New Genealogy Story ~ Seven Numbers Before My Eyes by Rob L. Burdsal

It’s a pleasure to share this inspiring genealogy story from Rob L. Burdsal today – yet another fascinating and unique experience with research. 

A Genealogy Miracle – Seven Numbers Before My Eyes

By Rob L. Burdsal, Sr.

In the summer of 1989, I was an Air Force Captain stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Ogden, Utah. We had only been there about two years so I was surprised to receive orders to move to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio that coming summer. A few months prior to moving, my wife Debbie and I experienced a miracle while researching our families in the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the huge Mormon genealogy library in Salt Lack City across from Temple Square). 

We spent most Wednesday evenings at that famous Library doing our research. Neither of us had much of an idea about how to pursue our research effectively, but we were there trying anyway. One Wednesday evening, we had looked for some three hours without finding anything of value. Because the Library was about to close, somebody began switching the lights on and off to help patrons realize they needed to put up their books or films and leave. Frankly, we were more than ready to leave.

A genealogy moment I’ll never forget

I began carrying microfilms away from where Debbie and I were working in order to return them to their proper drawers. I had only taken one short step when before my eyes there appeared a seven-digit number. I’ll never forget that moment. I can close my eyes and still see those numbers today. I heard no voices nor saw any individual — simply those seven numbers. They hung directly before me, about chest high. I’m speaking here about black, block numbers each about four inches high standing about one-foot from my body right there before me in the air. 

I immediately told Debbie to write down the numbers I was seeing. I was afraid to look away for a paper and pen for fear the numbers would not be there when I looked again as something told me they would be gone. Debbie could not see my face or the numbers, but apparently I sounded serious so without asking questions she wrote down the numbers as I read them aloud. 

I realized that since there were seven digits they must be microfilm identification, as microfiche or books are numbered differently. My heart was pounding but for some reason I was not frightened or worried about big black block numbers suddenly popping up before my eyes. I actually did not think about what had occurred. Instead, I worried that the film number identified might not be in its proper location — that somebody else was using it or maybe it was misfiled, since there were about 200,000 films in the Library. But when I got to the proper drawer, the film was right where it was supposed to be. I picked up the box and hurried back to Debbie. 

This particular film was so bulky it flowed over the top of the thick reel. As I started cranking, we saw there was no Table of Contents or Index, and the film contained hundreds of pages from various works. We realized there was no way we could ever review this film in the five minutes before the Library closed. By this time, Debbie and I were alone in our section of the Library and the place was turning dark. We looked at each other for a split second, and I stopped turning the crank. Then we bowed our heads and I offered a quick prayer beseeching Heavenly Father to help us. If we were supposed to find something on the film that evening, we would need guidance. I explained the thickness of the film in that prayer, while inwardly wondering how we could carefully review such a large amount of data even if we had a full week. 

Feeling reassured, I cranked the viewer again and went rapidly forward until I felt I had passed the spot. I cranked backwards a few pages and felt to stop and there before us was a page thick with names. We looked carefully but didn’t see anything about the Burdsal family. 

One part of this genealogy miracle

I felt confused, but Debbie reminded me we were only looking at the top half of the film, so I used the adjustment lever and raised the film to view the bottom portion. It was then we saw the name, “Fanny Burdsal.” We were both so happy and thankful that our prayer was heard and answered. It was a miracle. The page before us showed Fanny with a husband, Albert Lawler, and several children, all girls. I told Debbie I had never heard of any Burdsal family member named Fanny, but that we had to copy the page before we left. 

We rushed to the now-dark copying center and stopped the worker there, relating what had just occurred. She already had on her coat and was closing the door, but she listened to us and quickly hit the light switch to illuminate the machines. Then she took the film Debbie was carrying — the actual film and the take-up reel — and she made several copies, “just to be sure.” Part of the record was on one page and the remainder on the following page. As we left the copy room, heading for the second floor exit door, Debbie stopped. With a far-away look in her eyes, she told me Fanny had a son who was not reflected on the film, and it was Fanny who had caused all of this to occur because she was asking for our help. 

The promise

Debbie said Fanny wanted us to find her son and include him in the list of her children. Then we were to go to the Temple and by proxy undertake the sacred ordinances that would seal her husband and children to her. Fanny wanted us to include the son whose name was not on the film, as they had all accepted the gospel and wanted to be an eternal family. In return, Fanny would “open the windows of heaven” regarding my family history. 

We were preparing to leave Utah, so time was short. The Air Force was reassigning me to Dayton, Ohio. Despite our very best efforts during the last few months in Utah, we were unable to locate that son on any available records. However, we were happy about moving to Ohio since we would be living only a few hours’ drive from the little town in Indiana where Fanny and her family had lived and died. (It was only later that I discovered many Burdsal ancestors had lived in and around Cincinnati, Ohio, and Fanny’s father John Burdsall, my great-great-grandfather, had moved from Cincinnati to southern Indiana just before the Civil War). 

Two weeks after moving into our new home in Dayton, we headed for Lancaster Township, Jefferson County, Indiana — right off the Ohio River near Madison and North Madison, Indiana. As we drove into Lancaster we noticed a small cemetery built at the bottom of a steep hill. At the top were the ruins of the Eleutherian College. College Hill Cemetery below Eleutherian College

In the cemetery, we discovered gravestones for Fanny and her husband (lying together, sharing a newer double headstone) and their children. It brought us to tears to see the ages of the precious children, every one of whom died young over a three-year period. Cholera had swept through the area taking many young lives, and decimated the Lawler family. Only one child lived to adulthood. No wonder Fanny was praying for our help. However, despite looking, we found no grave of a son near the other headstones. 

As I walked up the hill, looking at the widely spaced headstones, Debbie went down toward the far corner – near where we parked our car. There were a few headstones in that area, standing apart from all of the others. Close to these stones were some bushes, and under one small bush, Debbie located a headstone, about six inches tall, announcing the birth and the death of a baby son named John, born to Fanny and Albert Lawler. The boy died the same day he was born. The promptings my wife had received in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City were true! We had found the entire family, including the baby son. 

We rushed to Chicago, Illinois Temple and proceeded with the sacred work on behalf of Fanny’s family. Kneeling at the sacred alter there, Debbie and I both experienced the heartfelt thanks of a mother who was sealed for eternity with her husband and all of her children. We shed many tears of joy that day in the House of the Lord. 

The story doesn’t end there. A few weeks later, we drove back to Lancaster with my parents to show them what we had discovered. My father recognized the area and told us he remembered visiting the graveyard with his own parents when he was little. He said he met the wife of John H. Burdsal, Fanny’s father, along with John’s wife, Caroline Elizabeth Short, and recalls her rocking on her front porch while smoking a corncob pipe. 

French genealogy connection

While visiting Madison with my parents we stopped at the city library and there met a Frenchman who had relatives in the area and was looking for his ancestors. During a short discussion, he told me he lived for several years in Madison and knew a few people with the Burdsal surname. In fact, he told us, there was a man named Dwight Burdsal who had married a lady related to the French side of his family. Her last name was Lichlyter. According to this man, Dwight had passed away years before, but he believed that Dwight did some family history work, and perhaps some papers might be in his widow’s hands. I made a few telephone calls, but no one answered, so we headed back to Ohio. 

Later that same evening, I was successful in contacting Mrs. Lichlyter who was in her early nineties. She told me her late husband had amassed a few notebooks full of genealogical information. She then gave us the telephone number of Ron Burdsal from Chicago who had all of his stepfather’s papers. 

Genealogy promise fulfilled

One week later, Ron was at my front door carrying two paper bags filled with loose paperwork. Although it took many months to organize all the materials, it provided literally thousands of names, birth and marriage dates for Burdsal ancestors, thus fulfilling the promise Fanny made to us in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City — we discovered her son and completed the Temple ordinances for her family — she, in turn, ensured that the work of her Uncle Dwight Burdsal fell into my hands.

I understand if, reading this, you may not believe it. However, I lived through the experience and cannot deny it. I can sincerely testify that I have now witnessed many, many miracles, each as incredible as the one related above, and each of which occurred to me personally. I know with all my heart that Jesus is the Christ, that we have a loving Heavenly Father, and that we are indeed His children.

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