News of the Church

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Family History Web Site Launched

Genealogical information for nearly 400 million deceased people is now available at no charge via the Internet at the Church’s new Web site: www.familysearch.org.

“In recent years, computer technology has made it possible to transfer genealogical records to large databases and to publish the information on-line or on compact discs,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley during a press conference held 24 May in the Family History Library® in Salt Lake City. “Today, however, we take the long-awaited step of allowing home access via the Internet to some of the most significant materials in the Family History Library.”

He added: “We began testing this Web site on April 1, and the response has been overwhelming. Users are profuse in expressing thanks. Since then, without any promotion or requested publicity, the site has had more than 200 million hits, making it one of the most sought-after sites on the Internet even before its formal launch.”

The press conference was simulcast via satellite to reporters gathered in Washington, D.C., where Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered remarks. “This is an historic day for the families of the world and for people who are interested in identifying their origins, their roots, and their ancestors,” he said. “It’s an historic day and privilege for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to host this significant contribution to the genealogical effort of the world.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Presidency of the Seventy, Executive Director of the Family History Department, said: “This new genealogical search service will revolutionize the way people trace their roots on the Web. It has been an enormous undertaking. Hundreds of volunteers have been enlisted to evaluate the thousands of genealogical databases already out there, from individual home pages to substantial resources.”

During the press conference, President Hinckley said: “Seeking to understand our family history can change our lives. It helps bring unity and cohesion to families. There is something about understanding the past that helps give our young people something to live up to, a legacy to respect. We’re grateful to be able to make a significant contribution to that.”

Features and Services

  • The Web site’s new search engine allows users to search for specific names and relationships throughout the Church’s on-line database, which initially includes Ancestral File™ and portions of the International Genealogical Index® (IGI) and will be continuously expanded.

  • The search engine also allows advanced searches among thousands of independent genealogical Web sites that have been evaluated by Church volunteers. Interested individuals, groups, institutions, and companies can recommend their own or others’ Web sites for inclusion.

  • Users have on-line access to the catalog of the world’s largest genealogical library, the Church’s Family History Library, which holds more than three million microfilms, microfiches, and books. Through familysearch.org, most of those materials can be ordered for hands-on use at any of 3,400 Family History Centers™ worldwide.

  • Through the Web site, users can collaborate on-line to share their research and cooperate with others searching the same family lines.

  • Users can preserve their own family history information by submitting electronic files through the Web site to be indexed for posterity. A database called the Pedigree Resource File will compile user-submitted pedigrees as well as pedigrees gathered from printed family histories and other sources, including government archives.

  • If users choose, they can review family history resources—including publications, software, and compact discs—available for purchase from the Church, or they can learn more about the beliefs and doctrines of the Church.

Unexpected Demand

The familysearch.org Web site was designed to handle 25 million hits per day, but soon after the official launch, the site was overwhelmed by more than 40 million hits per day—representing roughly 400,000 users—as well as an estimated additional 60 million unsuccessful daily hits. Because of this unprecedented use, many people experienced delays or difficulties logging on to the site. Church technicians worked closely with site host IBM and LavaStorm, developers of the system, to spread the load and help resolve the challenge.

[photo] “Seeking to understand our family history can change our lives,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley at the press conference launching the Church’s new family history Web site. (Photo by Don Grayston, Deseret News.)

[photo] The www.familysearch.org home page allows users to immediately begin searching for their ancestors or choose from other options. (Photo courtesy of Public Affairs Department.)

President Hinckley Addresses World Affairs Council

“We teach, we train, we build, we educate, we provide opportunity for growth and development,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley about worldwide Church efforts to members of the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, California, on 13 May. “We give hope to those without hope, and there is nothing greater you can give a man or woman than hope.”

About 2,300 people—more than half of them members of other faiths—attended the forum, including politicians, educators, and diplomats from 19 consulates. “In the underdeveloped countries, we have young men and women, many of them of capacity but without opportunity to improve themselves,” said President Hinckley. “They cannot do so without help. We are now assisting some and are working on plans to assist many more to attend universities in their own lands, where we also operate what we call institutes, where they can study and socialize together. We are providing a ladder by which they can climb out of the impoverishment that surrounds them to make something better of their lives, to occupy places of honor and respect in society, and to make a contribution of significance to the nation in which they live.”

Discussing other ways in which the Church is a worldwide influence for good, President Hinckley said: “We are already engaged in microcredit undertakings, whereby small amounts are loaned to those for whom a hundred or two or three hundred dollars can spell an actual change in their future. When given such credit, these people become entrepreneurs, taking pride in what they are doing and lifting themselves out of the bondage that has shackled their forebears for generations. From a bread shop in Ghana to a woodworking business in Honduras, we are making it possible for people to learn skills they never dreamed of acquiring and to raise their standard of living to a level of which they previously had little hope.”

Describing the Church’s worldwide disaster aid efforts, President Hinckley noted that the Church has worked alongside other relief agencies in Africa, Mexico, Bangladesh, China, Bosnia, North Korea, and Central America. “Immediately upon learning of the recent Kosovo tragedy,” President Hinckley said, “we determined to help where we could. On Monday of a given week, we considered what we might do. On Tuesday we gave approval to proceed, and food boxes began to be assembled at Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. On Wednesday a huge freight plane was loaded with a shipment and left for Europe. On Thursday it was en route there. On Friday goods were unloaded and … delivered to needy people.”

He continued: “When need arises we can act quickly without bureaucracy and red tape. The lives of thousands of unfortunate people not of our faith have been blessed in those countries where there is terrible distress.”

Thanking government officials for their “hospitality in affording visas to our missionaries who go to their home nations,” President Hinckley said: “Our desire everywhere is to make bad men good and good men better. Wherever we go, we go in the front door. Our representatives honor the laws of the nations to which they go and teach the people to be good citizens.”

Weber State University Commencement

“Beauty is to be found all over this earth,” said President Hinckley at commencement exercises held 6 May at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. “But today I wish to speak of America.”

He continued: “Do we have problems? Of course we do. Are our public forums noisy with argument over what is wrong? Yes. There is trouble in the land. There are problems we do not seem capable of handling. But I come here tonight with a plea that you do not lose faith in America.”

President Hinckley told of an occasion when a journalist asked him about his belief regarding the Constitution. “I replied that I felt it was inspired, that both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were brought forth under the inspiration of God to establish and maintain the freedom of the people of this nation. I said it, and I believe it to be true. There is a miracle in its establishment that cannot be explained in any other way.” He added: “I dare to say that this nation, when all is said and done, is the greatest stabilizing force in the world. It leads in military power. It leads in economic strength. It is not a perfect nation, but it is a great nation.”

After describing the United States as “a nation that for more than two centuries has remained free and independent and strong, the envy of the world, the hope of the world, the protection of free men everywhere, the manifestation of the power of the Almighty,” President Hinckley concluded: “May God bless this nation. … Bless her leaders that they may rise above pettiness and live after the tradition of the Founding Fathers. Bless our industry that it may benefit all mankind. Bless our science that out of it may come health and happiness for the peoples of the earth.”

Temple Update

Groundbreakings

President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, made a surprise visit to the Palmyra New York Temple groundbreaking. “This is where the First Vision occurred, and I think it appropriate that we build a house of the Lord on this ground,” President Hinckley said. “I regard this temple as perhaps the most significant, in one respect, in the entire Church. It was right here in the Sacred Grove where it all began.” The Church’s 100th announced temple will be built atop a hill overlooking the Sacred Grove.

During the groundbreaking, President Monson quoted essayist John Rushkin: “Wherefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for.”

Construction work has begun on nine more temples. Ground was recently broken for the following temples: Adelaide Australia, Baton Rouge Louisiana, Louisville Kentucky, Medford Oregon, Montevideo Uruguay, Palmyra New York, Suva Fiji, and Veracruz México. In addition, the Copenhagen Denmark Temple will become the Church’s second temple constructed from an existing building. Originally dedicated in 1931, the Priorvej Chapel in downtown Copenhagen was recently rededicated as a temple site in preparation for extensive renovations required to convert the building into a temple.

Nauvoo Temple Donations

The First Presidency sent the following letter dated 23 April to be read aloud in sacrament meetings in the United States and Canada:

Many individuals have shared their desire to make a contribution toward the rebuilding of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

Those who wish to contribute financially toward the rebuilding of this temple are invited to do so. However, priesthood leaders should not conduct fund-raising efforts or establish assessments or goals for this purpose.

Those who would like to donate should indicate Nauvoo Illinois Temple on the Other line of the donation receipt. Wards will then transfer these funds by check to Church headquarters on a monthly basis.

We commend you for your devotion and faithfulness and anticipate the blessings that will come through the rebuilding of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, which has such a historical significance to the Church.

[photo] President Gordon B. Hinckley (left) and President Thomas S. Monson participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Palmyra New York Temple. (Photo by Annette Lein.)

Saints in Columbus, Ohio: A Season of Growth

Dickson Call, a resident of Columbus, Ohio, since 1955, is amazed at the Church growth that has taken place in his city. For many years he was a member of the Columbus Ohio Branch, which encompassed most of central Ohio. “Who would have thought that our one tiny branch would grow to three strong stakes and 30-plus branches and wards?” he marvels now. “And I never dreamed that a temple would be built in Ohio.”

Joe L. Johnson, president of the Ohio Columbus Mission, attributes much of the Church’s success in Columbus to years of diligent missionary work. Missionaries and members in Columbus “have been very successful at baptizing and retaining converts,” he says. “We have now a second generation of members who are living and raising their families here. Together with the western transplants, the Church is doing very well.”

The rapid and sustained growth of the Church in Columbus began after World War II. Many members from the western states came to attend Ohio State University on the GI bill. They graduated, found employment, and raised their families in the area. They also found a community eager to hear the gospel message.

Today, 163 years after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Church members in Ohio are looking forward to a temple once again in their midst.

“The visibility in the community of many of our members really helped us when President Gordon B. Hinckley came to Columbus [in April 1998] and announced a temple,” says Kurt Southam, Columbus Ohio East Stake president.

One of those visible Church members is businessman Dimon R. McFerson. Brother McFerson explains that he and Gregory S. Lashutka, mayor of Columbus, “were casual acquaintances until I asked him in 1992 to host a reception for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which was giving a concert here. He loves music and enjoyed the choir very much. We have been fast friends ever since.”

The mayor frequently asked Brother McFerson about the possibility of a temple being built in the city. Brother McFerson recalls that Mr. Lashutka “was thrilled to greet President Hinckley when he came to visit last year. At that time Mr. Lashutka pledged his personal support to the building of a temple.” In a matter of weeks a permit was issued to build the sacred structure.

Brother Call, originally from Idaho, is among the many Saints eagerly awaiting the new temple. Brother Call came to Columbus in 1955 to attend graduate school at Ohio State. He and his wife, Joann, are grateful to have raised their family here. “When we moved to this area, my oldest daughter was the only member in her school,” Brother Call says. “Now there is a large, active youth group who support each other, and a strong seminary program.”

Another stalwart Church member is Kathleen Smith. Sister Smith has enriched the lives of thousands of people in the Columbus community, both in and out of the Church, with her unique musical and theatrical talents.

For the past five years she has directed Christopher—the Musical of Discovery, produced by the three Columbus stakes in cooperation with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. The musical tells the story of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America and is staged each summer aboard a replica of the famous flagship Santa María, which is docked on the banks of the Scioto River in downtown Columbus. The musical attracts approximately a thousand people every year and has become a Columbus tradition.

Sister Smith and her husband, Keith L. Smith—an Area Authority Seventy for the North America Northeast Area—have raised eight children in the gospel. Sister Smith says, “I have seen the Church literally come out of obscurity here in Columbus. We are respected for our solid family values and our commitment to serve the community.”

One favorite Church-sponsored service opportunity is canning. By working in cooperation with other community services and by obtaining donations from businesses, the Church-owned cannery has supplied hundreds of thousands of cans of food to the Mid-Ohio FoodBank, a nonprofit agency that distributes emergency food supplies to the poor and needy in 55 Ohio counties.

For the past several years the three stakes in Columbus have sponsored youth service projects that directly benefit cities and towns within the stake boundaries. The youth have rebuilt several parks and camping areas. One year they painted, repaired, and weeded dozens of homes in the downtown area.

Mayor Lashutka praised local Church members when he spoke at the temple groundbreaking on 12 September 1998: “You are good people, you raise good families, you support humanitarian causes, and you are prominent leaders in the communities. We are glad you are among us.”

And Church members are glad to live in a state steeped in Church history where they can create history of their own. They derive strength from the examples of fellow Church members as well as others in the community with whom they associate. “The strength of the members’ testimonies and the heritage of this land are blessings,” says Columbus Ohio Stake president Samuel J. Kiehl III. “We are grateful to be a part of this great latter-day work.”

Columbus, Ohio, at a Glance

Stakes: 3

Units: 31

Members in the three Columbus stakes: 10,100

Endowed members: 4,340

Missionaries serving from the Columbus stakes: 95

Seminary students: 425

Institute students: 281

  • The first stake in the Church was organized in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834.

  • The Columbus Ohio Stake was organized from the Great Lakes Mission in 1962.

  • The Columbus Ohio East Stake was organized in 1976 by dividing the Columbus Ohio Stake.

  • The Columbus Ohio North Stake was organized in 1986 by dividing the Columbus Ohio and the Columbus Ohio East Stakes.

[photo] Columbus youth help beautify and preserve the local cemetery. (Photography by Ellen Eckersley.)

[photo] Kathleen Smith, center, with two cast members from Christopher—the Musical of Discovery. The play is produced by the three stakes in Columbus. (Photography by Ellen Eckersley.)

[photo] Pat Lewis, a member of the Columbus Centre Branch, has been instrumental in establishing several community gardens. (Photography by Ellen Eckersley.)

[photo] Aaron Metcalf, Michael Morello, and David Smith wash green beans at a Church-owned cannery. The beans will be sent to the Mid-Ohio FoodBank. (Photography by Ellen Eckersley.)

Pauline H. Morello is the Columbus Ohio multistake director of public affairs.

Ellen Eckersley is the Columbus Ohio Stake director of public affairs.

Conversation: Members Serving in the Military

Military service is often a time of personal growth, but some enlisted members find it challenging to maintain spirituality and contact with the Church. To find out more about strengthening members in the military, the Ensign spoke with Paul Jensen, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who serves as the Church’s military relations liaison.

Question: Is it a good idea for young people to serve in the military?

Response: In today’s world, some Latter-day Saints shy away from voluntary military service because of perceived low moral standards. But leaving home for college or work can also put youth into a challenging moral environment, with similar pressures and temptations. If young people are not valiant, faithful, and true to their covenants, they’re going to have the same problems at college or work as they would in the military.

Some nations have involuntary conscription into the military, such as Norway, Korea, and Taiwan. Other nations draft citizens into military service during times of need. As Latter-day Saints, we accept these obligations. We believe in honoring and sustaining the laws of our nations, regardless of where we live.

President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “One of the highest duties of citizenship is to defend one’s country. This is because in wartime military service often demands the ultimate sacrifice—life itself.” He continued: “I served for three years in World War II. During most of that time I was married and was separated from my wife for a considerable period. I was drafted and served because it was the law of the land. I was no hero, but I believe I did the right thing” (“The Integrity of Obeying the Law,” in Vital Speeches of the Day [1 Sept. 1995], 687).

Q: What helps military personnel stay strong in the Church?

R: Local leaders and home teachers can help prepare young people who will be leaving soon for military enlistment. They can help recruits understand how to keep up their standards, teach others about the gospel, and hold on to the Church as an anchor in the storm. For many young people, military service leads to activation and conversion as they mature in the face of difficult circumstances and set good examples for those around them. When young people who have been less active in their home wards are warmly greeted by their Church leaders and peers at military posts, many take advantage of the opportunity to start over again in the Church and subsequently serve full-time missions.

Following are some practical suggestions for Latter-day Saints serving in the armed forces:

  • Pray regularly. Study the scriptures daily. Ponder and meditate.

  • Live righteously and be worthy of the Lord’s Spirit and protection.

  • Avoid the very appearance of evil.

  • Stay in contact with your family.

  • Find the Church immediately upon reassignment. Before you enlist, ask your bishop to help you locate the ward or branch that serves your military installation. You may also check the phone directory or inquire at the installation chaplain’s office. There is almost always a ward, branch, or group anywhere you will be stationed or deployed on land or sea.

  • Be active in your ward, branch, or group. The Church is like a home away from home.

  • Take advantage of your missionary opportunities.

  • Wear the uniform with dignity. Bring honor to yourself and the Church which you represent.

Q: Does military service provide opportunities to influence others for good?

R: President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “Our men and women in uniform have influenced thousands for good. How do they accomplish this? They live the commandments of God and teach to others His divine word. They are prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within them. They are sufficiently acquainted with the doctrines of the Church so that they can touch the heart of an inquiring friend. I pay tribute to them. I honor them. I salute them.”

The opportunities for baptisms, retention, and activation in the military are phenomenal. If a young person who is living the gospel and is friendly and accepts others as sons and daughters of God makes any effort at all—such as inviting others to Church activities, dances, and institute classes—those whom the Lord has prepared will respond. One of the major U.S. Army basic training stations is in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Last year more than 130 people joined the Church there, more than in some missions. I visited that branch recently, and I watched as local members who had been called as leaders in that military branch personally shook the hands of more than 180 young people who arrived on four buses to attend church. The Sunday I was there, full-time missionaries gave 38 first discussions, and I witnessed six baptisms. If these converts and activated members are retained properly at their next duty station, the momentum continues to build and they friendship and fellowship others.

As members of the Church, we have deeply rooted foundations in serving our nations and protecting our religious freedoms and our right to worship according to the dictates of our consciences. When a person puts on a uniform and pursues a just cause in a military situation, he or she is in essence protecting the freedom of agency. Captain Moroni and Helaman are great examples of men who wore the uniforms of their nations—whether literally or figuratively—with dignity and nobleness of purpose. It may not be everybody’s role or responsibility to serve in the military, but it is everybody’s responsibility to support those who do. They deserve our recognition, our honor, and our gratitude.

[photo] Paul Jensen

[photo] Latter-day Saint military personnel participate in a sunrise service.

LDS Scene

  • The Brigham Young University—Hawaii Campus women’s tennis team defeated Armstrong Atlantic State University in Pensacola, Florida, on 17 May to win the NCAA Division II national championship. Last year was BYU—Hawaii’s first year in the higher division; previously the women’s tennis team won two consecutive national titles in the NAIA. The championship match was originally scheduled for Sunday but was moved to Monday at the request of Latter-day Saint players.

  • More than 100 Latter-day Saint youth in Bulgaria recently gathered for the nation’s first youth conference, a three-day event with the theme of “Choose the Right.” Under the direction of Bulgaria Sofia Mission president Gary Stephens and his wife, Annette Stephens, the youth attended workshops on manners, music, media, and cooking; played games; and participated in a talent show. The conference concluded with a sacrament and testimony meeting conducted by Sofia district president Georgi Dermendjiev.

  • A memorial plaque and sandstone marker were recently dedicated near the birthplace of President Wilford Woodruff in Avon, Connecticut. Born on 1 March 1807 to Aphek and Beulah Woodruff, President Woodruff attended school in the area and worked in his father’s flour mill. The memorial is located in a public park less than a mile from the mill site, which is now owned by a private boys’ school. The dedicatory prayer was offered by Elder Donald L. Staheli of the Seventy, First Counselor in the North America Northeast Area Presidency.

  • More than 100 Latter-day Saint musical performers—including the 97-voice Mormon Oratorio Chorus, five soloists, and nine instrumentalists—recently performed a concert in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Before an audience of about 2,000 people, the musicians performed a variety of religious music celebrating the Savior’s Resurrection. “One of our strengths in the New York area is certainly our artists,” said Brent Belnap, president of the New York New York Stake, which organized the concert.

  • In honor of black Latter-day Saint pioneer Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a sculpted memorial plaque was recently dedicated in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Born in Wilton, Connecticut, in the early 1800s, Sister James walked 800 miles to Nauvoo, Illinois, after her family joined the Church. She lived in the homes of both the Prophet Joseph Smith and President Brigham Young and subsequently married black Latter-day Saint Isaac James, gave birth to a son at Winter Quarters in 1846, and joined an early pioneer company to the Salt Lake Valley. When she died in 1908, President Joseph F. Smith and other General Authorities spoke at her funeral.

  • During May the Mormon Youth Chorus and Symphony performed its last concert in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Speaking before the performance, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles thanked director Robert C. Bowden for “the joy and happiness of musical entertainment you have brought.” Brother Bowden, who has led Mormon Youth since 1974, said, “I cannot think of a more rewarding experience than that which I have had with these people, and I thank the Lord every day.” Earlier in May the Mormon Youth Chorus and Symphony’s final tour included performances aboard the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier docked in San Diego, California; at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California; and in the Tuacahn Amphitheatre near St. George, Utah.

[photo] Elder Donald L. Staheli dedicated a memorial near the birthplace of Wilford Woodruff in Avon, Connecticut.