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What I know now that I didn't know before visiting a small schoolhouse in Sweden

Just outside of the small Swedish town of Osby, there sits a small red building that to many people may seem unremarkable. Its structure and design are similar to many other buildings in the area, and in some ways it looks a little forgotten, sitting hidden from view by the tall and dense trees that line the old road leading out to it. It’s a simple summer home now, but in the late 1800s, it served a dual purpose as a home and schoolhouse.

Near the center of town, in a small museum dedicated to honoring the unique history of Sweden and the town of Osby, there is an old black-and-white photograph of a small school class with their schoolmaster in front of the small red building. For many who pass through the small museum, the photograph may not hold much significance amongst the other items on display, but for Erik Ralsgard, one of the museum's founders and caretakers, it marks an important part of his work.

As a historian and member of the local preservation society in Osby, Erik has dedicated much of his life to preserving the history of the town of Osby. Preserving everything from carriages and pipe organs to small slate boards used in school houses, the museum offers a glimpse into what life in Sweden may have looked like at the time the photograph was taken. About the same time when my great great-grandfather, the schoolmaster who appears in the photograph, first learned of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

On a trip to Sweden last fall with my siblings, I had the opportunity to finally meet Erik and visit the schoolhouse where my great-grandfather lived and worked, and to see firsthand the work that Erik and others in the area have done to help preserve their history.

While walking around the yard surrounding the small, old schoolhouse, I suppressed the urge to cry as I listened to Erik describe many of the details of life for my ancestors there. I was overcome with gratitude for the efforts of this man who, a mere few hours before, had been a complete stranger to me.

Erik is not related to my family, and although he is religious, he is not a member of the Church. His ancestors and my ancestors never crossed paths as far as we know. He holds no stake in learning of or preserving my family’s history and yet, he is willing to do so without hesitation. For him, preserving history is all about serving people, both living and dead.

The first encounter he had with my family was a mere 10 years ago when a series of providential occurrences led my sister and her husband to ask for Erik’s help while searching for that same red schoolhouse during a spontaneous trip to the area.

After this first encounter, Erik took an interest in my family’s history and has, since that time, done a great deal of work to help us learn more about them and their time in Osby prior to migrating to Utah.

His interest in helping my family has been unconditionally selfless, and after spending a day with him, he felt like part of the family for all of us.

It was at the end of the day, when my siblings and I were driving away from Erik’s house, that I realized something I hadn’t before. Family history work is about so much more than connecting with our ancestors and doing their temple work. It is about connecting all the children of God both on this earth and on the other side of the veil.

That’s what I learned after spending the day in Sweden with Erik. Family history is about connecting and learning to love and serve one another — all of God’s children — unconditionally and selflessly, just as Christ did.