Family history: ‘a work anyone can do’

"It would be an inconvenient rule," Sir Winston Churchill said, "if nothing could be done until everything can be done."

That maxim could well apply to family history. True, there is much to be done, but Church leaders affirm that the objective of redeeming the dead can be accomplished bit by bit, and is within the capability of virtually everyone.Clear, step-by-step instructions for making Temple blessings available to deceased ancestors are presented in new guidebooks and instructions published within the last several months. And family history consultants are being called in wards and branches to give attentive, individual help to any Church member with the desire to do his or her duty.

We are trying to establish family history as a cottage industry where members of the family can work it in, along with everything else there is to do," said Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve. "A young mother, for instance, can simply keep the records of her children, such as their ordination certificates, and that's a worthy contribution to family history. It is not required that she drop everything else in order to participate."

Elder Packer, chairman of the Temple and Family History Executive Council, and three other General Authorities discussed family history and temple service in a recent Church News interview. Participating were Elders James E. Faust and Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve, members of the Temple and Family History Executive Council, and Elder Richard G. Scott of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, executive director of the Family History Department.

"The resources which have been made available indicate that we have shifted emphasis," Elder Faust pointed out. "For instance, in the new booklet, Submitting Names for Temple Ordinances, (Distribution Center Catalog No. PBGS1391), the question is asked, `Has the names submission process been simplified in recent years?'

"It sets forth there how the process has been simplified in five major ways so that one wouldn't feel like he had to be a professional genealogist to get personally involved. It is noted that if detailed information on a given ancestor is not available, we should submit the information we have. It is accepted on a best-effort basis rather than having everything complete."

Elder Oaks added that for hundreds of thousands of Church members, the work that needs to be done is within the first few generations, and can be accomplished by talking to living relatives and recording the information readily available.

"There are circumstances," he acknowledged, "where library research and correspondence is needed, and our ward temple and family history consultants can help with those matters. The majority of the members of the Church, however, can participate with resources that are available to them without doing anything approaching professional research.

"You might say that our effort is not to get everyone to do everything, but to get everyone to do something."

For those wondering where to begin, Elder Packer suggested: "They can think about it and pray about it. That is a very good place to start. They can think about such things as the resurrection, the reality of one day being with their forebears."

He cited an earlier statement he made, contained in his book The Holy Temple: "One day while pondering prayerfully on this matter, I came to the realization that there is something that any of us can do for all who have died. I came to see that any one of us, by himself, can care about them, all of them, and love them. That came as a great inspiration, for then I knew there was a starting point."

Indeed, temple service and the related effort of family history research are spiritually inclined, Elder Faust noted. "We would hope that the general membership of the Church would come to know the doctrine as it relates to eternal life and be found keeping the commandments, to take these covenants and enjoy them, and to strive to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit.

"This work not only opens the gates of salvation for the dead, but it's also a labor that blesses the living in such a supernal way. Temple worship is a protection from the evil influences about us. It is an activity that blesses the living who are involved in it."

Parents set a powerful example, Elder Faust noted, when their children observe them reverently preparing to go to the temple.

As a matter of fact, Elder Oaks said, an important part of temple and family history service is the teaching that parents do in their own homes.

"The results of that kind of teaching, the resultant doctrinal understanding and the loving attitudes toward dead ancestors," he said, "yield downstream the gathering of names and visits to the temple, which are the vital, important product of this work. The loving unity in an eternal family, which is the ultimate end of this work, can be seen to begin with what parents do with 3-year-olds and 7-year-olds and 12-year-olds in a family home evening."

Elder Packer added that children should be taught the meaning of a covenant and an ordinance.

"When parents are doing that, they are contributing greatly to family history work," he said.

Two newly published booklets provide other suggestions on family history and temple service, Elder Scott said.

"Come unto Christ through Temple Ordinances and Covenants is an explanation of why we go to the temple," he explained. "It is a bridge to the scriptures that record what the Lord has said about the temple. It gives simple instructions on how to begin.

"The booklet Providing Temple Ordinances for Our Ancestors gives six basic steps on how to proceed. While this booklet provides guidelines for the ward family history consultant, it can also be used by members of the Church on their own."

Elder Packer quoted a maxim that "happiness is not found so much in realizing an ideal as it is in idealizing the real." He added, "The effort in family history is not to realize an ideal, technically, but to idealize the real, practically."

Part of idealizing the real is to provide temple ordinances for deceased ancestors, and the new materials are designed to help Church members do just that, according to David M. Mayfield, director of member services in the Church Family History Department.

"In conjunction with the new materials," he added, "the ward family history consultants will assure members that even without previous experience they can provide temple ordinances for their ancestors, especially in the first few generations where genealogical research is not required."

Consultants are being called to help Church members, as needed, each step of the way, he said; all that the member needs to do is follow the six basic steps to which Elder Scott referred that are listed in the new booklet Providing Temple Ordinances for Our Ancestors (PBGS1777).

The steps, to be presented by the consultant to individual Church members as a series of discussions, are:

  • Gaining a desire to provide temple ordinances for ancestors.
  • Collecting family information.
  • Reviewing family records to find ancestors whose temple work has not yet been done.
  • Checking the ordinance index for completed temple work.
  • Requesting temple ordinances for ancestors.
  • Receiving temple ordinances in behalf of ancestors where possible.

Two other booklets that have been introduced recently include Submitting Names for Temple Ordinances (PBGS1391), a resource for the family history consultant, describing how the names submission process has been simplified in recent years; and Come Unto Christ Through Temple Ordinances and Covenants (PBGS153A), the basic reading material for anyone proceeding through the six basic steps.

Also, as announced last year (See Church News, June 6, 1987) new forms include a four-generation pedigree chart with boxes to check when ordinance work has been completed for ancestors, a family group sheet that is the primary form for submitting names for temple ordinances, and an ordinance pedigree chart that provides space for names of ancestors through eight generations. The ordinance pedigree chart has boxes to check when ordinance work has been done for ancestors, and provides the means to seek inspiration on where to put emphasis on family research, the member services director observed.

All the new forms are in an 8 1/2-by-11-inch size and can fit in standard-size three-ring binders.

"The consultants, for the most part, will not be genealogists," the director pointed out. "They will be specialists in helping members reach the goal of providing temple ordinances for ancestors. Consultants teach the family history class in Sunday School and serve as local experts on names submission prodecures.

"They will help Church members get started, and the people will then discover they can do it on their own. They can identify their ancestors for whom the work has not been done, go to the temple for those ancestors, and find tremendous joy in doing it. It will strengthen them as individuals, strengthen their families, and strengthen the wards and branches throughout the Church."

That already seems to be happening in some parts of the Church, since the new emphasis on simplification and the calling of ward consultants was announced last June.

In the Heber City Utah East Stake, Pres. Michael "J" Moulton has enocouraged accountability among ward family history consultants and the ward members they assist. Accountability has brought success in the stake mission, Pres. Moulton said, and he expects it to be similarly productive in redeeming the dead.

Using his own experience to illustrate how the consultants function, Pres. Moulton said his ward consultants came to his home and encouraged him to organize his family history material during the next two weeks. Knowing they would return gave him the motivation to accomplish the task, he said.

During their next visit, they helped him determine if his ancestors' ordinance work had been completed. In subsequent visits they might help him get started in doing research at the stake's family history center.

The ward consultants report monthly to the stake president and the stake family history advisor, a member of the high council, on their efforts.

"None of these consultants are experts in genealogy," the stake president noted. "In fact we've told them all the information they need is in these three new booklets."

Pres. Moulton expects that eventually, after a number of visits from family history consultants, ward members will catch the Spirit of Elijah and begin to function on their own.

And in the process, they will have begun to do their duty in helping redeem the dead.


Family history class to train consultants

Special training for ward family history consultants and stake leaders will soon be provided on a weekly basis at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, according to David M. Mayfield, director of member services for the Family History Department.

Ward family history consultants, stake high council advisers and family history specialists are invited to register at the Family History Library and take part in the course. The two-hour sessions will begin in April and be repeated one night each week.

The training is intended primarily for Church members living in the Salt Lake area. Interested people should call 531-4758 and register by name for the session they wish to attend. A schedule of sessions may be obtained by calling that number. Training for areas outside of the Salt Lake vicinity will be offered at a later date.