Your father-in-law’s birthday is coming up; you would like to get him a special gift, but you don’t have much money. What do you do? If you are Patricia Thayer Muno of Chiloquin, Oregon, you improvise. Faced with this situation eight years ago, Sister Muno gave her father-in-law a pedigree chart showing his ancestors back five generations. What started out as a simple birthday present has led to temple blessings for over fifty of Donald Muno’s direct-line families, at least six conversions on this side of the veil, and a sure testimony of help from the other side. As Sister Muno, and thousands like her, can testify, there is no telling what might happen when the Spirit of the Lord takes hold of you.
“Genealogy?” you say. “Didn’t we finish with that when we sent our four-generation records in last summer?”
In a word, no—not if we’ve been listening to the president of the Church: In April 1980 general conference President Spencer W. Kimball reemphasized our genealogical responsibilities:
“The building of … temples must be accompanied by a strong emphasis on genealogical research on the part of all members of the Church.
“We feel an urgency for this great work to be accomplished and encourage members to accept this responsibility. Members do so by writing their personal and family histories, participating in the name extraction program when called to do so, completing their four-generation research, and then continuing their family research in order to redeem their kindred dead.” (Ensign, May 1980, p. 5; italics added.)
But won’t the extraction program now take care of our ancestors beyond four generations?
Not necessarily. The extraction program will make our job easier, but it is still up to us to identify our kindred dead, establish family relationships, and see that the necessary ordinances are performed for our progenitors.
“What many members don’t realize,” notes Glade I. Nelson, manager of the Genealogical Department’s Records Extraction Section, “is that we can only extract the records we are able to acquire. Although we have acquired—and will continue to acquire—many records worldwide, we do not have all the records of the world.” Sometimes families and individuals on their own can search records not available to the Church. Or they may have access to other records that are not suitable for extraction.
One reason the Church does not have some records is that not all records are extractable. To minimize duplication, the extraction program uses single sources that cover a large percentage of the population. For some areas, particularly the United States, there is no single source that adequately identifies most of the population. One must use several different sources, such as probate, census, and land records—that is, he must do genealogical research—to identify his ancestors.
Even in those areas where most of the population is covered in a single, extractable source, not everyone may have been recorded. In England, for example, about 25 percent of the population was not recorded in parish registers, the source used for extraction. Your ancestor may have been the one-in-four who was missed. We have a responsibility to see that the work is done for as many of our progenitors as we can identify. The actual names may come from the extraction program or from our own research, but we must try to see that no one is missed.
So how does one learn how to research his family history? Possibly the best way is simply to start working on the four-generation program. (No, it’s not too late to finish your four-generation records and submit them to the Ancestral File.) But if even four generations seems impossible—if genealogy is a foreign word to you—you can enroll in the basic genealogical class offered in most wards during Sunday School. The course is designed to take you back—you guessed it—four generations, to your great-grandparents. If for some reason you can’t take the course, you and your family can study the manual for the course, From You to Your Ancestors (PBGS0683), on your own.
On the other hand, if you have already completed and submitted your four-generation records, you are well on your way. The knowledge and skills you learned in compiling and verifying your four-generation records apply to extended research as well.
“This is all well and good,” you may say, “but I’m just not a genealogist.” That’s the best part of all, the great secret. Some would have you believe that you must study genealogy, learn all you can, become certified and accredited before you ever take your first step. Don’t let anyone confuse you: the truth is, you don’t have to be a genealogist to do your genealogy.
Witness Sister Muno: “I’m a testimony you don’t have to be an expert. I had always felt that genealogy would be way over my head. When I went to BYU, I lived in constant fear that I might have to take a genealogy class. The Lord has truly blessed me. I never would have thought I could do all this,” she says, holding up a stack of family group sheets an inch thick.
Donald Muno, Pat’s husband, became involved in genealogy out of boredom. He needed something to do in Salt Lake City while his wife spent their vacation at the Genealogical Department Library. So while Pat worked on the Muno line, Donald started working on his mother’s lines. He considers himself a novice but has been able to make a difficult connection and has now taken the family back four generations from his grandfather.
To these testimonies that anyone can do it, David McPhail adds his, together with some suggestions: “My knowledge hasn’t come from books but from experience. First you need to learn the basics. You can pick those up from the basic course. Then you need a good reference work that explains how to do research in the area your ancestors came from. But I wouldn’t spend a lot of time reading it. I’d take it with me to the library and refer to it when I needed help. You’ll be more successful if you spend less time reading and more time actually doing.”
The important thing is to get started, to jump in and do something. And exciting things begin to happen when you do. Brother McPhail was able to trace one line back twelve generations—to the 1500s—simply by using the Church’s International Genealogical Index (IGI). Another line seemed to disappear in Indian territory after four generations. Then one day Brother McPhail was browsing in the genealogical library and discovered an 1860 census of Indian lands west of Arkansas only recently discovered in 1964. There was listed his great-great-grandfather: Samuel Wheat, aged 21, a stonemason, born in Alabama.
Genealogy is exciting even when you don’t find anything, according to Jim Orey of the St. Louis Seventh Ward. “It’s a challenge,” he says. “The searching is almost as fun as the finding. To me it’s like being a detective. You know the information is somewhere. If you find the right string to pull, all sorts of things open up.” He found such a string in the French Catholic church in Vincennes, Indiana. Using their records, he was able to trace one line back to 1744 without leaving the table. “I was elated!” he recalls. “My dad was with me. He’s not a member of the Church, but he was thrilled, too, because he’s interested in his family.”
There seems to be a spirit that takes over once someone becomes involved in genealogy. And that spirit is proof that there are those on the other side vitally concerned with this work. Sister Muno again: “When we gave my father-in-law his birthday present, he took out an old family Bible he thought we would be interested in. I embarrassed my husband by asking if we could take it home, but his father said yes. I stayed up till 3:00 that morning going over it. It contained names and dates going back to the 1700s, but no relationships. Through prayer and inspiration, I was able to arrange all the names into family groups. Later, I compared my work with work we discovered a cousin had done and found it was all correct, except that the cousin’s records were missing a child who died when he was about two. The family Bible was the only record that had mentioned him. Now we can have him sealed to his parents.”
The Munos thought that Donald’s family was the only Muno family in the United States. You can imagine their surprise when they discovered another Muno. Thinking they might be related, they wrote for more information but heard nothing at first. Then one night Pat dreamed that she was in Chicago, looking at a book that listed several Munos. The next day she received an answer to her letter, telling her that there were many more Munos in Chicago, judging from the telephone directory.
Don and Pat checked the Chicago directory and found fifteen Munos—more than they thought even existed. When Pat contacted the Munos in the Midwest, she found that they had recently become interested in their family history and were able to give her much valuable information. The Munos have now been able to place Donald’s immigrant ancestor back in Germany and extend the line back two more generations.
Cooperating with your family, even if it is with distant relatives as the Munos did, establishes a foundation for continuing research through a family organization. A family can be organized at any level—immediate family, grandparent family, or ancestral family, taking in any number of generations. The organization can be formal or informal, depending on the size and the needs of the family. The only requirement is a common interest in a common ancestry.
At one end of the spectrum is David McPhail:
“We have no formal family organization, but I’ve had excellent cooperation from other family members. On my father’s side, I have worked with two of my aunts, neither of whom belongs to the Church. They give me financial support, and one even does research.”
On the other hand, large families, especially those with pioneer ancestry, may find that a formal family organization may best meet their needs. Having participated actively in eight or nine family organizations at various levels and of all different sizes, Dr. David A. Burton of Salt Lake City, Utah, has some suggestions for those considering a formal organization: “Members of your family organization must feel confident that you know where you are going. You must have a goal in mind and then make and report progress toward that goal. Then your members will support you. Each year at our family reunion, we officers report on our stewardship. In one family organization we distributed genealogy packets of 50 to 150 pedigree charts, family group records, family histories, and patriarchal blessings for our progenitors each year. When people see results like that, it’s not very hard to get the support you need to get the work done.”
What kind of support? “Some supported the organization with research, some primarily with contributions. The officers of the family organization have coordinated the overall efforts. We have hired competent, accredited professional researchers to supervise our research. Insofar as possible, family members have been used on selected projects matched to their research experience and ability. In some cases, original research in the parish registers and other records of Great Britain, Denmark, and Germany has been conducted by professional researchers hired by the family organizations.
“The various family organizations have been incorporated as tax-exempt, nonprofit corporations so that the contributions are tax-deductible to the members. As a result of a sound, well-defined approach the members of our various family organizations have contributed over $60,000 toward genealogical research over the past ten years.”
But who has $60,000 to spend on genealogy? Interestingly enough, Dr. Burton reports, “Most of our contributions have been relatively small—ten to twenty dollars. But because we’ve pooled our resources, we have been able to raise substantial sums of money.
“We’ve taken the approach that genealogy is not a bottomless pit. In 1976 we told the members of one family organization that we could exhaust all of the pertinent records available in the world within five years with the proper contributions. Five years have now passed, and we are wrapping up the project right on schedule. Over a thousand pedigree charts and family group records on the direct line have been compiled, corrected, or verified. In addition, thousands of names have been submitted to the Genealogical Department.”
Dr. Burton is quick to point out, however, that “success in genealogical research cannot be measured by a dollar amount or by pushing all the lines back beyond a certain early date. Nor can it be measured by the number of names submitted for temple ordinance work, though that is certainly a major goal. Ultimately, success in genealogical research comes when a family can confidently face their ancestors and declare to them that the living have ‘cheerfully done all things that lay in their power’ in trying to identify and redeem their dead.” (See D&C 123:17.)
But what if your family cannot or will not share the work and expense of tracing their family? President Wilford Woodruff said: “We can help one another in these matters, if we have not relatives sufficient to carry this on, and it will be acceptable unto the Lord.” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, p. 159.)
In that spirit, many wards have organized special programs to help their members with their genealogy. Bishop George Bankhead of the St. Louis Seventh Ward, St. Louis Missouri South Stake, wanted the home teachers involved, so he organized materials for them to take to each family. On their first visit, the home teachers took a blank pedigree chart and family group record and helped the family fill them out. Each month they returned and helped the family complete another record.
The Covina Second Ward, Covina California Stake, had another idea for providing extra help. They call it the “One-Step-at-a-Time” program. The bishop called three advisers to serve as genealogical resource people under the direction of the high priests group leader. He then called members who have taken the basic course to receive individual assistance from one of the advisers.
In all of this, there seems to be a principle at work: We must use what we have before the Lord will give us any more. Archibald F. Bennett, who devoted his life to genealogical work, remarked: “I don’t think the Lord is going to give us anything we can find for ourselves. … Let me say that we never shall lack for records to do the temple work. We never shall lack for temples sufficient to do the work—the only uncertain quality is ourselves.” (“Genealogy Work—Its History, Purpose, and Destiny,” address to seminary and institute faculty, Provo, Utah, 2 July 1958, p. 7.)
Provide the saving ordinances for our dead? It may seem impossible. But only to those who are still waiting to take the first step.