Preserving vital records

One of the aspects of the mission of the Church is to redeem the dead so all who have lived on the earth will have an equal opportunity to inherit the celestial kingdom.

The importance of this redemptive effort was emphasized often by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Typical of his comments:"Every man that has been baptized and belongs to the kingdom has a right to be baptized for those who have gone before; and as soon as the law of the Gospel is obeyed here by their friends who act as proxy for them, the Lord has administrators there to set them free." (History of the Church 5:365.)

But the Prophet was also concerned that accurate records be kept on all work that was done for deceased persons, and that the records be properly preserved. He so stated in an address to members of the Relief Society in August 1842, noting:

"All persons baptized for the dead must have a recorder present, that he may be an eyewitness to record and testify of the truth and validity of his record. It will be necessary in the Grand Council that these things be testified to by competent witnesses. Therefore, let the recording and witnessing of baptisms for the dead be carefully attended to from this time forth. If there is any lack, it may be at the expense of our friends; they may not come forth." (History of the Church 5:141.)

With such counsel in mind the early leaders of the Church strove to keep careful records, but with the persecutions they endured, and the difficulties of a long trip westward and the efforts to establish the Church in the Rocky Mountains, it was difficult to maintain records.

Thus it was that a hundred years ago an organized effort began to keep and maintain the records related to the sacred, redemptive work for the dead and to facilitate research work to identify them.

On Nov. 13, 1894, the Genealogical Society of Utah was organized in the office of Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Council of the Twelve who was Church historian. It was the desire of organizers to create a library where the records of temple work could be maintained and other materials collected to aid Church members doing research.

At a third meeting of the group on Nov. 20, 1894, articles of incorporation were approved and Elder Richards was chosen as the first president of the Society. The charter members, in addition to Elder Richards, included all three members of the First Presidency, President Wilford Woodruff and his counselors, President George Q. Cannon and President Joseph F. Smith; President Lorenzo Snow, president of the Quorum of the Twelve; and John Nicholson, Amos Milton Musser, James H. Anderson, James B. Walker, Abraham H. Cannon, George Reynolds, John Jacques, Duncan M. McAllister and Joseph Christenson.

The first books received by the Society were 11 volumes donated by charter members. This small nucleus of research works has now grown to more than two million reels of microfilmed genealogical records, more than 200,000 books, and more than 300,000 microfiches making it the largest family history library in the world.

In connection with its 50th anniversary on Nov. 20, 1944, the Society was re-named and re-incorporated as The Genealogical Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A further reorganization took place in 1964, at which time our present prophet, President Howard W. Hunter, became president of the Society. He served in this capacity until 1972.

Under the auspices of the Society, microfilming of documents and records in the United States, heretofore inaccessible by individual researchers, began in 1939. Following World War II similar microfilming projects were undertaken in Europe and other parts of the world. Such microfilm records have enabled researchers to identify millions of names for the sacred ordinance work of the temples.

The Society also created a giant storage facility in the granite mountains of Little Cottonwood Canyon, some 22 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. This unique facility has six huge vaults carved almost 500 feet into the heart of the mountain. The natural temperature in the storage areas is 57 to 58 degrees the year round. The natural humidity is always 40 to 50 percent, ideal conditions for perfect microfilm storage.

Through the years the central library in Salt Lake City has been expanded and now occupies a five-story building. But even more important has been the expansion of branch libraries throughout the world that now number more than 2,200 in 60 countries.

This centennial observance should remind Church members everywhere that the Lord expects His children to turn their hearts to those who have lived before us in order to make certain that the saving ordinances needed on this side of the veil are done and that proper records are kept, thus assuring that those who wait on the other side will not be delayed in their eternal progression.

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