'The Dead Are There, and They are Waiting'
Tom Jackson, 66, of North Las Vegas, Nevada, has been doing indexing for years, but he got a late start on doing his family history. He hasn’t let that discourage him.
“My wife Sandy is the assistant director of our family history center,” he says. “But all I knew was indexing. I’m into it because she brought me into it. I was serving a mission as an indexing missionary, and she got the bright idea that she wanted to be a missionary too, and she wanted us to serve together. So she said, ‘The library’s right down there–let’s go serve.’ So we put in the paperwork, and that’s all it took.”
It was a challenge at first. “I didn’t know a thing about family history,” he says. “All I knew was indexing. And right afterward, she let me know she was no longer going to work on my family line, that I could do that myself. And she gave me a name–I still remember the name, Martha Carson–and she said, ‘Here’s the name I want you to research. Here’s what you do.’ Then she took me into one of the genealogy programs and she said, ‘Here’s how you search.’”
But the results have been spectacular. Eighteen months later, Tom has put 5,000 names into his family line. “That’s doing cousins and everybody,” he said. “I concentrate on people born before 1904. And out of the 5,000, we’ve probably been able to have the temple work performed on about 700. Basically that entire group of people is from 1800 to 1900. We would have done more temple work, but we haven’t had time. Now I’m getting to the point where I’m going both ways–I’m going before 1800 and I’m going after 1900. Of course, after 1904 there won’t be any [temple] work done because you have to get permission. But I can still flesh out the tree–I can put leaves on the tree. That’s what I’ve been concentrating on.”
Tom is still the indexing specialist for the family history library. “I teach the obituaries, and I teach Italian indexing,” he says. “I don’t speak a word of Italian, other than it’s similar to Spanish–I served a Spanish mission. I’ve found that with the Lord’s help, the Italian indexing has become as easy to me as the Spanish indexing.”
He credits the online genealogy programs for his quick proficiency in family history work. “I guarantee you, that’s one of the beauties of the system that the Church puts out is they are so simple. I can tell anybody, if I can do it, you can. I am the dumbest man in the world when it comes to computers. I kid you not. But because the programs are so simple and so straightforward, I can do them. And if I can, there’s not a person on this planet that can’t.”
He has seen the Lord’s hand many times, helping him to know what to do and where to look next. The most recent incident came just after a class at the 2014 Family History & Genealogy Conference at BYU.
“I took the class on the Civil War veterans. One of the things [the teacher] said was that there was a site you could go on that is for Civil War soldiers. And I have a man on my paternal side whose line just ends. It’s Jerry Mars Walters and his wife and his parents, who are just listed as Mr. and Mrs. I’ve never been able to get anything on this man. I went home last night and I called up the site that she gave us, and the sixth name on the list was my Jerry Walters. He was there as a Civil War soldier. And in a matter of 30 minutes, I found his pension, I found his wife who got the pension because he was dead so I got her name, and I found the fact that he was a prisoner of war–all from this class. I’ve been looking for something on this man for almost two years. So I’m glad I came. I wouldn’t have known what to do. I’d given up on him. I still don’t have his parents’ names, but we’re getting closer. They’ve got to be somewhere. So I thought that was pretty sharp.”
A few years ago when Tom was still a relative novice, he learned that he was related to the Presley line in Arkansas.
“The Presleys came out of Arkansas, a lot of them,” he said. “Actually it turns out I’m about a third cousin once removed to Elvis. That’s by adoption–I’m adopted into the line. But a Presley came up that we got all the information on. I think his name was Caleb–Caleb Presley. Because I had so many names already, I turned it over to the temple. And when I do that, I print up a list so I’ll know whom I’ve turned over. About two weeks later I was going through the list and I saw his name–and for some reason his name was in bold letters. And I looked at that, and I thought, that can’t be in bold because I never type in bold. So after thinking and praying about it and talking to my wife about it, she said, ‘You need to take that name through the temple.’ So I did. I got dressed, showered and shaved, the whole bit, and ran right down to the temple and took the name through. And that’s the only time in all the time I’ve ever gone to the temple that I felt like they were there with me. I felt like he was right there with me as I went through.”
Tom’s enthusiasm and love for family history work is infectious. “I could tell you all kinds of stories,” he said. “I can tell you how I’ve indexed, and I’ve looked at a name, and I’ve said, ‘I’m going to have to put that down as unreadable–I can’t read it.’ And I’ve stopped, and I’ve said a little prayer, saying I need help on this name, and got a drink of water and came back and read the name, just as clear as a bell. That happens to me all the time. I’ve had an instance where I’ve put in a name, what I thought it was, and just as clear as could be I felt a hand on my shoulder and I felt a voice say to me, ‘That’s not how you spell it. This is how you spell it.’ The dead are there, and they are waiting and they are listening, and they want it done. They want it done right. I’ve got a testimony of that. Lots of stories like that–I put them all in my journal.”
Doing his own family history has made Tom aware that everything happens for a reason. “My father was originally born a Walters,” he said. “He ran away from home at age 14 and changed his name to the name of his favorite uncle, whose name was Jackson Walters. So he took that for his last name and called himself Tom Jackson. When he went in the military he had to have a birth certificate. When he went down and enlisted, he told them he didn't have one. So they made him a new one with his new name. So the kicker of the whole thing is, my son is the first naturally born Jackson. The rest of us are adopted in. But things happen for a reason. The Jacksons needed me. The Walters needed me. So here we are, a good and honorable line.”
Still more proof that things happen for a reason: “The real funny thing is, the reason Sandy gave my own family history to me was she had hit a dead end. She couldn’t get anything to go on her line. So she said, ‘I’m not going to do yours anymore. I’ve got to try to get mine going.’ She gave it to me, I took off with it, and now her line is going nuts because she’s doing her own line. I think I was supposed to do it. The Lord was just saying, ‘You’re not going to do anything until the right person is doing it.’
“I still tell Sandy every day it’s all her fault,” he says, a twinkle in his eye. “It’s been wonderful. It’s been wonderful to do. As a matter of fact, because it’s been going so well, and because I’m enjoying it so much, we extended our mission at the library. We’re going into our fourth year. It’s been very beneficial. I have such a testimony–it’s like old Alma talks about with the seed thing, when you begin to have a little faith and that faith gets unshakeable. My faith in this work is unshakeable. I hope to do it until the day I go to the other side.”