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Suzanne Bowen shares family history brings healing and inspires others

Suzanne Bowen standing in dress in front of Laie, Hawaii Temple.

Discovering more than 5,000 names, photos and sources of her family, Suzanne Blattberg Bowen said she is devoted to genealogy work, inspiring those around her to do the same. Through family history work, she met her husband, Religion Professor Matthew Bowen.

Painful past

Suzanne Bowen, a special instructor in the Faculty of Religious Education, said, “When I asked my grandparents about our family history, they always answered, ‘We have a painful past, so don’t ask.’ It made me more curious.” 

She is of Jewish descent and found out 70 percent of her relatives and distant family members died in the Holocaust, which was “the genocide of millions of Jews by the German Nazi government during WW II,” according to Oxford dictionary. 

She shared when she started doing her genealogy, her family tree had only three generations, including her, her parents and her grandparents. Her father suggested her to search from people who have the same last name, Blattberg, which was her maiden name. She found other Blattbergs and sent her small family tree to them. She received a response from five of them, but unfortunately, none of them had ancestors in common. 

However, after 20 years of research, she shared she has found the common ancestor for all Blattbergs, and so all people named Blattberg are related. 

According to Suzanne Bowen, she visited her relatives around the United States with her sister and showed her family tree and collected their photos, records and family trees.

Suzanne standing with Bracha Blattberg Schiff and Arieh Schiff.
Suzanne standing with Bracha Blattberg Schiff and Arieh Schiff, Suzanne Bowen’s relatives who are Holocaust survivors and were interviewed for the film “Schindler’s List.”

Inspiration from grief

Suzanne Bowen said her infant son, Nathan Bowen’s death inspired her to dive into family history even deeper. “I believe my son teaches the gospel on the other side of the veil, so I can help him by doing family history from this side of the veil.” 

According to Suzanne Bowen, doing genealogy comforted her when she mourned her son. She said she started doing family history every night, even though she had a full-time job at the U.S. Treasury Department and cared for her young son. 

Every year on their deceased son’s birthday, the Bowens said they go to the temple to do ordinances for their ancestors to honor their son. 

Suzanne Bowen said in the beginning, she could not find many names. However, she spent 10 to 15 hours every week doing family history, and God blessed her effort with great results. 

So far, she has discovered more than 5,000 people and sources. She attached them to her account and other genealogy platforms. Now she provides the most information to the Blattberg Family line. 

Matthew Bowen said, “She still does family history every night for at least 15 minutes. It is great to see her talent and ability to do family history blossom.” 

Matthew and Suzanne Bowen on the beach holding hands with their two children with trees, plants, and building in background.

Blessings of genealogy 

Suzanne Bowen said she gained a friendship with relatives she never knew before. She also testified genealogy work has healing power. “I contacted one of my second cousins on Facebook, and she told me her grandfather, my great uncle, wrote his life story when he was 95 years old. 

“I asked for a copy, and when I read it, all of the hard feelings I had for [my great uncle] melted away. I was able to feel compassion for him and forgive him for being unkind about my religious beliefs.” 

 Suzanne Bowen quoted Obadiah 1:21 and said, “When we do family history and temple work, we become Saviors on Mount Zion for our ancestors.” She also said the temple is an important part of family history work. 

When we do family history and temple work, we become Saviors on Mount Zion for our ancestors.
Suzanne Bowen

Every time she goes to the temple, she explained, new breakthroughs happen in her search for family. “When I went to the temple last time, my cousins contacted me and told me they are going to bring a tape I was seeking to obtain for 20 years.” 

She said her cousins’ parents were Holocaust survivors and were interviewed for the movie “Schindler’s List.” She has wanted to have the tape for so long but was not able to get a copy. However, her cousins are going to come to Hawaii soon to bring a copy of the interview tape. 

She explained, “I am always busy with my children, work, and chores. However, doing family history helps me to manage my time better and get done many more things.”

Family history to love story

Matthew and Suzanne first met in an institute class in Washington, D.C.

He said he knows the Yiddish language and carried the Hebrew Bible to his institute classes. 

“Suzanne asked me to help her to translate her family records in the Yiddish language. Soon after, I asked her out, and that is how we started.” 

Matthew Bowen shared he admires his wife’s commitment to genealogy. 

“Even before I met her, she had done a lot of family history work. Because of her influence, I am doing my side of family history now. She taught me a lot, but she is still much more knowledgeable than me.” 

Suzanne and Matthew Bown standing together on the beach with trees and house in background.

Teaching by example

Matthew Bowen said six years ago, the BYUH family history teacher left the island, so they needed someone to replace her. “Suzanne was a perfect candidate, and she took over the class willingly.”

One of her former students, Alexis Jimenez, a recent graduate from California who majored in psychology, said, “I love how she shares her own personal experiences of doing family history because it inspires me to keep doing mine. She teaches with her own great example and passion. Since I took her class, I found several family names and great historical connections in my family.” 

I love how she shares her own personal experiences of doing family history because it inspires me to keep doing mine.
Alexis Jimenez

Besides teaching REL 261, she also inspires others to do genealogy, including her neighbor Ann Merrill, a special instructor in the Faculty of Arts & Letters. Merrill said, “Suzanne got me interested in family history. She is very devoted and diligent about it. She does it every night. She is also very brave and contacts random people who have the same last name. She is determined to take care of her family members on the other side of the veil.” 

Merrill is another passionate genealogist and has indexed and reviewed more than 12,000 documents. “I credit Suzanne for finding my 5,667 relatives. When I stick with my family history work, Suzanne is always there to help me and answer my questions. She is very generous with her time to help me do my family history.”