Family History: How I Got Bitten By The Bug

Last Sunday, I was asked to give a talk. Since I had several people express disappointment at being out of town and missing it, I will post it here. Enjoy!


“Good morning, Brothers and Sisters. My name is Jamie Decker. My husband, Josh and I are originally from Southern California. We have lived in this ward for four and a half years, and we have four daughters: Claire, Lily, Abby, and Charlotte. I am honored to speak to you today about Family History. It is one of my favorite subjects. I know that many of us who belong to the Church are aware that we should be concerning ourselves with our family history. I am also aware that many people’s eyes glaze over when I begin to gush about my genealogical discoveries, and sadly, those people are usually related to me. While some people just don’t care about family history, either because they are preoccupied with the present, or because their living relatives are interesting enough, I have always felt an inexplicable, undeniable gravitation toward all things historical. People have come to know me for my interest in so called genealogy, but genealogy is a misnomer. That is because genealogy is the boring paper trail stuff. Those things, while absolutely necessary, are not nearly as interesting as the actual people you see in those old black and white photos.


This past week, I’ve thought a lot about what it is that I want to convey to you about why you should be concerning yourself with learning about and contributing to your family history. Writing this talk has come at a poignant time. This week, my dad sold the home that belonged to our family since I was 12. It is bittersweet because there has been a lot of joy in those walls, but there has also been a lot of pain and heartache. 


I want to tell you a little bit about myself, so you understand how one gets “bitten by the bug” of family history. 


I was born just outside of San Francisco, California, where my dad was also born, and my mom lived when she met him. My dad was raised by two loving parents who lived out their golden years together and who were a wonderful example to me. My mom came from a broken home and a dysfunctional upbringing with an absent alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother. My mom was 19 years old when she met my dad, who was a single father and a car salesman who was ten years her senior, and yet my mom was the one who chased after him, hook, line and sinker. I always found that to be funny.

 I had mostly an idyllic childhood set in the desert sun of southern california. I lived in a nice house in a nice development. When I was seven, my sister Rachael was born. Even though we were seven years apart, we were still really close. We had a great family growing up. We attended a Baptist church, and that is how I was raised. 


When I was a young college student, my parents separated. It was difficult for me and my sister. She was still in high school at the time. I didn’t think it would be permanent. Honestly, my parents were so in love. If anything, their loyalty to one another was annoying to me because they were always so united and like minded. So when I was a teenager, they pretty much ganged up on me. But, pretty soon, years went by, things got messier and messier, and they divorced.


It was during this time that I began studying the restored gospel in secret. And when I say secret, I mean that I was literally under blankets with the glow of my laptop in my room watching The Restoration. It touched my heart. I so wanted a forever family. I felt an indescribable pull to this faith that I couldn’t explain. I began spending more time with a friend of mine who was a member of the Church. She invited me to listen to her speak. I showed up. I was a little nervous, and kept thinking to myself of that verse in the Bible that I learned at my Baptist church growing up, “My sheep hear my voice”. I knew that if it was Jesus Christ’s church, then I would know. 


When her husband gave his talk, something happened. He referenced a scripture. That scripture was John 10:27- “My sheep hear my voice; and I know them, and they follow me.” 


As I sat there in the pews, a warm feeling came over me. I knew that I was in the right place. And from that point… I was listening. 


You all know by now what happened. A cute returned missionary in the local singles ward stepped in and made sure I took the lessons. He just got back from serving in the Pennsylvania Harrisburg mission, and his name was Josh Decker. A few months later, he baptizing me. And a few months after that, we ran off to the Santa Ana courthouse and were married. This was back in the old days when you had to wait a year from the time of your civil marriage to be sealed in the Temple. So we were sealed in the California Newport Beach Temple one year later. 


My parents were unsupportive at first. My sister Rachael was the only one who came to the Temple and waited outside for us. She was happy for my choices, as I remember her once saying “You and Josh are like stupid perfect for each other”.


 My parents came to our reception together, as a couple, and I guess maybe it was something about the Spirit of Elijah touching their hearts, but they talked about getting back together. For a brief moment, I actually thought maybe it was a possibility that I could have my forever family with them. 


However, a few months later, something tragic happened. Rachael had a bad asthma attack and lost consciousness. She collapsed in the driveway while waiting for an ambulance. She slipped away in my dad’s arms. 


She was brought to the hospital and her heart was restarted, but hope was grim. Six days later, she was declared braindead and we had to take her off of life support. 


Just a few days before her 20th birthday, my baby sister took her last breath. 


I was 16 weeks pregnant with Claire, my oldest. Those were dark days. It was at the height of the Great Recession. We were dirt poor, living on an air mattress in my brother in laws garage, and working three part time jobs between us. It is mind boggling for me to look back on those times. It feels like someone else’s life and not mine. I know the Savior carried me. 


I would often read stories, conference talks, or listen to music about the early pioneers of the church during that time. There was one quote by a pioneer by the name of Nancy Tracy that resonated with me:  “My life, ever since I became a Mormon, has been made up of moving about. Of persecutions, sacrifices, poverty, sickness, and death. Through all of my sufferings, I never doubted but to cling to the Gospel.” If I ever had any notion that my life would be magical and easy once I joined the Church, I was soon given a reality check. That isn’t to say that there hasn’t been deep, abiding joy and peace. Woven into the fabric of my ever-growing testimony of the Gospel are dark threads of pain and trials.


It wasn’t until I lived here and the sister missionaries asked for my help with a new convert setting up a FamilySearch account that I began to learn about my own pioneer heritage. Remember how I said I was born near San Francisco? Well, that was where my Granny moved to, but she was originally from Salt Lake City, Utah. Yes, you are looking at a right old daughter of Utah Mormon pioneers. And the sad part is that I even lived in Utah and had no idea that my dad was baptized when he was 8 years old and conveniently never told me, my great great grandparents were buried right next to me and that I had cousins in every town between Juab County and the Idaho border. And yet I lamented the entire time about feeling so alone as a convert of the church. How is that for a surprise? 


It is hard to describe all of the jaw dropping things that have happened since I have started my love of family history, but I hope someday that I will make a good grandma and I can tell long winded stories about all of it to my posterity. I like to crochet and Im starting to get gray hair, so I think im well on my way. 


But the reason I wanted to tell you about my discoveries is not to humblebrag about my pioneer heritage; after all, we are all pioneers in some way. It is because I want to leave with you the message that family history isn’t just a bunch of nice stories, and it certainly isn’t just names on little white pieces of paper to be checked off by Temple workers. 


In the April 2018 General Conference, Elder Renlund listed several benefits of performing family history work, and all of them were tangible, “right now” blessings. 


The one that stuck with me most of all: “Increased love and appreciation for ancestors and living relatives, so we no longer feel alone.”


I struggle with loneliness. I don’t have much of a family. My parents are divorced, my dad remarried and has a new family, and my sister, who was my best friend, is gone. I don’t have relatives, really. But in doing family history, I have made many wonderful discoveries. Being from the West, I would look around at all the seemingly picture perfect Latter Day Saint families with such envy. I never could understand why those who grew up with such a charmed, wholesome upbringing would ever take it for granted. I always felt like I belonged in a family like that; like it was my destiny, even since childhood. Little did I know that there was a very important reason why I felt that way. One of my pioneer ancestors, Ruth Morgan Thomas, was told in a blessing that “her posterity would be converted with prudence”. Thats me. I didn’t find my ancestors. They found me. 


I now have photographs of my ancestors hanging on the walls of my home. When I see them, it reminds me that I am never alone. I am part of an unbroken chain, a legacy of faith that began in 1850 when my Welsh ancestors, covered in soot from working in the mines, heard a missionary preaching on the streets. Their choice to leave their home and follow the Savior is the very reason for my existence. This legacy is mine.


I never doubt that I will see my sister again. She doesn’t feel so far away anymore. I have had many experiences that have confirmed to me that she is very much alive on the other side of the veil, and that she is waiting for me. 


If you ever feel like you are alone, or like everyone has a great big supportive family except for you, let me reassure you that there are loved ones working behind the scenes for you. There is a great big family reunion planned, and you are invited. You are part of a family. The promises made by the apostles are true. Family history will heal you. It will heal your family. It will give you a deep understanding of the grand design and purpose of your existence. It will help you press forward in faith, and it will anchor you and sustain you. You will experience not just an outpouring of the spirit, but an avalanche. As your heart turns to your ancestors, you will be healed.


I say these things in the name of jesus christ, amen.”