Genealogy and Temple Work: “You Can’t Have One without the Other”


In a recent discussion with Elder Royden G. Derrick, who currently serves as the Executive Director of the Genealogical Department, I asked him, “How do you see the relationship between genealogy and temple work?”

With a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face, he leaned forward in his chair and in a quiet voice began to sing, “Love and marriage, love and marriage—they go together like a horse and carriage. You can’t have one without the other.”

That was the only time I had ever had a question answered with a song. And never has a question been more perfectly answered.

Genealogy and temple work—you can’t have one without the other. They are two inseparable parts of one supernal decree the Lord has given us to aid in the redemption of the dead. The process of identifying one’s family should be much more than a hobby to a Latter-day Saint. From an eternal perspective, to consider the word genealogy and not its partner temple work—or to think of temple work and disregard its twin, genealogy—makes no more sense than to try to play a game with only half a ball.

Some people feel that temple work, by its very nature, is the more important work, the sacred half—the top half of the ball, we might say. But a rolling ball does not have a top and a bottom. I’ve heard some members say, “I love going to the temple and performing the sacred ordinances. But genealogy just isn’t interesting to me.” Others say, “If I could, I would spend all my time doing genealogy. It is so exciting that I’d stay at the library from the time the doors open until they kick me out at night.” If we all felt one way or the other, we would have either a huge backlog of names at the temple or long lines at the temple waiting for names not there.

Elder Boyd K. Packer made the relationship between the two very clear when he said: “You cannot have regard for temple ordinance work without having great respect for genealogical work as well. Genealogical work is the fundamental service for the temples. The temples could not stay open without success in the genealogical program.” (The Holy Temple, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980, p. 224.)

In October 1975, Elder Packer told a group of Regional Representatives:

“During the last two months … I have visited a number of high priest groups. Mostly I have been listening. I have been trying to determine what high priests quorums are doing about this work—and why not! It has been a most interesting inquiry. …

“I visited a high priest group with 39 members, well educated, well-to-do, and many of them retired. During the last year they have been responsible for 1,122 endowments at the temple. During the same period they have submitted, from their own genealogical research from their own family records, two names—one of which had not yet cleared. This, I find, is about typical.

“Genealogical work in the Church, for the most part, is left to those few members who have taken a keen interest in it, who have found great excitement in it, and who devote themselves totally to it.” (Ibid.)

Some have supposed that names would somehow always be available at the temple through no effort of their own—just as manna once appeared on the ground each morning in the great desert. And in this way they have been correct, for in both cases a most generous God has provided the way. How manna came we are not sure. But many of the names at the temple were provided when the Lord established the name extraction program.

This magnificent program has, since its beginning in 1962 (first at Church headquarters and now in over 700 stakes of Zion), provided approximately 80 percent of all names going to the temple. Although this extraction program has now become firmly established and matured, providing names for temple work, there is yet much we can and should do.

In fact, we should act as though there were no extraction program. We should work with our families—provide our own family names so that when we go to the temple, we would be going for one of our own deceased ancestors. The Lord through his servants has invited each of us and our families to see that the temple ordinances are performed for our ancestors. Elder Mark E. Petersen has emphasized:

“What is our obligation then? Each one of us—if we pretend to obey the gospel at all—must search out our dead and have these saving ordinances performed for them.

“Many suppose that they are discharging their responsibilities by simply ‘going to the temple.’ But that is not wholly true. We must go to the temple, of course, and often. If we do not as yet have the records of our own dead kindred, then while we search for them, by all means let us help others with theirs.

“But be it understood that if we go to the temple, and not for our own dead, we are performing only a part of our duty, because we are also required to go there specifically to save our own dead relatives and bind the various generations together by the power of the holy priesthood.

“We must disabuse our minds of the idea that merely ‘going to the temple’ discharges our full responsibility, because it does not. That is not enough. …

“God holds each of us responsible for saving our own kindred—specifically our own.” Ensign, May 1976, pp. 15–16.)

Have you experienced or can you imagine the thrill of going to the temple for your own grandfather or great-grandmother? Nothing is so precious as those experiences we call spiritual experiences. And in no other area of Church activity are such experiences more available than when we are seeking out our kindred dead and going to the temple for them. Speaking of these things, Elder Packer has observed:

“Members of the Church cannot touch this work without becoming affected spiritually. The spirit of Elijah permeates it. Many of the little intrusions into our lives, the little difficulties and the petty problems that beset us, are put into proper perspective when we view the linking of the generations for the eternities. We become much more patient then. So if you want the influence of dignity and wisdom and inspiration and spirituality to envelop your life, involve yourself in temple and genealogical work.” (The Holy Temple, pp. 224–25.)

Just as there is something special about homemade bread, there is something special about the temple experience when you go for someone whose name you and your family searched for, prepared, and sent to the temple.

I have heard some members say, “But our family names are all done.” It is all right to say such a thing as long as you realize you are only kidding. Of this, Elder W. Grant Bangerter has said: “Your genealogy has not all been done. My own grandparents performed ‘all’ the temple work for their deceased relatives fifty-five years ago. Since that time our family has discovered sixteen thousand others.” (Ensign, May 1982, p. 71.)

New converts or those whose genealogy has somehow been neglected have an opportunity more exciting than Sutter’s Mill was for the gold seekers. The field for them is indeed white and ready to harvest. If each of the approximately 50,000 families baptized each year were to send to the temple the names of only their deceased four-generation ancestors and the deceased children of these ancestors, at least 3,500,000 people would receive these sacred ordinances each year.

Keep in mind that the extraction program will provide only part of the names for the Church. Keep in your heart the desire to provide for your own. There is much to do in the Church. Genealogy should not push aside all else, nor should all else push aside genealogy. A well-organized program of individual and family effort can make the average family with just normal diligence self-sufficient in providing the names and performing the ordinances for their deceased ancestors. And, of course, everyone of us should go the extra mile by attending the temple for the additional names coming from the extraction program.

Yes, as Elder Derrick has said, genealogy and temple work do indeed “go together like a horse and carriage.” There are great blessings in knowing that “you can’t have one without the other.” In having both we can fill our whole soul with the joy of being part of the glorious work of the redemption of the dead.

[photo] Photography by Jed A. Clark

George D. Durrant, father of eight and director of the Church Priesthood Genealogy Division, is bishop of the Mt. Olympus Third Ward, Salt Lake City.