We Mormons don’t just run for President of the United States or throw touchdowns. We don’t just order milk at bars (because we don’t typically go to bars) and write books that turn into movies. We also do genealogy and/or family history. A lot of it.
First off, here is a more official answer to the question: “The Purpose of Temple and Family History Work”
To be honest, I can’t tell you every Mormon’s reasons for working on genealogy, but I can share my thoughts and I’d bet they match a lot of other members of the LDS church. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:
- First of all, a brief understanding of temples will help. LDS temples are places where people can go and participate in many of the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once a person has participated in these ordinances for themselves, they can return and participate for ancestors who, for any number of reasons, were unable to participate in those ordinances themselves while they were on earth. You can find more details about temples here. Jesus did a work for me that I couldn’t do for myself. The very least I can do is to do a work for others that they couldn’t do for themselves.
- Genealogy (or Family History) is the work people do to 1.) identify people who are ancestors, and 2.) identify which of those ancestors didn’t have the chance to be baptized or sealed to their family.
- Once an ancestor is identified and it is clear that they weren’t baptized, we go to the temple and get baptized for them. Now let’s be clear about something: Performing a baptism for a deceased ancestor doesn’t make them Mormons. We don’t count them on the rolls of the church. Performing the baptism in their behalf just gives them the chance to accept the baptism if they’d like. They don’t have to, and in most cases, we won’t really know if they appreciated our efforts until we’re dead ourselves. At that point, my great-great grandparents can either thank me or ask me what in the world I was doing…
- Researching my ancestors helps me feel closer to them and to the family that I’m a part of. I know these people. I know a lot about the ancestors that I’ve researched. I bet I’ll recognize them when I get to the other side. To catch a bit of what I’ve experienced, check out my oft-neglected-but-still-somehow-detailed blog on my own family history research: DiscoveringWilliam.wordpress.com
- Aside from the spiritual aspect of this work, genealogy gives me a lot of interesting things to think about. Here’s a random list: I’ve researched Pennsylvania (late 1800’s, early 1900’s), England, Utah, the Methodist Church, dentistry, divorce cases in New Jersey, land records, burial grounds, cemetery policies, census records, the Philadelphia YMCA, the Mayflower, the Kalmar Nyckel, and a whole list of other subjects. All of this, just to find a couple great-great-grandparents.
- I love problem-solving and genealogy gives me a chance to flex those mental muscles. Discovering that my great-grandfather had a daughter with his second wife took more luck, blessings, and work than you can imagine. But, after searching just about everywhere, I found her!! It was fun to figure it out and make a discovery. Find the story here, and here…
Well, there’s more, I’m sure. I love doing family history. But you don’t have to be a Mormon to enjoy genealogy and in fact, more non-LDS people are doing genealogy than LDS people. If you’d like to start, either contact me, or go to www.familysearch.org and get started! Here’s an article from Wired Magazine regarding genealogy that is pretty good. Family Search has some great getting-started videos. Find a Mormon that you know and ask them.