Several years ago, prior to my call as a General Authority, it was my good fortune to respond to a call to serve as a member of the Priesthood Genealogy Committee and to have the privilege of visiting stakes and missions, speaking to the membership of the Church relative to this sacred subject—one that is perhaps most misunderstood among all of the programs of the Church.
Our chief responsibility at that time was to convince the membership of the Church that they need not be specialists, they need not be in their eighties, they need not be exclusively genealogists in order to understand the responsibility which rests upon each member of the Church to seek out his or her kindred dead and to perform the work which must necessarily be accomplished in their behalf.
I believe there is and has been a feeling that family history research is for a select few and not for the general membership of the Church. Out of the series of conferences we held then, one of the great measures of good was the development of family organizations. Throughout the Church we have an increasing awareness of the responsibility which we have toward our family members.
Since I have a mixed ancestry (part coming from Sweden, with the great problems of patronymics, and others coming from Scotland and England), I feel I have inherited all of the problems and all of the challenges of one who must seek after his or her kindred dead.
On my Swedish line, my grandfather’s name was Nels Monson; his father’s name was not Monson at all but Mons Okeson; and his father’s name was Oke Pederson, and his father’s name was Peter Monson—right back to Monson again; and his father’s name was Mons Lustig, which was a Swedish army name to differentiate the Petersons, the Johnsons, and the Monsons from one another as they entered military service.
Despite the confusion, I am amazed at the record of success achieved by our family association concerning this line. We have had similar success on the lines which my mother’s forebears gave to us—the Condie and the Watson lines.
Some years ago it was Sister Monson’s and my opportunity to visit the land of Sweden and there go to a little country village of Smedjebacken where her father, his eleven brothers and sisters, and his mother and father lived in a little two-room farmhouse. I am profoundly grateful that it was my great-uncle who took the gospel to this choice family. I recreated in my own mind the experience which those missionaries must have had, sitting before the open fire and eating food to which they were unaccustomed; greeting people who were friendly but perhaps a little suspicious; and then praying together that the light of heaven might bless their mutual understanding and that conversion to the gospel of Christ might be the result. I thanked our Heavenly Father for His divine help.
The mission president in Sweden at the time of our visit was Reid H. Johnson, a cousin to my wife. As he and our group were journeying throughout that area, we went to a large Lutheran church. As we walked into the building, President Johnson said, “I think you would be interested in an experience my companion, Richard Timpson, and I had in this city at the termination of our missions back in 1948.”
He said, “We came to this town because we knew that our family history was recorded here and had been lived here. As we entered this large church, we were met by a most hostile keeper of the archives. Upon hearing that we had completed our missions and had a few precious days in which we would like to seek out the records which he maintained in his church building, he said that no one had ever been given the opportunity to peruse those valuable records, far less a Mormon. He declared they were under lock and key, and he held up to view the large key to the vault in which the records were stored. He said, ‘My job and my future, and the sustenance of my family, depend upon how well I safeguard this key. No, I am afraid it would be impossible for you to peruse these records. But if you would like to see the church, I’ll be happy to show you through. I’ll be glad to show you the architecture and the cemetery which surrounds the church—but not the records, for they are sacred.’”
President Johnson indicated they were profoundly disappointed. However, he said to the keeper of the archives, “We will accept your kind offer.” All of this time, he and his companion were praying fervently and earnestly that somehow something would change this keeper’s mind, that he would let them view the records.
After a lengthy journey through the cemetery and looking at the church building, the keeper of the archives unexpectedly said to them, “I’m going to do something I have never done before. It may cost me my job, but I’m going to let you borrow this key for fifteen minutes.”
President Johnson thought, Fifteen minutes! All we can do in fifteen minutes is open the lock!
But the keeper let them take the key. They turned the key in the lock and had made available to their view records which were priceless for their genealogical value. In fifteen minutes the keeper arrived. He looked at them and found they were still in a state of wonder over the find which they had discovered.
They said, “Can’t we please stay longer?”
He said, “How much longer?” And he looked at his watch.
They said, “About three days.”
He said, “I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t know why, but I feel I can trust you. Here is the key. You keep it, and when you are through, you return it to me. I’ll be here every morning at eight o’clock and every evening at five o’clock.”
For three consecutive days, those two missionaries studied and recorded for our current use information which could have been obtained in no other way. President Johnson, filled with emotion, explained this experience to us. He said, “The Lord does move in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” As he made this statement of testimony to me, I realized that his experience had also blessed the lives of Sister Monson and me, for much of the information he and his companion had obtained happened to be on our family lines.
I thought of the key which the keeper of the archives gave to those two missionaries. While that key opened the lock which revealed and released to their information the names which they needed, there is a much greater key—a key which each one of us earnestly seeks to obtain and which will open the locks to the treasure houses of the knowledge which we desire to acquire. That key is the key of faith. In this work, no lock will open without it.
I testify that when we do all we can to accomplish the work that is before us, the Lord will make available to us the sacred key needed to unlock the treasure which we so much seek.1
President Hugh B. Brown declared to a group of us when the Priesthood Genealogy Committee was first organized that missionary work is going forward in the spirit world at an accelerated pace, compared to how it is going forward in our earthly existence. Then he quoted the statement of President Joseph F. Smith, indicating that all those who have not had an opportunity in mortality to hear the everlasting gospel are hearing it now:
“This gospel revealed to the Prophet Joseph is already being preached to the spirits in prison, to those who have passed away from this stage of action into the spirit world without the knowledge of the gospel. Joseph Smith is preaching that gospel to them. So is Hyrum Smith. So is Brigham Young, and so are all the faithful apostles that lived in this dispensation under the administration of the Prophet Joseph.”2
And as President Smith indicated in 1916:
“Through our efforts in their behalf their chains of bondage will fall from them, and the darkness surrounding them will clear away, that light may shine upon them and they shall hear in the spirit world of the work that has been done for them by their children here, and will rejoice with you in your performance of these duties.”3
I like that word, duty. He did not say “rejoice with you in the fulfillment of an assignment, in response to a calling.” He said, “In your performance of these duties.”
The person who is working on his or her family history fits the description of one who is fulfilling his or her duty. I know the effort, I know the expense, I know the difficulties through which one may go to uncover one name. I know our Heavenly Father is aware of these efforts. And those for whom we perform sacred ordinances are aware of our efforts. Oftentimes, in a miraculous way, there shall appear before us a clear pathway through a field of turbulence.
When I served as mission president in eastern Canada, there was a lovely lady who served as the secretary of the genealogy committee in one of our fine districts. How she labored in her assignment! This dear woman was responsible for much of the genealogical research that had been done in her area of Canada. But she had come to a seemingly insurmountable barrier which she could not penetrate. She went to her Heavenly Father, poured out her soul to Him, and literally made a plea that somehow He would intervene, somehow the way would be opened. Without waiting for a specific answer, she continued her research.
One day she was traveling down the main street of Belleville, Ontario, and came to an old bookstore. She felt compelled to enter the bookstore, and as she perused the countless array of books, her eye caught a two-volume set on a top shelf, and she knew she had to see those books. She asked the clerk for assistance, and when he handed them to her, she read the titles: Pioneer Life on the Bay of Quinte, volumes 1 and 2. She turned to the first page, the second, and the third. Those two volumes contained nothing but family history from the first page to the last. One volume supplied the key which opened the lock to the mystery which had frustrated her work.
She was elated until she asked the price, and then her elation turned to doubt. “Two hundred dollars for the two rare volumes,” said the clerk. However, the quorum of elders in the district was able to purchase those two volumes after their worth had been verified. The books were sent to the genealogical archives in Salt Lake City, and it was reported that they also provided some of the missing keys to the research of President Henry D. Moyle, for some of his forebears had come from the Bay of Quinte near Belleville, Ontario. A great blessing had been realized because a dear woman with “faith, nothing wavering,” had performed her duty.
The oft-quoted epistle of James was not meant exclusively for investigators. It was meant for you and me as well:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
“But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”4
Should any obstacles be encountered, one must seek the companionship of the Holy Spirit for guidance to solve the problem faced. I testify that the Spirit will come, the way will be opened, and the key will be provided.
Some years ago, the mission in Tonga was presided over by Elder John H. Groberg, long before there was a temple in that land. On one occasion he went down to the docks to welcome home the forty members of the Church who had just returned from the New Zealand Temple. They had sacrificed all they had to go to the temple. For years they had lived in modest circumstances to save the money, that they might go and receive their own endowments and their sealing blessings. As they returned, they expected President Groberg to greet them with enthusiasm and to commend them for their journey. He later said to me, “I didn’t feel that impression; rather, I felt to chastise them a little.” As they landed and were all smiles, they said, “What do you think of our accomplishments, President Groberg?”
He responded, “I think they are many. You have journeyed long and have endured much, and you have contributed greatly to the happiness of those for whom you officiated. But how many were Tongan names? How many were your ancestors?”
As he spoke to them so beautifully and so fluently in Tongan, the people admitted that other than their own endowments and maybe one or two family names, the ordinance work which they had performed in the New Zealand Temple was the same ordinance work which any temple recommend holder could perform in the Salt Lake Temple, or in the Logan Temple, or in any temple. A vision of eternity came to their view as President Groberg spoke to them for a full hour about their responsibility to their own kindred dead.
This experience prompted an active interest in family history research in the Tongan islands. They organized fine family history committees and have since performed the work for countless of their own ancestors.
I am a man of simple faith. I testify that the inspiration which President John Groberg received came as a result of the pleadings of those who have waited long and have yearned to be loosed from the chains which hold them captive, as President Joseph Fielding Smith said, people who have remained in darkness, but who now desire to see the light of heaven shine upon them, that they may go forward to their exaltation.
My brothers and sisters, do not be weary in well doing. If you feel your contribution is small or insignificant, remember that the worth of souls is precious in the sight of God. Our opportunity is to prepare the way, and to accomplish the ordinance work, after faithful research, that these souls may prepare for the glory which is their divine opportunity. Is it any wonder, then, that when one has received a testimony of this work, he or she has a desire to give so much to its progress and advancement? Is it any wonder that barriers in due time evaporate, as mists before the morning sun, when one has performed the work, experienced that test of faith, and qualified for the desired blessings?
All through the scriptures, the key of faith has proved to be a prerequisite to receiving desired and needed blessings. Abraham experienced the torturous ordeal of being willing to sacrifice his precious son, Isaac, before he heard the words, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”5 Abraham’s faith had to be tested.
The prophet Daniel was to be thrown to those lions in the pit before there came to fruition his God-given blessings. The three Hebrew children were cast into the fiery furnace, that their faith might be tested. Joseph Smith entered a quiet grove and bowed in prayer as a test of his faith.
Isn’t it significant that when Abraham’s faith was tested, there was no ram in the thicket that he could see? Isn’t it significant that when Daniel was threatened to be thrown into the den of lions, there were no muzzles binding their powerful jaws? Isn’t it significant that the three Hebrew children had no asbestos suits of clothing when they were cast into the fiery furnace? Isn’t it significant that when Joseph, the boy prophet, went down upon bended knee to seek the help of Almighty God, God the Father and Jesus the Son did not appear until after his faith had been tested?
We need the key of faith. No locked door can withstand its opening capacity. Faith is a requisite to this work. There is within our grasp the key which will unlock to our view that which we earnestly seek.
In section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, there is recorded a vision given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon at Hiram, Ohio, 16 February 1832. This revelation contains the promise of the Lord to the faithful:
“Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, and rejoice ye inhabitants thereof, for the Lord is God, and beside him there is no Savior.
“Great is his wisdom, marvelous are his ways, and the extent of his doings none can find out.
“His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand.
“From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail.
“For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
“Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
“And to them will I reveal all mysteries.”6
The key of faith can be ours. May we use it wisely, thus opening to the view of those who have gone before us that great vision of their opportunity in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father.
Some Points of Emphasis
You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussions:
The gospel is being preached in the spirit world to those in spiritual darkness.
We have a duty to uncover the names of our forebears and provide for their welfare the sacred ordinances of the gospel.
The key to uncovering the names of our forebears is faith that the Lord will guide us in our sacred work.
The efforts of family organizations in accomplishing this work can be very effective.
When obstacles are encountered, seek the aid of the Holy Spirit to resolve the problems faced.
Relate your feelings about the work of offering the saving ordinances of the gospel to our dead.
Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum president?