My beloved brothers and sisters, I am thankful for the opportunity to express my love and appreciation to the Lord for the call that came to me last December. I accept the call. I am grateful for the opportunity to bear testimony of Jesus Christ. I will consecrate all of my time, energy, and talent to magnify this calling. I express appreciation to the Brethren; my wife, Joanne; our children; grandchildren; our parents and extended family; and to all of our friends and neighbors who have voiced confidence in my ability to do this work.
I have been called to serve in the Family History Department of the Church, and I would like to speak of that today. Here we see the great work of the redemption roll forth in its decreed course.
I salute the thousands of workers, volunteers, and service missionaries who, as the scriptures say, “wear out [their] lives” (D&C 123:13) to redeem those who are living beyond the veil. Their complete and unselfish service is a true demonstration of the love we should have for the Savior and our fellowmen.
Much has been accomplished over the years. Faithful Saints in years past and today have identified many millions of their ancestors. The Church has assisted by gathering information on nearly two billion individuals who have at one time lived on this earth.
The Church has further provided beautiful temples where the Saints may enter and have sacred ordinances performed on behalf of their kindred dead.
My brothers and sisters, many things are occurring today to help us accelerate this work. I am impressed that the Lord will help us when we make an effort to do what He has asked of us as counseled by our prophet and other Church leaders.
In 1977, major emphasis was given to the redemption of the dead. Speaking to a meeting of Regional Representatives, Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke of the marvelous capacity of the computer and of how this new technology would hasten the work. He further assured us that the Lord would continue to assist the Church along the way.
“When the servants of the Lord determine to do as He commands, we move ahead. As we proceed, we are joined at the crossroads by those who have been prepared to help us.
“They come with skills and abilities precisely suited to our needs. And, we find provisions; information, inventions, help of various kinds, set along the way waiting for us to take them up.
“It is as though someone knew we would be traveling that way. We see the invisible hand of the Almighty providing for us.” (Address delivered at regional representatives’ seminar, 1 Apr. 1977.)
Brothers and sisters, the Lord has met His servants at the crossroads. Many of these tools and skills are now in our hands. Our failure to now do this work cannot be lightly passed over.
The most prominent of the new tools which we now have in many of our fifteen hundred family history centers is the computer-aided resource entitled FamilySearch™, which has the following features.
First, the Ancestral File™ provides over seven million names linked into family relationships. The identity of the submitting party is also provided, thus facilitating cooperative research.
Second, the Family History Library Catalog™ provides easy access to the Church’s Family History Library and its resources.
Third, the International Genealogical Index™ provides data on over 147 million deceased individuals. Many millions of additional names are being added to this index.
And fourth, a new Personal Ancestral File™ computer program will permit members, in their homes, to easily organize their family history records.
In addition, over eight hundred stakes are now participating in the new Family Records Extraction Program.
This vital effort, involving over seventy-five thousand volunteers who serve primarily in their homes, will soon allow members to clear names for temple work, in their own meetinghouses, rather than waiting for headquarters approval.
Yes, the invisible hand of the Almighty is providing for us, and we should live and act to merit a continuation of His help and blessings.
The Almighty, through the appearance of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith in 1823, introduced the doctrine and work of the redemption of the dead. Moroni told Joseph that the Old Testament prophet Elijah would return before the second coming of the Lord.
Slightly modifying the Malachi reference to Elijah, Moroni said:
“He [Elijah] shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.” (JS—H 1:39.)
The word plant was introduced by the angel Moroni. What does it mean to plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers? What were the promises made to the fathers?
The promises relate to the covenant of the Lord that He is no respecter of persons and that He has a plan whereby all of His children may have opportunity to return to His presence by being obedient to the laws, principles, and ordinances of the gospel.
To plant these promises in the hearts of the children, and to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, was defined by Elder Mark E. Petersen in the October 1971 general conference, as follows:
“Malachi plainly outlined the mission of Elijah—to establish a bond of interest between present and past generations … to create in the hearts of living men and women an interest in their ancestors.” (Ensign, Jan. 1972, p. 49.)
The seed planted by the Lord, through Elijah’s appearance to Joseph Smith in 1836, was not a full-grown tree, but only a seed. At that time there were no genealogical societies in existence. History confirms that family research in America generally commenced with the forming of the New England Historical Genealogical Society in Boston in 1844.
Thus, just eight years after that small seed of genealogical interest in our ancestors was planted by Elijah, it began to grow until now, as a result of skills, tools, and computer technology, which have been provided by the Lord, the lowly seed has become a beautiful, fruit-bearing tree.
Brothers and sisters, in conclusion, many years ago humble listeners asked Peter, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37.) Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you.” (Acts 2:38.) To your silent questions, Where should I begin? What should I do? we say, Seek out those who are called to direct this work in your ward or branch. Go to your family history center and the temple. Identify those of your ancestors whose identity may be lost to human memory. Get started now, and the Lord will help you.
I bear humble testimony that this work of the redemption is true. Jesus Christ presides over and directs this work by revealing His will to President Ezra Taft Benson, our living prophet. I pray that we will do this work. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.