Uniting Families through Temple and Family History Work
“Chapter 6: Uniting Families through Temple and Family History Work,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 51
Temple ordinances extend the opportunity of exaltation to God’s children on both sides of the veil.
From the Life of Heber J. Grant
Many times in his life, Heber J. Grant sacrificed worldly interests to participate in temple and family history work. This began in his youth when Church members had the opportunity to contribute money to help build the Salt Lake Temple. “Month after month, as a boy,” he recalled, “I contributed one dollar a month. As my wages increased I contributed two dollars a month, and later three dollars, four dollars, five dollars, and finally gave several thousands of dollars towards the completion of that temple. Why? Because the Lord God Almighty had given me a knowledge that the hearts of the children have been turned to their fathers; that the keys held by Elijah the prophet were in very deed delivered to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.” 1
The priesthood keys restored by Elijah make possible the uniting of families for time and all eternity through sacred temple ordinances. As President Grant explained, this work is equally significant to the living and the dead: “We have the gospel of Jesus Christ restored to us; we have the plan of life and salvation; we have the ordinances of the gospel not only for the living but also for the dead. We have all that is necessary, not only for our own salvation, but that we may be in very deed ‘Saviors upon Mount Zion,’ [see Obadiah 1:21] and enter into the temples of our God and save our ancestors who have died without a knowledge of the gospel.” 2
President Grant showed his love for temple and family history work when he said: “I am deeply interested in this work. I am anxious to encourage the people to press on in securing their genealogies and after doing so in laboring in our temples.” 3 Through his example and teachings, his family members came to love temple work. In January 1928 he decided to establish every Thursday night as Grant family temple night. Endowed members of the family gathered for dinner and then went to the Salt Lake Temple to receive sacred ordinances in behalf of their deceased ancestors. On his birthday in 1934, 50 family members assembled in the temple and participated in the sealings of 1,516 children to their parents. 4
Teachings of Heber J. Grant
No sacrifice is too great as we strive to unite our families through temple work.
I shall always be grateful, to the day of my death, that I did not listen to some of my friends when, as a young man not quite twenty-one years of age, I took the trouble to travel all the way from Utah County to St. George to be married in the St. George Temple. That was before the railroad went south of Utah County, and we had to travel the rest of the way by team. It was a long and difficult trip in those times, over unimproved and uncertain roads, and the journey each way required several days.
Many advised me not to make the effort—not to go all the way down to St. George to be married. They reasoned that I could have the president of the stake or my bishop marry me, and then when the Salt Lake Temple was completed, I could go there with my wife and children and be sealed to her and have our children sealed to us for eternity.
Why did I not listen to them? Because I wanted to be married for time and eternity—because I wanted to start life right. Later I had cause to rejoice greatly because of my determination to be married in the temple at that time rather than to have waited until some later and seemingly more convenient time. …
I believe that no worthy young Latter-day Saint man or woman should spare any reasonable effort to come to a house of the Lord to begin life together. The marriage vows taken in these hallowed places and the sacred covenants entered into for time and all eternity are [protection] against many of the temptations of life that tend to break homes and destroy happiness. …
The blessings and promises that come from beginning life together, for time and eternity, in a temple of the Lord, cannot be obtained in any other way and worthy young Latter-day Saint men and women who so begin life together find that their eternal partnership under the everlasting covenant becomes the foundation upon which are built peace, happiness, virtue, love, and all of the other eternal verities of life, here and hereafter. 5
I cannot emphasize too strongly … the necessity of the young people of the Latter-day Saints coming into this House, to be properly married and start the battle of life under the inspiration of the living God and with the blessings of the authority of the Priesthood of God held by His servants who administer in the Temple. I want to impress upon your hearts that you can do nothing, that you can make no sacrifice but what sooner or later the reward will come to you, either in time or in eternity, and almost without exception when we make any sacrifices in the line of duty in performing those things that are pleasing in the sight of God we get our reward during our lives. 6
A little over a year ago I made up my mind that by planning my affairs, by staying away from lectures or concerts or theatres or operas, I could go to the temple at least once every week and have ordinances performed in behalf of some of my loved ones who had passed away. By making up my mind that I could do this I had no difficulty whatever in going through the temple once a week during the entire year. … True, I have had to miss perhaps an opera or theatre or some other function at which I should have liked to be present, but I have had no difficulty whatever. …
We can generally do that which we wish to do. A young man can find an immense amount of time to spend with his sweetheart. He can arrange affairs to do that. We can arrange our affairs to get exercise in the shape of golf and otherwise. We can arrange our affairs to have amusements. And if we make up our minds to do so we can arrange our affairs to do temple work, judging from my own experience. 7
I believe that if I can find the time to go to the temple and to do temple work once a week, there is hardly a man in the entire Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but that can find time if he wishes to plan his work accordingly. I am speaking of people who live where there is a temple, and not of people who have to travel a long distance to get there. … I do not know of any one that is any busier than I am, and if I can do it they can, if they will only get the spirit in their hearts and souls of wanting to do it. The trouble with so many people is they do not have the desire. 8
To my mind, one of the great privileges that we as Latter-day Saints enjoy is that of doing temple work for those of our ancestors who have died without a knowledge of the Gospel. …
… If you get it into your heart and soul that this is one of the most important things you as Latter-day Saints can do, you will find a way to do it. 9
Since the restoration of the sealing keys, many people have felt a desire to search out their ancestors.
From the time of Elijah’s visit, restoring the keys that he held, turning the hearts of the children to their fathers [see D&C 110:13–15], there has come into the hearts of people all over the world a desire to know something about their ancestors. 10
Men and women all over the world have been organizing societies, hunting up their ancestors, and compiling genealogical records of their families. Millions of dollars have been expended for these purposes. I have spoken to and heard many times of men who have spent large sums of money to compile a record of their forefathers, and after it was compiled, when asked why they did it, they said: “I do not know; I was seized with an irresistible desire to compile that record and to spend money to freely do it. Now that it is compiled I have no special use for it.” The Latter-day Saints value books of that kind beyond price or money. 11
To a Latter-day Saint a book of this size [holding up the Book of Mormon], containing the names of his ancestors, is worth many, many times, hundreds of times more than its weight in gold. 12
When we receive temple ordinances in behalf of our kindred dead, we become “saviors upon Mount Zion.”
I rejoice in the marvelous work that is being accomplished in our temples, in the restoration to the earth of the privilege of baptizing, by the authority of the living God, in behalf of those who have passed away, and of performing ordinances which if accepted, will lead the dead to life eternal and to salvation, although they may have died without a knowledge of the Gospel. 13
The world asks, how can that be, that one can be baptized for another? But if we believe in the vicarious work of Christ, we must believe that one can do work for another, and that we also may become “saviors upon Mount Zion.” [See Obadiah 1:21.] 14
It is our duty … to be mindful of those children of our Father who have preceded us in death without a knowledge of the gospel, and to open the door of salvation to them in our temples, where we also have obligations to perform. 15
If we are diligent, the Lord will prepare the way for us to do temple and family history work for our kindred dead.
I pray that the Lord will inspire each and all of us to greater diligence in performing to the full extent of our ability the duties and the labors that devolve upon us in doing vicarious work for our dead. … When we seek earnestly, year after year, to gain knowledge regarding those of our family who have passed away without a knowledge of the gospel, I am sure the Lord blesses us in obtaining it. 16
This genealogical work, to me, is simply marvelous. It is wonderful how those of us who take any interest in it have the way prepared. It seems miraculous the way my wife has been able in the past to gather genealogical information regarding her forefathers. It is little less than marvelous the way books and other information have come into our possession. When we got right up against a stone wall, in some way there has been a hole made through that wall so that we could crawl through and get on the other side, figuratively speaking, and find something that was of value. 17
For years my wife had been seeking to learn the parentage of her great-grandfather, Gideon Burdick. Seven generations of his family were represented in the Church, but back of him she could not go. She followed every clue, but could not even obtain the name of his father.
Since he had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War, it was hoped the official records at Washington, D. C. might furnish the needed evidence. But these showed that there were two Gideon Burdicks serving in the American forces at that period, and this made the task of identification still more difficult.
Some years ago Mrs. Grant and I visited Washington and consulted the archives of the pension bureau. She found on file there the application of Gideon Burdick for a pension. Examining it, she found that his age as there given corresponded with that of her own ancestor. … One of the witnesses who signed the application proved to be Hyrum Winters, Gideon’s son-in-law, and her own grandfather.
… His birthplace was now known to be in Rhode Island, [so] the task that remained was to trace him back to his family connection in that state.
After more search Mrs. Grant learned from a letter that a Mr. Harcourt was compiling a genealogy of the Burdick family. She wrote immediately to his address, only to receive a letter from his daughter saying he had died ten years ago, and the manuscript had now gone out of the hands of his family, and she knew nothing of it.
This seemed to be another wall to stop us, one which we could not get past. But my wife said, “I will not stop there.” She wrote to the Postmaster of the place where Mr. Harcourt lived and asked him to deliver her letter to any one of the Burdick name.
The letter was handed to Dr. Alfred A. Burdick, who lived only a short distance from the Post Office. He answered immediately, saying he had the Harcourt manuscript, and was still compiling Burdick genealogy, with the intention of publishing it in book form. He said he had the record of the whole Burdick family down to Gideon, but nothing of his family, for the latter seemed literally to have dropped out of sight when he moved westward. “Send me,” he wrote, “all the information of Gideon, and I will send you all you want to know about his ancestors.”
This was done, and he very kindly sent to her an account of the forefathers of Gideon Burdick, giving her permission to make such use of it as she saw fit. In this way she succeeded in securing a complete copy of the information she had sought after so long, definitely linking her people with the Rhode Island family. …
I afterwards learned … the following story of the Burdick manuscript.
Years ago William M. B. Harcourt and Dr. Alfred A. Burdick began compiling a genealogy of the Burdick family. A great store of information was collected and systematically arranged, with the intention of publishing it.
At this point Mr. Harcourt died, and a cousin of Dr. Burdick’s obtained possession of the manuscript and carried it off with him to New York. At first he thought of publishing it, but several years later he wrote Dr. Burdick, saying that if the latter would pay the freight he could have the [manuscript]. Dr. Burdick, however, indignant at the other’s action in taking the manuscript away, did not answer, even when the other threatened to burn the lot.
So the cousin ordered the janitor to carry all these precious papers down into the basement and burn them. For some reason the janitor failed to do this, and when the cousin discovered this some time later he packed up the whole set and shipped them off to his brother. But the brother had no room for them in his house, and consigned them to his back-yard. There they lay for months, exposed to rain and sun, with no one knowing just what to do with them.
The brother’s wife died, and Dr. Burdick attended the funeral. Here he learned of the whereabouts of the manuscripts and he was told he could have them if they were of any value to him. He took them home, and, fearing they might again get out of his possession, copied them over book by book. Many parts had already been destroyed by the exposure, but, on examining the whole carefully, he was happy to find that practically all the important entries were preserved.
From that time to the present he has continued his research, adding to his information.
While in Washington, last December, Mrs. Grant and I made a special trip to Baltimore to meet this gentleman who had so courteously assisted us. … He recognized us from the pictures we had sent, and extended both hands in greeting. Taking us into his inner office, he showed us volume after volume of genealogical data he had gathered, bearing upon the history of the Burdick family and others. “On this subject,” he said, “I am willing to sit up and converse with you all night.”
He had twenty manuscript volumes of Burdick material systematically arranged. Four of these were found to contain the direct line of Gideon. Dr. Burdick graciously tendered us this information, to copy and use as we saw fit. I offered to have a stenographer go to his office and make a copy, or to obtain a … duplicate. But he put the books in my hands, saying, “I can trust you with these, President Grant, for I know they will be safe in your hands.”
Typewritten copies have now been made of the entire set, and one of them has been returned to Dr. Burdick. Additional information has been gleaned from our own Genealogical Library, and from the family history, to supplement his compilation. …
It is hoped that all of this is interesting not only to Mrs. Grant and to me, but to all who are seeking their own genealogies, as a testimony of how the Lord is working amongst his children outside the Church, and as an inspiration to leading men of the Church as well as to the leading men in stakes and wards of the Church to earnestly continue their own research. “Seek and ye shall find.” [Matthew 7:7.] 18
The salvation of the dead is one of the cardinal purposes for which the Everlasting Gospel was restored, and the Church of Jesus Christ reestablished, in this day. The phenomenal interest manifested by the Saints in this very important phase of the Saviour’s redemptive mission is a most promising sign. Our temples are thronged from early morning far into the night, by those intent upon redeeming their departed ancestors and helping to forge the link that will eventually bind the Gospel dispensations and bring together all things in Christ, both in heaven and on earth—a work peculiar to the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. What happiness awaits those devoted labourers in the House of the Lord, when they pass into the Spirit World and there receive a rapturous welcome from those for whom they have rendered this inestimable service! 19
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• In what ways has participation in temple ordinances blessed your life? What can we do to more fully enjoy the blessings of the temple?
• Why is it important that we marry in the temple? How does temple marriage strengthen the relationship between husband and wife?
• What does it mean to be a “savior upon Mount Zion”? (See also D&C 128; 138:47–48, 53–54, 57–58.) How have temple ordinances and family history work helped you turn your heart to your family members, both living and dead?
• What resources does the Church provide to help us do family history work?
• How has the Lord helped prepare the way for you to find family history information? What evidences have you seen that people all over the world have felt a desire to learn about their ancestors?
• What can we do to make time for regular temple attendance? for family history work?
• How can families living far from temples build a tradition of respect and reverence for temple work?
6. From an address delivered at the dedication of the Cardston Alberta Temple, Aug. 1923, Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
14. In Brian H. Stuy, comp., Collected Discourses Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, 5 vols. (1987–92), 1:170.