Family history research and temple ordinance work for the dead are part of the great work of redeeming mankind, a BYU professor said at the Genealogy and Family History Seminar at BYU Aug. 8-10.
V. Ben Bloxham, assistant professor of history, presented a session on the topic, "LDS Doctrine and Family History - Why Members of the Church Do Genealogical and Family History Research."He quoted statements from several prophets in this dispensation on the importance of redemption of the dead.
He quoted Joseph Smith as stating: "The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead. This doctrine was the burden of the scriptures. Those saints who neglect it in behalf of their deceased relatives do it at the peril of their own salvation." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 356; cf. 193.)
Brother Bloxham said a careful reading of the scriptures indicates that the most important thing to God is the redemption of His children. He also pointed out that no one really dies in the sense of ceasing to exist, but rather, everyone goes into the spirit world after the death of the body.
"So a full understanding must be that the burden of the scriptures is not just the redemption of the dead, but the redemption of mankind."
He quoted Brigham Young as stating in his last public discourse: "What do you suppose the fathers would say if they could speak from the dead? Would they not say, `We have lain here thousands of years, here in this prison house, waiting for this dispensation to come'? Why, if they had the power, the very thunders of heaven would be in our ears, if we could but realize the importance of the work we are engaged in. All the angels in heaven are looking at this little handful of people, and stimulating them to the salvation of the human family." (From an address delivered at the St. George Temple, Jan. 1, 1877.)
"He was speaking of the living as well as the dead," Brother Bloxham pointed out. "So let's not separate it between the dead and the living. The work of exaltation is going to involve both the living and the dead."
He explained that the dead are not present in mortality to speak for themselves, so others must speak for them in emphasizing the importance of the saving ordinances.
Those ordinances involve baptism to extend the blessings of Christ's atonement to everyone, and the sealing of husbands to their wives and children to their parents so they may live as families through eternity, he added.
"We can't do the repenting for them," he explained. "They have to do that for themselves. But if they do, and baptism has been performed for them, salvation is theirs for the asking. So we do it for everybody, except children who have died before age 8. They are exempted from the need for baptism."
Brother Bloxham said he is annoyed when Church members wait for a specific call before embarking on family history research and temple work.
"They have already been called," he said. "What are they waiting for?"
Techniques to preserve histories
In writing and publishing family histories, it is well to use techniques and methods that will ensure the history will be of good quality and will last through the years, noted Don E. Norton, BYU assistant professor of English, who presented a session at the Genealogy and Family History Seminar.
Summarized below are some of the suggestions and tips he gave at the Aug. 8-10 seminar at BYU.
- A history can be typed using a word processor and the text stored on a computer diskette. The diskette then can be taken to a printer, and from it a copy can be printed that is very professional in appearance.
- Printing absolutely must be done on acid-free paper. Otherwise the copy will deteriorate.
- Bound journals distributed by the Church Distribution Center contain acid-free paper as of about two years ago.
- Do not write on the back side of photographs. The ink can leach through to the surface, and if one presses hard, the emulsion can be damaged. If a label must be written on the photo, it is best to use a soft-lead pencil and write on the border.
- For handwritten material, use a pen with carbon ink, such as a U.S. government pen. Without carbon ink the writing will turn purple, then pink, then disappear altogether.
- Soaking newspaper clippings overnight in soda water neutralizes the acid and retards deterioration. (Experiment first by tearing off an insignificant portion of the clipping and soaking it.)
- Photographs that one intends to preserve should not be stored in magnetic photo albums. That accelerates the deterioration five-fold. It is best to use polypropylene sheet protectors.
- Black-and-white photographs last much longer than color photos.
Track `invisible cousins'
In researching ancestral histories, families should learn to draw on sources in addition to those that are close at hand, a BYU Church history professor said at the Genealogy and Family History Seminar Aug. 8-10.
"Most families use sources that are readily at hand or that the direct-line family knows about," said William G. Hartley, an assistant professor in the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church history. But, he said, there are other sources available.
"If you are dealing with the history of a great-grandfather or great-grandmother, for example, there are what we call `invisible cousins.' These need to be tracked down."
Often there will be a diary, photo or letter in the hands of only one relative, Brother Hartley said. "If families don't survey all the descendants, they can miss some good source material."
He said a weakness in LDS family history writing is the failure to use rich material among non-family sources.
Such sources include government records, organizational records (including Church records), and personal accounts written by people who may have been present at the time the events were taking place in the life of the ancestor.