I can’t get no, Spirit of Elijah

February 22, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 10:03 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

I can’t get no, genealogical excitement
And I try
And I try
And I try, try-try-try-try, tryyy
I can’t get no!
(Guitar riff)

Feel free to sing along. I had the Stones version in my head but you can substitute a cover like the one Devo did in your head if you’d like.

My last post about how our ancestors might be sending us messages through the Holy Ghost reminded me of a problem I have: I don’t feel any connection to my distant ancestors at all. I have nearly no desire to search them out or learn about them. I have only a passing interest in their stories and histories. In the church we call the invisible pull many people feel to learn about their roots “The Spirit of Elijah”. Well I ain’t got none. And to be honest it makes me a little nervous.

When I was a teenager I figured the Spirit of Elijah would hit me when I was an adult. But my twenties came and went and nothing. I have 4 children now – still nothing. Am I the only faithful Latter Day Saint that feels this way?

I have my reasons of course. First is my firm belief in free agency. I don’t really much care what my genes say because I believe I can choose what I’ll think and do regardless of genetic tendencies. I don’t need to know about my ancestors to know who I am. I am me and they just happen to be my physical ancestors. This leads to the Second point which is about pre-existence. It is perhaps ironic that my firm belief in the eternal nature of souls has deadened my interest in seeking out my earthly ancestors. As I said, I have this assumption (right or wrong) that they just happen to genetically precede me here – but I was me before this earth so… who cares? Third, my parents are converts to the church. They are proof that tracting works. After their baptisms they had me and I have been a devout believer my whole life. Because of that I sort of feel like many early saints are my spiritual forebears and find myself more interested in some of their lives than my own non-member ancestors. Of course this is cheating in some ways because I can focus my energy on the lives of great men and women and perhaps ignore losers in my line (I don’t know if they are there, but they could be.) Last, my dad has done a bang-up job of searchng out both lines for us already anyway.

I love serving as proxy in the temple, and I’d be even happier if the person I stood in place for happened to be in my family line. But honestly, I am mostly interested in the “Lord’s University” part of the temple rather than the proxy aspect. The proxy thing feels like a pleasant side benefit to me.

So there you have my confession. I am a genealogy chump. I don’t carry my own weight when it comes to seeking out our dead. Someone please help me out! Why don’t I care? What can I do to get some of that Spirit of Elijah in my own life? Or should I just stop worrying about it and leave it to those who have this spiritual gift already?


  1. “Genealogical excitement” doesn’t fit the song very well.

    As to your question, if you can’t get excited about your ancestors, get excited about your descendants. Work on transmitting your own personal history down through your children, and see if that gets you going. 

    Posted by Bryce I

    Comment by Anonymous — February 22, 2005 @ 7:16 pm

  2. Ha! The lyrics do stink don’t they? It’s not even close to rhyming. Oh well, it gets the message across. I like your idea of transmitting my history to the kids… That?s half the reason I started a blog — it gets me writing more than I do in my journal. 

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 22, 2005 @ 7:36 pm

  3. Man, I always loved the bloggernacle because people say things that I only think. This is a prime example. I know I’m a genealogical chump. I don’t get overly excited when I hear about my ancestors (unless it’s my parents or grandparents, because I know them). Geoff, you are not the only faithful Latter-day Saint who feels this way. I’m just glad I didn’t admit it outloud. 

    Posted by Rusty

    Comment by Anonymous — February 22, 2005 @ 9:04 pm

  4. Geoff, you said:

    “Someone please help me out! Why don?t I care? What can I do to get some of that Spirit of Elijah in my own life? Or should I just stop worrying about it and leave it to those who have this spiritual gift already?”

    I really really want to help you out. It may be a complicated issue as to why you don’t care. What can you do? Also complicated, but we can deal with that.
    Should you stop worrying and leave it to others…NO.

    Let me share this quote with you as to why NONE of us can do that:

    “The responsibility of doing work for our dead rests with equal force on all. It matters not else what we have been called to do, or what position we may occupy, or how faithful in other ways we have labored in the church, none is exempt from this great obligation.
    It is required of the apostle as well as the humblest elder. Place, distinction, or long service on the church, in the mission field, the Stakes of Zion, or where or how else it may have been, will not entitle one to disregard the salvation of one’s dead.” (President Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation vol. 2 pg. 148-149.)

    Now. Why don’t you care…tough question. But my guess is that you don’t know enough to care.
    My patriarchial blessing says that I will do lots of wonderful stuff with genealogy. I hated that it said that. I tried to start, but I had a lot of family of origin issues (massive abuse/insanity, among other things) and didn’t want to know anything about my biological father’s side. So, for many years, I just cringed whenever the subject of genealogy came up.

    Yet now, it is my most favorite thing in the whole world!!! Why? I started doing it. I discovered that even on my father’s side, there were wonderful wonderful people who did amazing things and my heart was so touched by their courage and strength.

    I am writing a book on my great-great grandmother. The love that I have for this woman floods my heart so much sometimes it is overwhelming. Perhaps if you start small, just to be obedient to the Lord’s telling us it needs to be done, you may come to realize why. I could and probably will write a book on it, but please know that this work is very very important, and so is your participation in it.

    You say that you don’t need to know who they were to know who you are. But to me, it is much more than just knowing who you are. It is know who WE all are.
    We were all part of this from the beginning. Doing genealogy causes me to realize not only that the world is a small place but that it is a short time, and that each one of us is a key player in this brief drama and proving ground here.

    If you need it, I’d be glad to help! Good luck! And doing it for your kids is a great way to get started! 

    Posted by Peggy Snow Cahill

    Comment by Anonymous — February 22, 2005 @ 9:13 pm

  5. Rusty, I’m (sort of) glad I’m not alone. I figured I had better be honest about the less flattering parts if I was gonna brag  about the good stuff.

    Peggy — That is some helpful advice. Part of my apathy has to do with an assumption that my dad has covered nearly everything. Of course this can’t be true. I suspect that you are right that if I just got started looking at the histories of my great-gandparents and beyond it would become addictive. (Hey, it worked that way with blogging didn’t it?) 

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 22, 2005 @ 9:49 pm

  6. The spirit will hit when the time is right, and we’re ready to listen. I’m sure the Lord is fully aware that none of us marches to the same timeline. Sure, I was ordained to the various priesthoods right on cue, but was I ready?

    Anyway, my own FH hormone didn’t kick in until I was nearly 42, and exactly two months after my Dad passed away. I figure that at that point in life, I was finally ready to listen to the promptings. That, and my Dad was behind the veil chasing down old dead relatives. “My kid needs something to keep busy. Go talk to him.”

    Now they won’t leave me alone. *sigh* That was 5 years ago, and now I’m a Consultant. That was part of my patriarchal blessing, and the time is right. It is now my most cherished work… and hobby.

    Good luck! 

    Posted by Woody

    Comment by Anonymous — February 22, 2005 @ 11:10 pm

  7. Thanks for the useful story, Woody. It sounds like I’m not the only one who took some time to catch the fever. That is strangely comforting. I look forward to getting those angelic promptings  you describe from my ancestors (who I will actually know about) someday. 

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 22, 2005 @ 11:24 pm

  8. Geoff: I have exactly the same reaction that you do to the whole, lets-extract-names-create-pedigree-charts aspect of geneaology. I served for about six months as a family history librarian and the Spirit never hit me. I opened the doors, showed patrons how to use the microfiche, and did my homework.

    On the other hand, I like stories and journals. I have a history of my great, great grandfather’s life prepared by my great-aunt that tells of his experiences of first being “called” as a voter and then later being sent on a “mission” to Cornell Law School by Wilford Woodruff. I find that I am facinated by stories in a way that I am not facinated about doing proxy ordinances for far distant progenitors. 

    Posted by Nate Oman

    Comment by Anonymous — February 23, 2005 @ 7:35 am

  9. Good point, Nate. If I can find journals or other diaries/memoirs of some ancestors perhaps they will suddenly become real people to me instead of just random names. Of course journals are a common Mormon thing but since I have no Mormon ancestors I don’t know what I’ll find. My dad thinks it?s exciting to find factoids like ?Charlemagne is in the family line? but that kind of stuff doesn’t do much for me.

    BTW — Thanks for taking a trip off the mainland to visit my little island!

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 23, 2005 @ 8:05 am

  10. Geoff,
    I run hot and cold on family history, but it does feel like I’m more often interested than not recently. We’re trying to build more interest in our quorum by collaborating to build a ‘quorum in heaven’ through family history and temple work.

    As to involving your children, I have an experience that might be good for your family (we did it when my kids were 8 and 3). We identified a couple on our family tree that we wanted to take to the temple later in the year. My wife and I traced outlines of ourselves on large sheets of paper. We labeled them with the names of our ancestors and hung them on the wall where the kids could see them. This really energized the kids about the process — they were full of questions and wanted frequent updates about our progress.

    My newest venture is tracking down my father’s birth father’s line. Yesterday, I got a photocopy of my dad’s grandfather’s obituary in the mail. I had a pretty neat conversation with my dad that night. 

    Posted by Pat Eyler

    Comment by Anonymous — February 23, 2005 @ 1:56 pm

  11. On the whole Charlamagne is in the family line thing, I remember reading someplace that if you take a fairly self contained population and push back a large number of generations what you find is that virtually everyone at in generation X is a direct descendent of virtually everyone in generation X-50 (or whatever it is). If this is true, then I suspect that most people with some sort of Northern European background are a direct decendent of Charlamagne.

    BTW, I read lots of blogs regularlly but just don’t comment as much. I come by hear fairly regularlly. Nice place. 

    Posted by Nate Oman

    Comment by Anonymous — February 23, 2005 @ 6:52 pm

  12. Good advice, Pat. I’m gonna catch the fever one of these days. Maybe I ought to start doing more work like you rather than waiting for the urge to hit me.

    Nate: Way to burst my bubble! I was secretly thrilled about my Charlamagne connection and now I find out we all have him in our lines. (Ok, not really). Anyway, you’re always welcome. I try to keep the place spruced up for my visitors. 

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 23, 2005 @ 9:40 pm

  13. My score is a big fat zero in the game of geneology. I’ve tried to do a little bit here and there with no luck–and that only because the knife of guilt was prodding me to the ‘point’ of drawing blood.

    The one good thing that has come out of all of this is that I was driven to find my biological father–which I did about a year and a half ago (I had just turned 41 yrs old). However, the result of coming into contact with that side of the family has been extremely depressing. (literally)

    I expect, in time, that doors will open wide enough to get some real work done there. But, for now I’m just trying to figure out what it means to be part of this new and larger reality which includes a father. 

    Posted by Jack

    Comment by Anonymous — February 23, 2005 @ 9:57 pm

  14. Well we can both take some comfort in Woody’s example Jack. He was older than either of us when his “FH hormone” kicked in. Still, with a depressing setback like you’ve had I feel for you. I hope that passes quickly, bro. 

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 23, 2005 @ 10:06 pm

  15. Back in 2002 The Atlantic Monthly  had a great article  (subscription required) entitled “The Royal We”.


    The mathematical study of genealogy indicates that everyone in the world is descended from Nefertiti and Confucius, and everyone of European ancestry is descended from Muhammad and Charlemagne. 

    Posted by J. Stapley

    Comment by Anonymous — February 23, 2005 @ 10:38 pm

  16. Well I guess that solves the question of who has the literal blood of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in them… Everyone.

    Are the conclusions you cite serious or is it just a mathematical parlor trick J? If it is serious, my blood of Israel crack be might be more true than I imagined. 

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 23, 2005 @ 11:08 pm

  17. It is completely serious. 

    Posted by J. Stapley

    Comment by Anonymous — February 24, 2005 @ 5:33 pm

  18. I don’t think you’re right, Geoff, to say that you don’t need to know your ancestors to know who you are. The abundance of genealogies in the scriptures (and indeed all abundance epics) and in the first chapters of every biography of every church leader is more than the satisfaction of curiosity. Genealogy is inseperable from personal identity. As a young man who caught the spirit of E. this last summer and has since found dozens of his ancestors, I can promise you there is nothing like it. I strongly suspect you’ll have to put in some time and sweat a little before you “get” it. 

    Posted by Steve L

    Comment by Anonymous — February 26, 2005 @ 1:32 pm

  19. A testimony of the spirit of Elijah and genealogy work comes the same way anything else does–by doing it.

    It sounds like the most boring work in the world. Looking up old records, names and dates? But once you get into it, it’s like a big puzzle you just *have* to solve. 

    Posted by Susan Malmrose

    Comment by Anonymous — March 2, 2005 @ 6:12 pm

  20. I have the same problem.
    I’m not going to do any until one of my ancestors comes and visits and asks for it. Ask and you shall receive.

    Comment by anonymous — April 7, 2005 @ 2:12 pm

  21. Discussion in a recent post got me looking up the Johnston Clan. Found this interesting paragraph:

    The Johnstons were a prolific clan as well as hardy, and in the next two centuries after adopting the name, they became strong enough to excite the jealousy of their neighbors, the much stronger clan of Maxwell of Nithsdale, and many a bloody fight took place before the Johnstons established their supremacy at the battle of Dyfe-Sands, in 1593, in which the Maxwells were completely routed, leaving their chief, Lord John Maxwell, dead on the field.

    I’m glad we left enough Maxwells around to later give us Neal A….

    Maybe I will get into the swing of this geneology thing one of these days after all

    Comment by Geoff J — June 3, 2005 @ 3:26 pm