All of us are familiar with the missionary work performed by numerous churches. Sharing the gospel (or good news) with others is an essential part of Christ’s teaching. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a Missionary Church. However, their work doesn’t end when people die since their salvation efforts extend beyond the grave. It’s not unusual for faithful men and women to pray for the dead. However, Mormons take that one step further. They take the words of the Apostle Paul at 1 Corinthians 15:29 literally. His question is an interesting one. He asks why we should perform baptisms for the dead if they are not going to live again. This is precisely why The Church has spent many years and untold hours supporting volunteers who catalogue, collect and index genealogical records from every corner of the world.
The work of gathering and protecting records applies to members and non-members alike. In 1993, the small town of Conyers, Georgia, three members of the community came together and formed The Rockdale County Genealogical Society. Thirty-one people gathered at the Nancy Guinn Library for that first meeting. Chris Zawadzki, a member of the local L.D.S. Church, later became president of the Society and invited the group to use Church facilities for their meetings when the Library began a major renovation project. Members of the Society began using the Family History room at the local congregation’s church.
In 2010 The Society was contacted by resident, Cliff Hoffer. Hoffer told members that his late Mother, Elwanda Hoffer, a long-time member of the Georgia State Archives, had left a vast collection of genealogical material. She had personally told her son that she wanted the collection to be preserved intact. She was concerned that, because of its size and diversity, it might be divided among recipients. Cliff Hoffer agreed and was anxious to fulfill his promise to his Mother.
Hoffer first offered the collection to the Georgia Archives says Zawadzki, current President of the Society. The Archives were only interested in the oldest material. He next offered it to the Conyers Public Library, but they were only interested in the newer material. Finally, Hoffer approached Zawadzki who was serving as both the L.D.S. Family History Director and the President of the Society at that time. Without hesitation, the Society accepted the entire collection even though they had no idea what they would find or where they would be able to store it. “We immediately accepted the entire collection, not knowing what we would find,” says Zawadzki.. The RCGS Board approved the offer and Zawadzki suggested they display it in the L.D.S. Family History Center located on Flat Shoals Road in Conyers.
What began as a small suggestion blossomed into a major project and a bit of a nightmare. Mrs. Hoffer had dedicated one entire room of her sprawling house to research plus, “As we discovered,” Zawadzki says, “an upstair’s room with additional information.” That’s an understatement. RCGS members traveled to the spacious home and removed about 1500 papers, pictures, books, booklets, binders, manuscripts, journals and maps. “Also we removed surname folders that eventually would fill eight drawers in two filing cabinets,” Zawadzki adds. Members of the Mormon Ward spent hundreds of hours building floor to ceiling shelves and expanding the small Family History Center, adding cabinets and meeting space as well.
Finally, with the collection in hand and safely stored the Society members began the tedious task of reviewing and examining every single document. Their goal was to reduce the size of the massive collection without damaging any important material. By April 2011, about 6 months later, the members completed the first step by indexing the collection, Zawadzki says, and as a follow up, “We labeled Mrs. Hoffer’s collection, entered her family history into Family Tree Maker and undertook the task of cleaning up the surname folders. That work is still underway in 2015.
Over 700 hours of service, both by The Church and the Society Members have provided the community with a rare and valuable resource. Cliff Hoffer was able to see his Mother’s hard work pay big dividends and many in the community reap its benefits before he died in 2014. He can rest in peace knowing that his Family’s vast collection is safe, cherished, and now open to the public as “The Hoffer Collection” in the Family History wing of The Church of Jesus Christ of latter Day Saints.