In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, service is a core belief and activity as we follow the example of the Savior. This is evidenced in many of the things members do in their communities: working to package meals for the needy; creating useful items for new mothers, cancer patients, and others who may be uplifted by knowing that someone is concerned about them; working on beautification projects; helping when disasters strike. But there is another work they do for those who cannot do it themselves. That is the work of finding and organizing deceased family members—making sure that all are accounted for.
Genealogy work has always existed. From the time of Adam, people were commanded to keep histories of their lineages so that family lines could stay intact. Various circumstances made that impossible for some people. Records of the lines of nobility were carefully maintained, but Church, government or tribal records may be all that exist for those who could neither read nor write through many centuries of Earth’s history. Because we believe in doctrine that can unite families for eternity, many Mormons feel an urgent drive to find links to their past.
Just one generation ago, family history was gathered painstakingly through letters to county clerks, visits to faraway cemeteries and reliance on the memories of elderly relatives. But technology has changed all that. Now, thanks to FamilySearch.org, and the Church’s indexing program, people can research millions of records from throughout the world—all free, and all from the comfort of their own homes and/or family history centers.
Family history is a special focus in the Tucson West Stake this year, as members are encouraged to seek their ancestors and to record stories and upload pictures of them. For that reason, some of the wards have held special events to help members get started.
The Butterfield Ward held a Family History Fair, during which attendees moved from one station to another learning about indexing, starting a family tree, sharing memories about ancestors, writing personal histories, and more. “The interesting thing was,” said one attendee, “that though the people were supposed to rotate to new stations every ten minutes, that didn’t happen. People were so caught up in what they were learning, they didn’t want to move on.” Of course, the time schedule was altered accordingly.
Games introduced the very young to the idea of family links. They made crafts and played family bingo. Favorite family recipes were prepared and shared as refreshments.
The Wildwood Park Ward Relief Society dedicated one of their monthly evening meetings to recording pictures and images of family members on FamilySearch.org, as outlined in the new booklet My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together.
To kick off the instruction, they enlisted the help of Matt Jeffries, an 18-year-old who got interested in family history about two years ago. Citing talks by David A. Bednar of the Council of the Twelve Apostles and by local leaders, he remembered that, “they promised protection from the adversary [if we did this work],” Jeffries said. Elder Bednar particularly addressed the youth, noting that their skill with current technology would be a great asset in using the online tools that have been developed.
“I thought that would be neat to try,” Jeffries continued. “At first it was difficult, but I did it every Sunday night for about an hour. Sister [Karolyn] Bach [a family history consultant in the ward] helped.” He explained how he and his sister have been working through a “thick book of stories” that belonged to his maternal grandmother. “We have about 190 ordinances reserved…. I get really excited about baptisms. I can do those. My parents and my brother do the other ordinances. We go to the temple often.”
The ordinances done for the dead in temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints include baptism, sealings of families for eternity, and other ordinances. The work is done for family members for whom patrons have permission, then those people who have passed from mortal life decide whether they want to accept it.
Also on hand at the Wildwood Park family history meeting was Beryl Adams, a senior member of the ward who joined the Church at age 15. “My home teacher told me to talk to all my living relatives…. I did the four-generation chart.” That was the beginning. Since then, she has written three volumes on her family’s history for her children, and is working on a fourth with her husband.
In 1996, Elder Robert D. Hales explained that the doctrine of eternal families “brings a brightness of hope into an otherwise dark and dreary world. It answers the simple questions of where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going. These are truths that must be taught and practiced in our homes.”
Matt Jeffries explained the reward in this work. “Bringing relatives to the temple, I can really feel the Spirit, and feel gratitude for my ancestors. You will meet them someday. You will see the looks on their faces and see that they are grateful.”