As people become adults, leave childhood homes, and become involved in immediate families, it is sometimes difficult to keep a close association with brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and other relatives. Yet these are among the very people with whom we hope to be worthy to inherit celestial exaltation. It is important to maintain family ties and associations.
President Joseph Fielding Smith has stated that the mission of Elijah is not confined to the dead. His mission is universal. (The Way to Perfection [Genealogical Society of Utah, 1935], pp. 160–61.) His mission includes the living as well as the dead.
Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve amplified the oft-quoted scriptures concerning Elijah (Mal. 4:5–6; D&C 2): “Yes, in tens of thousands of cases the hearts of the children have been turned to their fathers. But there must be more if the earth is to be spared the curse threatened by the Lord should their work lag.” (Fifth Annual Priesthood Genealogical Research Seminar: Devotional Address, 1970.)
At the funeral of President Jedediah M. Grant, President Heber C. Kimball related that President Grant (father of President Heber J. Grant) had seen in vision the perfect organization in the next life, with people organized in family capacities. But there was a deficiency in some—a lack—where families would not be permitted to dwell together because they had not honored their calling here. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 4, pp. 135–36.)
It is strange that some persons spend a lifetime “doing genealogy”—searching out records and becoming saviors on Mount Zion for their departed family members, which is a noble accomplishment—but they will not cross the street to say hello to a living family member. How important brotherhood is, here and now!
All who are worthy to inherit exaltation will eventually become perfect, so you need not worry about being happy with all the members of your family who inherit celestial glory. The Lord tells us: “For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.” (D&C 78:7.)
In other words, we need to examine ourselves and rid ourselves of any hesitancy to love our own family members, if we hope to be part of that eternal family union.
There is a problem in being concerned only about eternal family sealings for deceased family members. We must also become involved while on this earth in building family relationships that will make us want to spend our eternal lives in association with each other.
Formal family organizations or associations may be the answer to this and other needs that we share in common with our relatives. The first step to take in this direction is to learn what types of family organizations may exist so we can evaluate the situation.
The single family organization is one covering only the two generations of a single family unit—the parents and the children in the family.
Example: The David Martin Kimball family organization is comprised of David Martin Kimball, his wife, and their eight children. David, the father, functions as the president; his wife serves as vice-president and social chairman; a son is the genealogist; a daughter is the historian; and another daughter is secretary-treasurer. The family strives to extend the pedigrees of the father and mother in the family. This small unit belongs to two larger family organizations, actively supporting their research projects to avoid any duplication of research effort. This single family organization will automatically expand into a multi-generation family organization as David Martin Kimball’s grandchildren come of age and join in the activities of the organization.
The multi-generation family organization is an organization covering three generations or more of family members.
Example: The Edward Smallwood and Hannah Cox family organization is an organization of the descendants of this couple who died in the late 1880s. The organization is dedicated to compiling records of the ancestors of both Edward Smallwood and Hannah Cox. In addition, a complete record of the descendants of the couple is being compiled.
Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have established early LDS convert family organizations. This type of organization is usually centered around a particular couple who were early converts to the Church. Or a family organization may center around a certain patriotic ancestor, or an immigrant ancestor, or a particular surname with all its spelling variations within a specified locality. Or the organization may be a limited-purpose organization, usually a group of officers or committee chairmen elected or appointed each year to plan the next family reunion.
How do you start? First determine if there is an existing family organization to which you can properly belong. Consider what type of organization this is, what its goals are, and how it seeks to meet these goals. You may locate such an organization by asking questions of relatives both in person and by correspondence, by consulting in a library genealogical publications that have this information, and by using your detective instincts.
If no family organization exists, then you need to evaluate your needs, consult other family members, and work together toward achieving such a goal. Often it may take months and in some cases years to cultivate the type of relationship and interest necessary to have a successful family association. It does take common interest, available personnel with some time and energy to put into the project, and leadership to make the organization successful.
Do not be timid in starting a family organization if your family can possibly meet these needs satisfactorily. Interest in the organization and available personnel to staff it will grow if you have the courage to lead out and refuse to be discouraged at an apparent early lack of interest. And do not rush into an organization without sufficient foundation; once the group is organized, it can make a lasting contribution to the family unity. To begin:
1. Start an address file. The first step should be to compile a file of addresses of members of the family—aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives. Address books, Christmas card lists, telephone books, city directories, and similar listings are good sources for a start.
2. Go visiting. Contact in person as many as possible of the relatives whose names appear in the preliminary file of addresses. During these visits discuss the intent and scope of the organization, and plans should begin to take shape.
3. Write letters. Direct correspondence to those who cannot be visited personally. Ask the relatives contacted for the names and addresses of other persons who may be interested in the family organization. In this manner the file of names and addresses of prospective family organization members will continually expand.
4. Arrange a meeting. Hold a meeting to elect or appoint officers and to organize officially. This can logically be done in connection with a family reunion. Another effective method is to call together in a special meeting the family members who have exhibited the most enthusiasm toward organizing. This meeting should be sufficiently advertised so that everyone will have an opportunity to attend.
Some organizations can be achieved by correspondence, but personal contacts are usually warmer, and correspondence organizations should only be used as a last resort. Correspondence with absentee family members, however, must be maintained in all family organizations to achieve family unity.
Example: Several descendants of the Wimberly family of early Georgia were in frequent communication by mail, informing one another of family activities and assisting each other in Wimberly genealogical research. These individuals were widely scattered geographically—two living in Texas, one in California, several in Georgia and Florida, and one each in Idaho and Utah. Occasionally other individuals from various areas would join in the correspondence. By mail the idea was put forth to organize the Wimberly family, and an efficient family organization was soon in operation. With the pooling of effort and wise use of resources, the organization gained momentum and membership rapidly. Within a few months there was a membership of seventy-five, with a quarterly family publication keeping the members interested and informed, and yet none of the officers had ever met.
Family members are usually eager to assist in the genealogical effort; however, they often do not know how or what to do. They can be taught and utilized in the family organization’s research program by dividing the research effort into small assignments and carefully explaining how to go about getting each individual work assignment done. With only brief orientation, family members can assist in searching census records (assign someone to extract all of the surname families from the 1850 census of the county that the family is interested in, for instance, providing forms and instructions so he can do a thorough job), books, and vital records, and accomplishing other needed projects. With the assistance of family members in providing genealogical data, the genealogist is left free to analyze these findings. The analysis of data normally requires genealogical training, but much of the actual searching of records can be assigned to family members.
Workshops, research trips to libraries, cemetery copying projects, trips to courthouses and state archives, family reunions, family newsletters and magazines, restorations of old homes, the building of family parks, family scholarship funds, the printing of family histories, old picture collections, and family pageants or plays are examples of ways to promote participation and involve members of the family in worthwhile activities.
Include young people in the activities. They frequently will have both energy and ideas to contribute that will help the success of the organization.
It is possible to request and obtain a nonprofit, tax-exempt status for a family organization so that contributions made by individuals are tax deductible. This provides increased incentive for financial participation. The granting of a tax-exempt status to a family organization is not a black or white decision, however. Some applications have received favorable rulings and others, very similar in details, have been turned down. Therefore, careful consideration must be given to the state and federal regulations in setting up a family organization.
The most popular structure for a large family organization is the division approach. Under this plan, the organization is divided into separate suborganizations. Usually, each division is fully staffed with officers and is given a definite responsibility. The divisions are headed by vice-presidents of the master organization. Each vice-president reports to the president of the organization but acts as a manager over his own subdivision.
Many large family organizations have found standing committees quite successful; for example, social, reunion, finance, membership, and publications committees. Some organizations elect the chairmen for certain committees, while others choose to have the president or the executive committee appoint such chairmen. Elections have a way of bogging down unless a nominations committee assumes the leadership to nominate those who have a definite interest in such matters and have the necessary leadership to keep the organization going.
A key to success for family organizations is leadership. During the organizing process and at election time, special effort should be exerted to recruit those who have leadership ability—the ability to exert interpersonal influence, by means of communication, toward the achievement of a goal.
The successful family organizations are those led by capable, personable individuals who have a flare for getting the job done—who look on the bright side of things, are not easily discouraged, and can delegate responsibility effectively. Such leadership is a requisite for achieving an active and progressive family organization.
Each family has those who like to do genealogical research or temple work, those who like to write family history or attend reunions, or those who seem to be content in providing finances for these projects. A family organization is designed to bring them all together and, while not dimming each individual’s “first great love” in the least, give all a chance to participate in the entire program. And won’t it be glorious to find each member of such a great family having earned his place in the celestial kingdom?
A positive step toward that celestial goal can be made in getting family members involved in a family organization.