Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Secret in the Library ... by Cindy Beck

The retired couple sat in the Ephraim Fourth Ward library, poring over what looked like a set of old records. Why were they there on a weekday and what were they doing?

Photo by William Hoiles, Basking Ridge, NJ, USA

My husband and I are converts. After baptism, we embraced the gospel wholeheartedly, accepted callings and were sealed as a family in the Logan Temple. Following several years of membership, I felt well-versed in the Latter-day Saint culture in Utah. Yet, something unknown was taking place in the ward library that day in the late 1980s.

Curiosity got the better of me. Leaning through the doorway, I greeted the couple. They looked up and smiled. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Extraction,” the woman replied.

“What’s extraction?”

Her husband explained it consisted of deciphering the names on official documents—birth, marriage, and census records—in order to make them available for genealogy and temple work.

Moving closer, I looked at the information. Warmth flooded through me—the handwriting looked curlicued and old-fashioned, but to my astonishment, I could read it. I knew with a surety I would work on similar documents.

On the drive home, my mind puzzled over the experience. Several callings already occupied my time—could I fit in another?

I can’t do it now, but someday I’ll do name extraction—maybe when I’m retired.

Feeling a bit guilty, I consoled myself with the thought that there was a season and a time for every purpose (see Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Many years passed, and I no longer saw senior couples in the ward library, unraveling the mysteries in those old records. Members of the church still worked on names, but I didn’t know how. It seemed the calling meant for me no longer existed.

The Opportunity Arises

As I rummaged through my church bag during a Sacrament meeting in the fall of 2007, an announcement from the pulpit—about computers and retrieving names from public records—zipped past me. Turning to my husband, I asked, “What did he say?”

“Something about indexing.”

“Yes, I know that. But, what about it? Is indexing the same as extraction? Is it a calling or are they asking for volunteers? Are the names online now?”

Russ shrugged his shoulders and gave a sympathetic look. “Sorry, but I didn’t catch it.”

My chance had come and I’d missed it while searching for a tissue!

It would have been a simple task to ask the bishop about it after the meeting, but suddenly, trepidation entered. Did I really need to take on another church job? What would happen if it required more time than I had available? Uncertain, I let the opportunity pass.

Several weeks later, the phone rang. “Help!” a friend said breathlessly. “Everything on my computer’s screen has turned upside down. I’m working on indexing and don’t know how to get it back to normal.” Then she added in a teasing voice, “The only way I can read the names is by standing on my head.”

I rushed over. We retraced her movements, pushed the right key and the screen returned to normal. Realizing the perfect opportunity sat in front of me, I asked her questions about indexing. She explained that I needed a computer and an Internet connection, and reassured me that the indexing website had tutorials that explained the program. In addition, the stake had a specialist available to help with questions. Finally, for each batch submitted, another indexer interpreted the same names as a crosscheck.

“The best part,” she said, pointing at the graceful, curved writing displayed on the monitor, “is that if you start a batch of names and don’t have time to finish, you can save the information and come back later. You have a whole week to complete a batch and it only takes about half an hour, total.”

She’d convinced me. I could spare half an hour a week. The calling that I’d known for years would be mine was right at my fingertips—and I wasn’t even retired yet.

The Opportunity Slips Away

I went home, sat at the computer and fidgeted. Doubts crept in, causing me to overlook the scriptural promise, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20). Instead, I wondered … what if I couldn’t interpret the writing, or did something wrong and scrambled the records?

Pushing the thought of indexing from my mind, I stood up from the computer, walked away, and went about my daily routine.

Thank goodness for the Spirit’s persistence. The bishopric mentioned the need for volunteers again from the pulpit. A few weeks later, I gathered my courage and went online to FamilySearch Indexing. Once there, I found a site designed so those with minimal computer savvy could excel, and that safeguards prevented mishaps. After creating an ID, a password and reading the tutorials, I wanted to continue. However, it was late in the evening, so I chose to start my first batch on the next free Sunday.

The best laid plans ….

Friday—the late afternoon sun felt unusually warm for the beginning of November. Realizing winter would soon be blowing its icy breath across the landscape, I decided on a bike ride. After enjoying the fresh air for about twenty-five minutes, I headed back. Half a block from home, a slick spot lay in wait. When my front tire hit it, the bike flipped from under me, flinging me to the ground.

Stars exploded in my head as I landed, full force, on my arm and shoulder.

Several hours later, I returned home from the emergency room with a splint-cast on my dominant, right arm. It ran from just below my shoulder down to my elbow, then bent at a ninety-degree angle and continued on to my wrist. I would do no indexing on the upcoming Sunday—or for many weeks thereafter.

It almost seemed like someone didn’t want me to accomplish what the Lord had in mind. I reminded myself that strong opposition often meant you were headed in the right direction.

The Promise is Fulfilled

And now, my dearly beloved, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect (D&C 128:15).

Months later, I’m grateful for that quiet whisper years ago and for the persistence with which the Spirit kept whispering.

A hard to describe feeling floods over me as I work on indexing names from the eastern and southern United States. My heart rejoices when names such as John and Hannah are recognizable. I want to sing when the names of their children—Sally and Columbus—become clear. Someone is waiting for them—to place them on a pedigree chart—and one day that family will be sealed to each other.

Often, the information pops out at me, as if the individuals have waited for centuries and can wait no longer. Other times, the writing looks jumbled and I come up with a name that makes no sense—Rxzlpr or Ascie. When that happens, I send a prayer heavenward and wait for inspiration.

Now I understand what took place in the ward library, so long ago. The secret has unfolded, like a blossom warming in the morning sun. It’s not just about deciphering names in an old book, but about the soft, quiet touch by the Spirit—a touch that creates love for those beyond the veil and connects us all as children of our Heavenly Father.

That’s a secret worth sharing.

------© Cindy Beck, 2010------

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Rachelle said...

I love this story! And big congrats on getting it in the newsletter. :)

Triple Nickel said...

This was very touching. Thanks for sharing.

Joan said...

Thank you for this story. My mother has been doing indexing for many years now. She lives with me now and my children see her daily doing 2 or 3 batches of names. She asks for our help in dechipering names. It is so fun to look at families and where they come from. It really is a blessing.

Mary said...

Cindy, That sounds a lot like my story. But I am still not doing it. IT keeps nagging at me, but so far, I haven't done it. Maybe this will spur me on.