Sometimes Lester Dickey's wife, Connie, says he has "the bug." It's not an insect, but more of a passion.
"You go through seasons in the Church," Brother Dickey said. "For me, the family history season is now. It's almost become an obsession."
Brother Dickey, who has served as the patriarch in central Maine since 1983, said his interest in preserving personal history dates back to his teenage years, even before he joined the Church.
"One of my dad's favorite activities was to ride to places he remembered. I spent many a Saturday afternoon in cemeteries," he said.
It was his father's curiosity that first brought Latter-day Saint missionaries into their home. Soon, the whole Dickey family was converted. In 1963, at 21 years old, Lester was baptized along with his parents, Norman and Bertha Dickey, and three sisters, Norma, Frances and Debra. The decision changed the course of his life.
"I was baptized first. My dad had been crippled from polio, and I picked him up out of his wheelchair. The missionaries formed a sort of cradle, and I set him in their arms," Brother Dickey recalled. "Then I had to carry him out of the font."
Since that time, he has served as bishop and stake president in Maine and earned a master's degree in mathematics from Bringham Young University. He also became better acquainted with the young woman would become his wife, Connie Richards, due to the Church.
"The Rockland Branch was small and I was the only eligible young man. There were three eligible girls. I dated all three," he said with a laugh. "But Connie was the right one. She went to BYU as a freshman and we corresponded. The following year I went to graduate school. On the way there, I knew it was time to get engaged," he said.
The two have been married since 1965. They now attend the Farmingdale Ward, the very ward where he was baptized.
Just like he used to visit cemeteries with his father, he now does similar research with his son, Jon. The two have had their share of genealogical adventures.
"In New Gloucester we found a family that had a whole row of identical gravestones. In the middle was one that just said 'unknown,' " Brother Dickey recalled. "It reminded me of Paul in the Book of Acts where he goes to Rome and reads the inscription to the unknown God."
Brother Dickey has also been compiling a history of the Church in Maine. "The first record of anyone baptized in Maine is a Timothy Smith in the Saco area in 1832," he said. Brother Dickey has uncovered several newspaper articles about local LDS activities. Many of these describe the saints as "Mormonites." The earliest one he's discovered was written in 1833. It discussed how Mormon missionaries had infiltrated New England's most northern state.
Despite these shades of prejudice, Brother Dickey enjoys unearthing more than just sterile names and dates. He knows it's the little details that make history come alive. One of his recent projects involved transcribing the diaries of his great-grandmother, Florence Adelle Payson Pearse, who kept a record of her life from 1936-1937.
"She died in 1939, but during the course of two years, she wrote about when my mother and her siblings had measles and mumps, and how they were good, polite children when they came to visit," Brother Dickey said. "I tried to visualize the things she was talking about."
He published the diary for friends and family so they, too, might have a better understanding of the past.
"I took a copy to one of her grandsons. He's in his late 80s and in a nursing home in Camden. Now we've become good friends," Brother Dickey said.
He's also hard at work on a personal manuscript called "My Legacy of Faith," which chronicles faith-building experiences as well as his own search for the family's past. He hopes the work will strengthen the testimonies of the next generation.
"You can attribute things to coincidence, but how many times does something have to happen before you realize it's more than that?" he asked.
His book isn't intended for the public but rather for family. He feels that keeping a personal narrative has more to do with the Bible and Book of Mormon than most people realize.
"When you stop to think about it, what are the scriptures but someone's personal journal? Did they know that their writings would be criticized, analyzed, and lived by for thousands of years?" Brother Dickey asked.
"When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, did he have it in mind that he was writing to everyone forever? Probably not. Luke wrote his gospel for one person."
Though Brother Dickey doesn't aspire to be a great gospel writer, he hopes his testimony will leave a lasting impression on the people he loves. "Being LDS is a major part of my life. It's the primary consideration in everything I do, and it motivates me," he said. "Look at the impact."
He hopes future generations of Dickeys will appreciate the impact as well.