News Story

Generations Connect Through Personal Histories and Life Stories

“In all of us,” wrote Alex Haley, author of the popular novel Roots (based on his own family history), “there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage — to know who we are and where we have come from.”

That “hunger” is growing throughout the world. People are discovering that to understand better who they are, they must know the stories of family members who went before them. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are among those who have a desire to connect in a personal way across generations by researching their family history, gathering written personal histories, preserving oral histories and recording interviews of the life experiences of elderly family members for the benefit of posterity.

Nigerians and indeed all Africans as a whole have maintained this yearning and connection with their ancestors, passing them from generation to generation through cultural traditions such as oral panegyrics (formal public speaking that focuses on the accomplishments of ancestors) and ancestral naming systems.

The history of a lineage is preserved in oral panegyrics which not only provides lineage from generation to generation, but also captures the life experiences, good or bad, of family members. This history is retold in many settings such as family gatherings, in the evenings by the moonlight and in the village squares. It is told in ceremonies such as burials, weddings, religious worship, festivals, and tribal coronations.

In Nigeria as well as many other countries in Africa, one’s name also gives an idea of the person’s family history. A person’s family name, first name and other names have prefixes that indicate ancestral class, position, profession, religious sect and other background information. For example, in the culture of Yorubas (an ethnic group in southwestern Nigeria and southern Benin), A prefix such as "Ade," "Ifa" or "Ayan" denotes someone from a royal family, traditional worshipers or a family of drummers, respectively. A Yoruba proverb, “Ilé ni à nwò kí a tó ṣọ ọmọ ní orúkọ,” reflects this custom, meaning “one looks at the family before naming a child.” 

Mormons believe the family is ordained of God. They also believe the family is the fundamental unit of society and central to God’s eternal plan for His children. This belief impels older members of the Church to share the important, life-changing moments of their lives with children and grandchildren who, upon hearing and preserving these experiences, develop a stronger sense of family and belonging. With the knowledge of their forbearers’ accounts of strength over adversity, children and grandchildren become better equipped to overcome difficult challenges in their own lives.

“As we contemplate what those before us have gone through that we might be here, as we sense their faith and courage and feel their love for us and our love for them, we realize what is really important,” said former Church leader Elder John H. Groberg to a worldwide conference of Latter-day Saints in 1980. “We realize that so-called problems are only what we see when we take our eye off our eternal goal.”

Latter-day Saints focus on their family history for another reason — their belief that families can be together after this life. They research names and other information so sacred ceremonies and rites can be performed in behalf of their ancestors in Latter-day Saint temples, thereby exercising faith that they will be linked to loved ones as an eternal family.

Mormon youth worldwide are becoming more involved in seeking out personal histories and stories of their family members.

“It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies,” said Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the senior governing bodies of the Church.

Examples of such tools are the Family Tree and Memories features recently launched by FamilySearch. The new Memories feature allows users to easily upload and manage family photos online and to tell their favorite ancestor stories. With photos, faces can be identified and linked to the respective ancestors’ profiles in a user’s family tree, ensuring they will be accessible for future generations. Photos and stories can also be seamlessly shared via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and email.

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