New Directions in Work for the Dead

A conversation with Brother George H. Fudge, managing director of the Genealogical Department, and the Ensign Magazine.

Print Share

    In August 1977 President Spencer W. Kimball remarked: “I feel the same sense of urgency about temple work for the dead as I do about missionary work since they are basically one and the same. I have told my brethren of the General Authorities that this work for the dead is constantly on my mind … We unconditionally urge you as individuals, as families, large and small, to go forward in this work.” (Ensign, October 1977, p. 82.)

    Ensign: It was announced in the June regional meetings that an expanded genealogy program will begin next year. Could you discuss this change?

    Brother Fudge: The current four-generation program has given the Saints an opportunity to become familiar with the family group record forms and recording genealogical data. It has brought these records into the archives of the Church so much genealogical and temple work could be done.

    New technology is now available which can help us accomplish the Lord’s purposes faster and more accurately. If we didn’t harness this technology to accomplish the Lord’s work, we would be at fault.

    In the past, each person was given the responsibility to complete at least four generations of family group sheets, and as many beyond that as he could. That kind of research has required writing letters and traveling all over the world, spending a great deal of time and money—and much of it has been unproductive. At the same time another relative might have been spending time and money to gather the same information. Then when each had completed his research and had sent his sheets to the Genealogical Department, the records often contradicted each other and this inaccuracy is unacceptable. With the tremendous amount of work to be done, we can’t spend time duplicating efforts anymore.

    Ensign: What are the changes in the program?

    Brother Fudge: Each individual is now asked to meet with his brothers, sisters, and parents to compare the information on family group sheets, check the accuracy of the information, and one member of the family is to send a final, correct copy of the four-generation pedigree chart with accompanying family group sheets to the Genealogical Department in Salt Lake City. In this process, the family would meet with the relatives of the father’s and mother’s lines (uncles, aunts, and grandparents) in order to check the accuracy of the records of that and previous generations.

    If in later research new evidence is found requiring a change in the submitted material, each family is responsible for notifying Church genealogical headquarters of any additions or corrections to those sheets.

    December 1978 marks the end of the current four-generation program for individuals and the beginning of the four-generation program for families. We begin accepting the newly prepared family group sheets and pedigree charts in July 1979.

    Original research beyond the four-generation level will be accepted but will no longer be required of individuals. Instead the Church feels the responsibility to begin a massive records gathering and extraction program in order to prepare names for temple work.

    Ensign: What is this gathering and extraction program?

    Brother Fudge: We have ninety-five cameras filming records in thirty-five countries and gathering between forty to fifty million pages a year. We then classify and catalog the records.

    This information must be “extracted” from the records, processed, and sent to temples so that ordinances can be performed. To do that, we have now begun records extraction programs in the stakes of the Church.

    We estimate that at the present time it takes about 900 extractors to keep up with one camera operator. If we have ninety-five cameras operating now—and there will be many more in the years ahead—we will need many extractors to keep pace with what we are currently filming and with what we have already filmed.

    Ensign: To some people this may sound like genealogical work is becoming impersonal. In a sense, haven’t we encouraged ourselves in the past to think that my responsibility is to find my ancestors?

    Brother Fudge: Yes, but as the intensity and the pace of this work increases, the Lord has impressed the Brethren with a great truth: we all share the same ancestors! For example, we all descend from a common couple, Adam and Eve, but our pedigrees interlock long before we reach Adam. You don’t go back more than a few generations before your ancestors are also the direct-line ancestors of many other people.

    When the members of the Church understand this, we will all want to become involved in a program of mutual activity in which you are finding the names of some of my people and I am finding the names of some of your people. We might be stakes—or continents—apart. But the common result will be that we are both engaged in an effective operation of saving our earthly and spiritual kindred.

    The Lord desires that we accomplish this task by working collectively, “as a church and a people,” as well as individuals, “as Latter-day Saints.” (See D&C 128:24.)

    In a sense, we are using techniques in our missionary work among the dead that are similar to those we use in our missionary work among the living. If I were called to be a missionary in England, I would go there and teach everyone I could, being “no respecter of persons” (D&C 1:35). I would not go there to teach the gospel only to those people who have the same surname I do or who are closely related to me.

    And we don’t send missionaries out into the big cities to look for one person, while street after street of people who would accept the gospel are ignored. But without modern technology, that’s the approach we’ve had to take in genealogical research in the past. Now the Lord has given us new tools, and the Brethren say the time is here to give great emphasis to our missionary work for the dead. Genealogy and missionary work are really the same work, so why not use the same principles and procedures!

    Ensign: If one of us were living in a stake which was participating in the records extraction program, how could he become involved?

    Brother Fudge: Since we are collecting records in 35 countries, the majority of records are in languages other than English. A stake in Hamburg might extract German records, and a stake in Mexico might extract its own records in Spanish.

    After qualified persons have been identified, they will be called and set apart by the stake president as stake genealogical missionaries. The stake president determines how many stake genealogical missionaries his stake needs and how many hours per week each missionary might devote to the work. Persons called will be trained to read old handwriting so they can extract the entries—christenings, baptisms, marriages, deaths, etc.—from filmed records.

    Two individuals will extract each entry. When the results are fed into a computer, the computer compares the information. If discrepancies appear, the keyboard will lock and the second typist, a verification typist, immediately makes an evaluation as to which extraction contains the correct information. This insures more accurate records.

    Ensign: Would it be possible for any member to volunteer to extract records for a few hours each month?

    Brother Fudge: It is a matter of training. After we train someone, it takes several weeks before he or she becomes proficient enough to read the handwriting accurately.

    Ensign: But if a person is not serving as an extractor, does he have any further genealogical responsibilities after submitting his own four-generation sheets?

    Brother Fudge: Oh, yes! There are numerous projects which members of the Church could become involved in. For example, a stake president could have his people copy monuments in cemeteries and record old data in courthouses so that eventually all records of genealogical importance could be gathered and indexed by the people of that area. This would need to be coordinated. Then anyone who had ancestors in that area could have immediate access to those records as he attempted to compile or to verify his four-generation group sheets.

    Indexing of records is another important service that members could perform. Rather than go through roll after roll of film, one could simply check the index and be directed to the specific film needed.

    A major activity for members will be to do the temple ordinance work for the names being extracted from the records. In June 1977, cooperating with two stakes in St. George, Utah, we began a pilot project of extraction. With fewer than forty persons called as extractors, those two stakes are now able to provide all of the names needed by the St. George Temple for its present rate of temple activity!

    President Kimball’s prophetic desire that each temple district is to supply all the names for its own temple will soon be a reality! And it is easy to see how this phase leads into the next phase of increased temple activity, an increased number of temples, and increased missionary work among those in mortality and those who have passed on. As a Church, we are in the midst of prophetic fulfillment.

    We are going to build up a large inventory of names for temple work. We already have a great number of microfilms to extract records from, and more records are being filmed daily. On the average, one person can extract twenty names an hour. As more genealogical missionaries are called, we’ll build up an inventory of names ready for temple work. Then each temple district will feel the need to do more work at a faster pace. Priesthood leaders will see the need to encourage their members to attend the temple more frequently. I’m sure we’ll see more sessions in the temples, temples opened longer hours, and more people attending the temple more often.

    It is easy to see the day that President Kimball has envisioned when our temples will be going 24 hours a day and when temples dot the land. Record gathering and extraction will usher that condition in. Greater emphasis will be placed on building new temples and attending the temple. The only way this will be accomplished is through harnessing the energy, intelligence, and talents of the members in a combined effort, rather than depending on individual efforts.

    Ensign: Is anything being done to speed up the processing of names for temple work once they have been extracted?

    Brother Fudge: Temple service centers in the overseas temple districts are being established to perform many of the functions that the Genealogical Department has taken care of previously. For example, now that a temple service center is functioning in Brazil, Brazilian Saints no longer need to send family group sheets and entry forms to Salt Lake City for processing, wait for them to be returned to Brazil, and then mail the information back to Salt Lake City after the temple work has finally been done. They can now process their records in Brazil, do the necessary temple work there, and record it in Brazil. The temple then sends to Salt Lake City only a copy of the completed ordinances to be placed in our vaults for safekeeping.

    The same will be true for our microfilm effort. We will soon film, process, catalog, and extract records in various parts of the world. After the temple district has completed the work, only the film negatives will be sent to the Genealogical Department in Salt Lake City.

    Ensign: How soon will you begin establishing these temple service centers?

    Brother Fudge: As soon as the need arises. We have them now in Mexico City, Mexico, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Tokyo, Japan. This is all part of the plan to place the accountability for this work upon the Saints of the Church. They have the authority, the records, the extraction and processing tools, and the temples.

    Recording of temple work will soon be greatly speeded up by placing small computers in the temples. With a computer system, a name can be issued and a record updated automatically. Your temple recommend will have a magnetic strip bearing your name and unit number (ward and stake). When you insert the recommend into the computer, it will immediately give you the printed name of the person for whom you are proxy; place your name, unit number, and date on the temple records, and provide current statistical records for ward priesthood leaders.

    Ensign: Are them new resources available to help persons still completing their four-generation family group sheets?

    Brother Fudge: Yes. We introduced a new Sunday School twelve-week genealogy course (From You To Your Ancestors, PBGS0683) this September with a manual geared to four-generation research. Another new aid is the computerized pedigree file. As members begin in July 1979 to submit accurate copies of their pedigree charts, we will compile a huge computerized file of all pedigree information we receive.

    For example, suppose a person takes the Sunday School genealogy class and learns how to submit his four-generation family group sheets. The first thing he would do is check the Church’s computerized pedigree file. By submitting a copy of his pedigree as far as he had it, the computer would check to see if his pedigree was already in our files. We would give him all the information we had and send him the names and addresses of the persons who submitted that information.

    We are also developing a computerized catalog. This catalog will list all our library holdings as well as genealogical records throughout the world that we don’t have in our library and don’t intend to film. If we have the record the person needs, the catalog will guide him directly to it. If we don’t, the catalog will direct him to the original record source. Hopefully, by reproducing the catalog on microfiche, or some other means, we can distribute it to stake meeting-house libraries frequently and inexpensively.

    Ensign: This work sounds exciting both now and for the future. What would you do in your own home with your own children to further this work?

    Brother Fudge: I would see that my children, my sister and her children, and my father meet together to be sure that the information on our pedigree chart and family group sheets is correct. Then when July 1979 comes, we will be ready to submit them. I will also submit all the pedigree information I have, extending beyond four generations.

    Next, I would encourage my married children to continue writing a history of their families and their own personal histories. I have started to tape-record my own personal history. I think that a tape recording has special merit because my grandchildren will actually be able to hear my voice.

    Ensign: Can you explain why the Church has placed so much emphasis on keeping journals and personal and family histories? How does that relate to this work?

    Brother Fudge: Besides the fact that the Lord has commanded us to keep records, children and grandchildren are greatly benefited by being aware of their heritage. Personal records bring us closer to our ancestors and turn our hearts more readily to them because we know more about them. What appear to be common, everyday activities of our grandparents have often inspired us to be more conscientious in keeping the commandments. Our family ties are consequently more binding, and our desires increase to perform for them the saving ordinances of the gospel.

    Ensign: Is this the central purpose for the recently announced 1980 World Conference on Records to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, with its theme “Preserving our Heritage”?

    Brother Fudge: Yes. We want to encourage the people to keep personal and family histories. We hope the conference will help our missionary thrust by letting people know that the Church is interested in the family and in personal and common heritage.

    Another principal purpose of the conference is to open the computerized pedigree file to the world. We encourage nonmembers as well as members to submit their pedigrees to build a master file. We are excited about the conference and expect that much good will come from it.

    Ensign: What are your feelings about these new programs?

    Brother Fudge: I think we are really a privileged generation. Many of the old prophets would have liked to live in our day. It’s a day of intense effort—an effort that has to be shared. No one person can do it alone.

    I am reminded of the prayer the Savior offered before he entered the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed that the disciples would be one, even as he and the Father were one. (See John 17:22.) We are trying to make the family of Adam one. And if we are going to do that, we should be united in our effort. The outcome of course, will be the accomplishment of the work our Heavenly Father wants us to do, and in accordance with his time schedule.