Church News and Events

Family History Is More Than Genealogy

  By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 23 March 2013

Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy said there is ample family history and temple work for everyone to do during a devotional March 23 in conjunction with the RootsTech 2013 Family History Conference in Salt Lake City.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Family history is not just genealogy, but includes the present and future as well as the past, and ultimately, it is about connecting families together across the generations “that we may be redeemed,” Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy said March 23 during the RootsTech 2013 Family History and Technology Conference in Salt Lake City.

“There is an eternal significance to this doctrine for individuals and families,” Elder Packer said. “When understood, this doctrine, added to the natural love a parent has for his children, motivates individuals to ensure the connections are in place.”

Elder Packer, Executive Director of the Family History Department of the Church, spoke during a morning devotional on the last day of the three-day event, which has drawn more than 6,700 genealogy enthusiasts from throughout the United States and several nations. The devotional was included in a portion of the conference free to the public and directed toward priesthood leaders and other Church members with family history callings.

Two letters issued by the First Presidency in 2012 reemphasized that individuals, families, and local Church units have the primary responsibility for supplying names for temple ordinances.

“This direction is not a wholesale or immediate change, but a large and important next step in a line-upon-line and precept-upon-precept pattern of accomplishing the work of salvation for the living and the dead,” Elder Packer said.

He cited changes over the past 35 years that have given impetus to that direction, including the 1987 change in name from the Genealogical Department to the Family History Department; technological advances in computer systems and networks; construction of temples across the world, giving easier access for the performance of ordinance work; simplifying and moving the process of clearing names for temple work from the department to local family history centers and now to the home computer; dramatic increases in the rate at which new records are being added, now to 1.7 million a day; and eliminating or largely reducing the obstacles for doing family history work.

Elder Packer highlighted and gave clarification regarding several misunderstandings regarding the work, one of them regarding the relationship between family history and temple work. He said they are really one work with two parts.

Another misunderstanding, he said, is the relationship between family history and genealogy.

“Genealogy is an important subset of family history,” he explained. “Family history includes genealogy but is much broader in scope and time. It is not limited to the past, but includes the present and the future. Family history is the history of a family past, present, and future.”

He added, “We research the past, create history in the present, and shape history in the future.”

Yet another misunderstanding is that the pool of names for research is limited, Elder Packer said.

“We hear frequently statements that ‘my work is done,’ or that ‘we cannot find any additional names,’” he observed. “Those that really are done can help others, using the skills they have developed. But before giving up, and for all others, consider the following:

“We are adding 1.7 million names every day. What may have been a dead end could be extended now. … I suggest you check periodically.”

A First Presidency letter of Feb. 29, 2012, reminded Church members that those whose names are submitted for proxy temple ordinances should be related to the submitter. Elder Packer explained that members may authorize names for temple ordinances for immediate family members, direct-line ancestors, and adoptive and family lines connected to one’s family.

Beyond that, they may authorize work for collateral family lines (uncles, aunts, cousins, and their families) and possible ancestors (meaning those with a probable family relationship that cannot be verified because records are inadequate), Elder Packer said. The policy also allows individuals to do work for descendants of direct-line ancestors.

Displaying a genealogical chart, he said, “For example, if we focused on just one 10th-generation ancestor, it means I could do the work for his spouse and children and his children’s children and so on.

“If we made a very conservative assumption that there are on average four children for each set of parents, and if we excluded those in the 110-year window [during which it is presumed the descendants might yet be living], we could have about 16,384 people in our pool. But these were only the descendants of that one 10th-generation ancestor. To get all potential descendants of my 10th-generation ancestors, we must multiply 16,384 by 512 10th-generation couples. If we combine all the descendants—and remember, we had 2,047 direct ancestors—we get a pool of 8,388,608.”

Even if that were reduced to only 5 percent of the pool due to lack of records or some of the work having already been done by others, the potential could still be 419,430 related people, Elder Packer said. “That is ample work for all. If all of your work is done, your neighbor could use some help.”

Elder Packer invited Church members and others “to create your history as you live in the present, discover the past by learning of the stories of your ancestors, and shape the future by sharing your stories.”

He suggested doing these things:

“Record stories about others and yourself; share them with your descendants.

“Get a box. Pull together what you already have.

“Pick a relative you would like to know between 1840 and 1920. Write down what you know, and then discover more by talking to others.

“As you find people who need ordinances, perform them in the temple.”

He suggested priesthood leaders do the above and, with the ward council, develop a plan of action based on the First Presidency letters.

“Reconnect temple and family history work as one work with two halves,” he said. “Seek both halves of the blessing. Act on what you learn. Motivate others, especially the youth, by starting with stories of their ancestors. The interest in genealogy will naturally come.”