When Nicholas and Fera Nickyforuk of the Cardston First Ward heard about the new Church Family Record Extraction Program, they thought it was custom made for them. Brother Nickyforuk is a radio journalist, but he does much of his work at home because he is confined to a wheelchair. The couple thought that they could enthusiastically participate in this new program. It wouldn’t be taxing, and they could work in the calling at home, scheduling for it as they wished. When they approached the newly called ward coordinator to volunteer, they asked if they were the first. “No,” came the reply, “quite a few have already volunteered.”
In the Cardston Second Ward, Bishop Dahl Leavitt talked about the program briefly in two sacrament meetings and held a special fireside explaining it and outlining its significance. He then asked who would be interested in participating. Nearly seventy members came forward, including many with time-consuming callings. Shortly afterward, he learned of a member who had been hospitalized. The member asked if there was something he could do to occupy himself for the three months he would be in the hospital. He learned about the program and went to work—in his hospital bed.
Elder J. Thomas Fyans, an Emeritus General Authority and past Assistant Executive Director of the Family History Department, says, “Though the program is for redeeming the dead, many stake leaders say it’s for perfecting the Saints. Who can be involved? Of course, those who regularly hold callings. But the program also involves the less-active, the homebound, the unordained, the unendowed, the teen, and the very old. Some stakes are using it as one of their reactivation programs.”
What is this program that fits so many people so well and arouses such enthusiasm? It’s called the Family Record Extraction Program.
It’s a simple program, really—so simple that one can easily overlook its significance. Basically, a person copies information at home from photocopies of original genealogical source records onto data entry cards and gives the cards to a ward coordinator. The coordinator checks the information and passes the cards on to the stake coordinator, who gives them to a data entry operator to enter into a computer file. The file is sent to the Church Family History Department, where it is transferred to a master computer file. This extraction program differs from the stake record extraction program in that it is done at home and requires no special skills. Right now, the workers in the program are processing temple ordinance records from before 1970.
The Family Record Extraction Program has enormous implications for both redeeming the dead and perfecting the Saints.
Twenty-one years ago, when I first listened to the missionary discussions, I thrilled to the explanation of salvation for the dead. Many of my doubts about God’s existence hinged on the misconception that billions have never heard or will never hear about Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ is so important, I reasoned, why have the majority of people never heard of him? If baptism is essential, then why are so many unable to receive it? Of course, the preaching of the gospel in the spirit world, the vicarious ordinances of the temple, and the binding power of the priesthood are the answer.
But I still wondered, How can the Church possibly provide ordinances for the billions of people who have died? We may do millions of baptisms for the dead every year, but we’re losing ground. Tens of millions more are born or die every year than receive baptism either for the living or for the dead. Wonderful as salvation for the dead is, I couldn’t see how it could possibly be done in the magnitude the work required.
Microfilming the world’s records is only a partial answer. The Church is photographing original records—parish records, genealogies, cemetery records, and so on—at a rate of more than one hundred million exposures a year. But the stake records extraction volunteers can process only a small percentage of that for temple work.
Consider, though, what the Family Record Extraction Program is doing now and what it can do. Over 750 stakes are currently enrolled, with an average of forty extractors per stake. This has occurred since the program was implemented Churchwide in January 1987. The well-organized stakes with priesthood support produce an average of four thousand names per month. Some do even more.
I can finally see one way the Lord will bring about salvation for all the dead. The current goal of the Family History Department is to involve a thousand stakes in the program. If each of the thousand stakes has a hundred extractors, who each averages 100 cards a month (about one to two hours of work each week), in one year every stake will process 120,000 cards, or sixty thousand names of individuals. (The information on each individual is copied twice to minimize errors.) Overall, information for sixty million names will be input each year into the master computer files. The 1880 U.S. census, for example, has approximately fifty-five million names on it. We could extract that entire census in a year!
Not often do we get a chance to participate in miracles. Yet this one is ours to participate in simply by asking. We are getting a glimpse of how the Lord can accomplish the task of offering the ordinances of the gospel to all, past and present.
The program, though, has a more immediate impact on redeeming the dead. It should speed up temple work.
Robert and Barbara Grudzien, for example, decided to participate in a ward outing to the St. George Temple by sending in some names for ordinance work. They had gathered information on some ancestors a few years ago but had not submitted their names for temple work. They rechecked their records and submitted eighteen names, including those of a great-grandfather and Barbara’s mother, who had not been sealed to her parents. Unfortunately, the names weren’t cleared for two months—one week after the ward temple excursion.
Countless others have noticed how long clearance takes. Essentially, names have to be checked to see if temple work has already been done for them. But the average time now is ten to twelve weeks, whereas five years ago checking took only three to four weeks.
That’s because, while all records for temple ordinance work since 1970 are filed alphabetically on a master computer file, the records before then are located on index cards organized by chronology and locality. In a few minutes, a name can be found in the post-1970 records by simply checking the computer files, which have been organized by name like a telephone book. But the temple ordinances before 1970 have to be checked by hand! Those records contain approximately thirty million names for baptisms for the dead, thirty million for endowments, and thirty million for sealings. Several people may have to check the master index file, then look through year after year of cards. The process takes much time because so many names must be checked.
Family record extraction will resolve much of that wait and expenditure of time. Extractors, working at home, are currently copying temple ordinance information onto data entry cards. Stake data entry workers are entering that information into computers and sending the files to the Family History Department to be loaded onto compact disks, each of which can hold about thirty million names. Once all the ordinance records have been extracted and entered into the computer, names can be checked for clearance in minutes.
In order to accomplish this, there is a great urgency to complete this project. But completion depends on the leaders of those stakes participating in the program, and the dedication of all the people involved.
The impact of the Family Record Extraction Program on the living is impressive. As Elder Fyans said, “This work is affecting in wonderful ways so many who cannot be reached by other Church programs. When unendowed members, for instance, get involved in recording the names of those who have been endowed, something happens to them. The Spirit of Elijah touches them, and they develop a desire to receive their own endowments.”
That’s true for Dorothy Rogue, a member of the Wincrest First Ward, San Antonio East Stake. (The stake was one of the twelve stakes that helped develop the Family Record Extraction Program.) Two years ago, Sister Rogue’s family was becoming more active in the Church. Her husband, suffering from cancer, received the priesthood just before he died. Within three months of her husband’s death, one of her sons died. Her other son is handicapped. Though he can do much for himself, he is still dependent on his mother. The Family Record Extraction Program fits her situation well. She loves being able to do something for the Lord that needs to be done, and it adjusts to her difficult schedule. She is planning now to receive her endowment and be sealed to her family.
Why is the program so adaptable? Brother Nickyforuk says, “I like being able to do Church work at home. It’s convenient. I’m in a wheelchair, so it really helps. My wife and I enjoy working together, too. It’s also relaxing—there isn’t any pressure, since I can work at my own pace when I want to.”
Loila Fisher is an example of why the program is so important for living members: “I don’t copy the names for pleasure. It’s not easy, especially when unfamiliar foreign names are involved. I do it because I was asked and because the work is so important.” She is an 83-year-old widow whose health limits her activity. The bishop phoned her, asked about her eyesight, and called her to be a ward extractor. For her, this is a chance to continue to participate in the Lord’s work.
In the San Antonio First Ward, the bishopric and Donna Hoe, the ward coordinator, prayerfully selected six extractors. One woman, Maria Rocha, has weak eyes but can still read and copy names. She says that she does the work before her housework and then finds that her housework goes faster. Daniel Dreher, the high priests group leader, says that all the extractors have reported the same experience: Because the handwritten and typewritten records are sometimes faint, some names are illegible. When encountering an unreadable name, the extractors pray for help. Upon returning to the record, they often find that the name can be read easily. Sister Hoe and Brother Dreher have recently taught the ward’s young women how to check the cards.
The work is not restricted to members. Many outside the Church have expressed interest because the program is generating a vast data file. The information, in addition to being used in temple work, will be made available for members and nonmembers to sort by lineage into pedigree charts and family group sheets. Many nonmembers have already begun to participate through genealogical organizations, and some stakes and wards involve nonmember volunteers in the local program. In Great Britain, for instance, six thousand nonmember volunteers in the Cooperative Indexing Program are extracting the 1881 British census and the 1851 census in Norfolk County.
The Family Record Extraction Program affects the individual and the multitude. It reaches the living and the dead. It involves the less-active in Church activity. It allows the homebound to participate in the Lord’s work. It provides a chance for members and nonmembers to work together. It speeds up temple work. And it is a key to providing gospel ordinances for all those who have lived on this earth. It is one more fulfillment of the Lord’s promise: “By your hands I will work a marvelous work among the children of men, … that they may come unto the kingdom of my Father.” (D&C 18:44.)