perhaps a baby book Mom put together years ago – who cares? This would be a good time to find something significant from someone you love and share it in some way.

-Tell a Story to a Youngster

Every smart phone is a tape recorder. It takes only a second to set it up to record voices talking. How hard would it be, during the long boring hours of quarantine, to tell the kids something they didn’t know from your past? How did your parents meet? What was the one time you really got in trouble when you were a kid? How did you select the names of your children? The topic possibilities are endless – and most stories can and should be told unscripted. That smart phone, by the way, can easily and nearly instantly share that audio recording to FamilySearch or on social media.

-Ask for Help

If you’re truly stuck and want help getting onto and using FamilySearch why not call your local Family History Consultant? Or, even use our own toll free number and call me? I’d be glad to talk about your family history situation and help you get organized and trained on what it is you want to do?

– Copy Your Census Form

All of us get to fill out the 2020 census. April 1st in census day. For those who have delved on to FamilySearch and have tried finding names you know how valuable any census can be. But did you know the census stuff you fill out will not be available for use in research for 70 years? Yup, we just got the 1940 census – but we have to wait 70 years from the date of each census after that. Why not save your children and grandchildren some waiting and just copy your census form before you turn it over? Seriously – just scan it and save it as a digital file or go to FedEx and copy it. It’s a vital record, it’s about family and it’s family history. Simple and easy to do.

The recording of history as it happens would be important to do if we have the presence of mind. Usually, when we take a big trip or have a major event like a wedding or a graduation we at least take a camera with us to record the moment.

But this moment in history with this Coronavirus thing represents a unique opportunity.

Let’s take advantage of it.