As an eighteen-year-old investigating the Church, I was excited to learn that I had a Heavenly Father and a Savior; and that they had an eternal plan for my happiness, not just for mine, but for all of God’s children who ever lived upon the Earth.
In discussions about the plan of salvation I learned that man might have joy in making and keeping sacred covenants. I learned that in holy temples I could be baptized by proxy for my deceased ancestors, and that couples and families could be united forever, not separated by death. I thought this was a glorious doctrine.
After I was baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, I began to truly understand the words of an ancient prophet named Lehi, from the Book of Mormon. “And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit” (1 Nephi 8:12).
As I read about Lehi wanting to share the gospel with his family, I recognized that I too had these stirrings in my heart. I began to feel a new love for my own family, many who were now in the spirit world. I wanted to know them, and make eternal covenants with them in holy temples.
President Russell M. Nelson has said: “Every one of our Heavenly Father’s children, on both sides of the veil, deserves to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They decide for themselves if they want to know more” (Russell M. Nelson and Wendy W. Nelson, “Hope of Israel” [worldwide youth devotional, June 3, 2018]).
Searching for my kin
As I began my search, I learned very quickly that my parents and other relatives knew very little about our ancestors. I had immigrated from Scotland as a young girl leaving behind my whole Scottish family. I knew as I moved forward gathering my kin that there would be mysteries to unravel. I felt an urgency to begin this work, and knew that Heavenly Father would guide me to their records.
I felt compelled to search for Robert Collins, my mother’s great uncle. Family lore said he was referred to as Sir Doctor Collins, and that he would often come to visit in a fine carriage. I had no idea if any of this information was true. I began writing letters, and searching primary source documents that the Church had microfilmed.
Separating fact from fiction
At that time, as a student at BYU, I had access to the resources of the Genealogical Society in Salt Lake City. In the 1841 Census of Craigie, Ayrshire, Scotland, I was excited to find Robert Collins as a four-year old. In the 1851 Census of Kilwinning, Ayrshire, he was 14 years old, a shoemaker’s apprentice. The 1861 Census of St. Nichola Parish, Aberdeen listed Robert as a boarder, working as an elementary school teacher. By 1863 he was at Aberdeen University.
In 1881, he was listed as a Surgeon Major at a private officer’s house in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. In 1901, he was living in Southsea, Hampshire, England with a wife named Henrietta. His medical records finally gave me his actual birthdate that I needed to submit his name to the temple. The facts revealed that he had been a Lieutenant Colonel Surgeon with the British Army serving in Burma and Madras, retiring in 1905. His will indicated he died at 2 Parade Street, Southsea, Hampshire, England on 31 October 1906.
All these details thrilled me and brought me great joy as my heart turned to my ancestor, Doctor Robert Collins. By this time, I felt I knew him intimately; however, I still had no idea of his wife Henrietta’s surname. I wanted to have that information to unite them together in the temple. Many years went by, before I finally discovered her surname and marriage to Robert Collins.
One year my daughter, Alison, was visiting Bath, England, not far from Portsmouth. I asked if she would check a cemetery and look for Henrietta’s surname. Alison booked a room at a youth hostel in Portsmouth. In the morning, she went out the back door of the hostel. Just a few steps away, she noticed a street sign which was the same as Robert Collin’s address - South Parade Street. In fact, she discovered that the front door of the hostel faced the back of his home. She had no idea where he lived beforehand.
In disbelief, she walked around to the front of his house, which faced the ocean, and took multiple pictures to send me. I felt joy seeing Heavenly Father’s divine signature on this fortuitous discovery knowing it was not coincidental.
Unfortunately, Alison could not find Robert Collins’ burial place nor his wife’s surname. In the 1881 Census of Portsmouth, I had noted that Henrietta was born in New Brunswick, Canada. Approximating her birth and date of marriage, I checked with the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick for a marriage record and found that Robert and Henrietta had married at Saint John, New Brunswick April 28, 1870. I further discovered Henrietta’s last name was Steeves and that she was the eldest daughter of a Father of Confederation, William Henry Steeves. After their marriage, they returned to England and lived in Portsmouth, having no progeny.
After a long search, I now had the identification I needed to submit their names to the temple. I felt such joy finally being able to perform ordinances on their behalf. I also learned that heavenly guidance is available to all who choose to be engaged in this work, and that it is, in fact, a glorious work.
President Russell M. Nelson has said: “[The] gathering is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. You can be part of something big, something grand, something majestic” (“Hope of Israel” [worldwide youth devotional, June 3, 2018]).
If we choose to be a part of it, and accept our prophet’s invitation, we will surely find joy along the covenant path for ourselves, and our kindred dead.