I met a man at Rootstech named Frank Nielsen. He was there selling copies of something his father had given him years before — a map, dating back to his great grandfather in 1899 — mounted on a piece of wood. You can read his story on his website, pioneermaps.com.
Frank didn’t push his maps on me. Instead I asked him about it and heard the story from him. I have not figured it out but it dawned on me that there is a good possibility that we’re related. In just minutes of conversation with him it dawned on me how similar our stories are. He possesses the Spirit of Elijah. Like so many others he cannot tell the story of his family past without tears of gratitude.
That term, Spirit of Elijah, is one the traditional Christian world knows little of. After hearing the comments of Elder Allen F. Packer at Rootstech 2014, I’m convinced that very few Latter-day Saints get it either.
According to Elder Packer, less than 3 percent of Church membership is submitting names for temple work via Family Search.
That is a shocking figure. Consider this: the Church estimates that between 10 and 12 percent of Church members have gathered a year’s supply of food storage.
What that means is that roughly four times as many Church members have stored wheat than worked on their family history.
Why the disconnect? On the one hand you have guys like Frank Nielsen or the man I met in the wheelchair — pushing themselves to get family history work done — while on the others we have otherwise good, decent, faithful and active members of the Church who won’t even touch Family History. That’s amazing to me.
I’m one of the guilty. I have and used all the usual excuses.
There are three points I’d like to really make here:
1. We have a moral imperative as Latter-day Saints to get busy.
2. You don’t have to be LDS or a temple-worthy member to feel the Spirit of Elijah and get involved in this work
3. Nobody has YOUR family history — so it isn’t done
Once I’m off my soapbox about those three points I want to provide the very first steps EVERYONE has to take to get started. So please bear with me to the end of this article.
Our Moral Imperative as Latter-day Saints
This great work of family history was foretold by prophets anciently. In fact, the last verses of the Old Testament so confound the experts of Christianity they cannot make sense of it. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
The Prophet Joseph explained that the proper translation of the word “turn” in this context is actually “bind” or “seal”. Said he:
And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.
That idea of “being perfect” is reminiscent of the Savior’s admonition to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). Here the Prophet teaches that the word “perfect” was translated from the Greek word “teleios”, meaning “brought to its end, finished, completed”.
If that modern prophet direction is not enough, consider what President Wilford Woodruff said in 1894: “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. … This is the will of the Lord to his people.”
It amazes me, and much to my own shame, it humbles me, that we can expend so much energy in trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ through service to our Church callings, through efforts to raise our children in righteousness, through obedience to countless commands and yet we fool ourselves into thinking this work is done or will be done by someone else or at another time. This work was held in reserve for THIS dispensation — just as we were held in reserve. It is ours to do.
This work is for EVERYONE
Some feel they are not worthy of the temple so they don’t have to do this work. Others are not members of the Church at all and see nothing of the vision of this time. Indeed, it has been observed that the two dominant online activities on the Internet are pornography and family history. While one leads to heartache and even destruction, the other leads to paths of knowledge, honor and even greatness.
The pull to work on family history, for many though unexplained, is natural enough. Alex Haley, author of Roots, said: “In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage — to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. In every conceivable manner, family is the link to our past, bridge to our future.”
It is not only my hope but my promise that “turning our hearts” will lead to a change in our lives and focus. The exploration of family memories will lead to the creation of better family memories. Nothing but good comes from it, as generations of genealogists and family history enthusiasts will tell you.
Nobody has YOUR Family History
No two family histories are alike. When I was younger, I focused on the history of my father’s family, which was totally different than the history of my mother’s family. The two combined were my family history and I shared then the same family history as all my siblings.
That changed when I got married and had children. Now my family history includes my wife’s families — and it will change even more as each of my children marry and have children.
With that shifting dynamic comes ever growing responsibility. The work for family on all sides needs to be done. We have a saying in our family that we have used to try to teach our children — NO EMPTY CHAIRS. What that means is that we always come together as a family, no one is left out or left behind. That philosophy extends to our all of our family. And it grows in meaning and significance when it comes to the work of the temple.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson has taught:
Our anxiety to redeem the dead, and the time and resources we put behind that commitment, are, above all, an expression of our witness concerning Jesus Christ. It constitutes as powerful a statement as we can make concerning His divine character and mission. It testifies, first, of Christ’s Resurrection; second, of the infinite reach of His Atonement; third, that He is the sole source of salvation; fourth, that He has established the conditions for salvation; and, fifth, that He will come again.
With all of these imperatives, where do we begin?
Our simple first step is to merely register at Family Search and take a look.
Family Search contains not only links to what family is on record connected to YOU it contains an accounting of what temple work needs to be done. This “one world tree”, which has been in continual development since the coming of Elijah in 1836 and will continue through the Millennium, is the documentation of YOUR stewardship. It won’t show what Grandma did for you or what some other person did or is doing for you. It will show what YOU are doing. If you don’t log in and “thrust in your sickle” no one can or will do it for you.
If you already have an account at LDS.org your logon should work for Family Search. If not, registration is otherwise easy and free. Click here to learn how.
Family Search is completely free. It is smartly designed. It is intended for you to use over and over and over on a continual daily basis. Think of it as Google in the world of family history. It is essential to all other genealogical efforts you will make online.
You must learn it and become familiar with how it works. To some this will be daunting, especially those unfamiliar with computers or the Internet. But remember, you were held in reserve to come forth at this time for these purposes. You will get it — just push forward with it.
It always begins with yourself. Check the information there about you. Make sure it is accurate. Then do the same for your parents. Go step by step, generation by generation. Where you see work to be done — meaning the temple — that’s your priority.
If more information is needed before temple ordinances can be done, go get it. That might or might not be easy. It will require time. It may require money. It could, in some cases, require miracles.
All those things are possible and happening.
But if the information is had, and you put it into Family Search, then the temple work can be done.
There are many, many benefits of doing Family History. We will talk about those at length in the months and years ahead. But this is WHY we do it all — and it doesn’t get more compelling than as a commandment from the Lord.