By Lillian Arp
Apuauro Fa’aofo has always loved family history. Back in 2017, she and her young family moved into the Apia Samoa Pesega 6th Ward, where her husband had been called to serve as bishop. Almost immediately, Apu noticed that her new ward didn’t have an organized family history programme. She wanted to do something about that.
A good friend from the ward was eager to help. Foketi Manon Fuimaono-Malo had gained her own passion for family history from her grandmother, who she had often helped to trace family members. As Manon and Apu discussed ideas, they discovered only two or three families in their ward owned a computer, so most of the members had no experience with FamilySearch, a powerful web-based tool offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to record family history. It was a challenge they would have to overcome.
With the support of their ward council, they set up a family history committee and started visiting each family, helping them to record their family trees. “My kitchen turned into a family history centre,” Apu laughs. “We had a whiteboard with a list of all the families in the ward, and we would meet every second Sunday to report on our visits.”
Their efforts sparked a buzz of family history activity in the ward. The committee would bring the families’ names to Apu’s home, where they could use her computer and internet connection to enter the names into the FamilySearch database.
“That was around July-August,” says Apu. “The goal was that each family would be able to take two names to the temple by November.”
Before long, the family history committee (especially Manon and her husband) was working in Apu’s home almost daily, often arriving early in the morning and staying late into the night. They eventually decided it would be more efficient to organize an event for the entire ward: a 12-hour family history marathon.
On a cool Friday evening in September 2017, the Pesega 6th Ward gathered in their chapel hall to open this family history event with a devotional. For their first activity, each family was given a large sheet of butcher paper and instructed to write down four generations of their family tree. When all the sheets were posted on the wall, the ward was astounded by how many of its families were connected to each other. “They saw names in common and then there were tears and hugs when people realised they were related,” said Apu. “This activity really set the tone and a beautiful spirit that was with us for the rest of the night.”
From then on, families took turns working with committee members to enter names into FamilySearch. A bell was attached to a whiteboard in the hall, and every time a new name was reserved for temple ordinances, someone would write this name on the board and then ring the bell.
“At first, the bell didn’t ring very often, maybe only once or twice an hour, but everyone would pause and cheer when they heard it,” Apu recalls. “As the evening continued, the bell rang more often – almost every 10 minutes – and soon, mingled with the cheers were quiet tears of joy.”
Manon also remembers the experience with fondness. “There was so much excitement from all the members of the ward who served so well. The bell rang all night as everyone felt the beautiful spirit of Elijah in their hearts.”
At one point while they worked, Manon’s sister Gilderhenomal Sapini Fuimaono stepped outside to fetch something from her car. Their chapel is set in a residential area, and Sapini was startled – especially given the late hour – to see several neighbours gathered outside the chapel gate. They called out to her with great curiosity, “What is happening at your church tonight?”
According to these neighbours, they had never seen the chapel overflowing with so many people, who apparently milled around the carpark, right up to its perimeter fencing.
Sapini was confused as she viewed the dark carpark, which was empty except for maybe a dozen cars. But the neighbours were adamant that the chapel had been surrounded by a great crowd of people who slowly dispersed throughout the night.
After much discussion, Sapini, Manon, Apu and others from their ward wondered if maybe the neighbours had seen through the veil that evening. “We truly felt that the people whose names we were finding were there helping us to achieve an amazing goal,” says Manon.
These are only a few of the remarkable incidents that occurred during this miraculous family history event, where hundreds of names were reserved for temple ordinances.
“I still have love in my heart when I think about that wonderful night,” Manon says. “I was so happy helping the members of our ward work hard to help our ancestors get their temple work done. The veil was very thin that night and we felt the joy of the spirits who had waited so long for their names to be temple ready.”