Step 1: Identify Your Ancestors

"Step 1: Identify Your Ancestors," A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work: Ordinances and Covenants, (1993), 8

Gather Information about Your Ancestors

Identifying your ancestors can be enjoyable and rewarding. As you find out who they were, where they came from, and what their lives were like, you learn more about yourself. As you begin to identify them, you may have questions. Remember to contact your ward family history consultants if you need help. They can help you complete this step and each of the others as you proceed to provide temple ordinances for your ancestors.

If you are just beginning to identify your ancestors, you may want to start by finding information about your parents and grandparents. If you already have a large collection of family records, begin by finding out which ancestors need temple ordinances performed for them.

Wherever you start, there are three things you can do that will help you identify your ancestors: look through your family records, check FamilySearch, and visit a family history center. These are described below.

Look through Your Family Records

Look in your home and contact relatives to find family records that have already been gathered and organized. You may find such records as pedigree charts and family group records; birth, marriage, and death certificates; family Bibles; obituaries; family histories; diaries; and journals.

When gathering information about your ancestors, coordinate your efforts with relatives. This will make your work easier; help ensure that names, dates, and places are complete and accurate; and minimize duplication of effort.

Check FamilySearch

FamilySearch is a computer system that can help you learn about your ancestors. Using FamilySearch, you can quickly search through the names of millions of people; dates and places of birth, marriage, and death; names of parents, spouses, and children; and dates of completed temple ordinances. This information is compiled from a variety of sources and is organized into files and indexes. These include the following:

  • Ancestral File. A collection of millions of names from throughout the world that are organized into family groups and pedigrees. Ancestral File also contains the names and addresses of those who contributed to the file so that you can coordinate further research with them. Information in this file can be copied onto computer diskettes and used with a number of genealogical computer programs, saving hours of retyping.

  • International Genealogical Index (IGI)™. An index of temple ordinances that have been completed for deceased persons. You can check this index to see if ordinances have already been completed for your ancestors. The index is also a valuable genealogical resource, containing dates and places of birth, christening, or marriage; and names of parents, spouses, or children.

  • Family History Library Catalog™. This catalog describes the records, books, and microfilms in the Family History Library’s collection. It is available on computer and on microfiche. The catalog will guide you to family histories; birth, marriage, and death records; census records; church registers; and many other records that may contain information about your ancestors.

  • Other files. FamilySearch contains a number of other files that may help you identify your ancestors, for example, the United States Social Security Death Index. Additional files are added to FamilySearch as they become available.

FamilySearch also includes Personal Ancestral File®, which can help you organize your family history records, and TempleReady, which can help you prepare names for temple ordinances. FamilySearch is available at family history centers and many meetinghouses. Your ward family history consultant can tell you more about it and help you use it.

Visit a Family History Center

Family history centers are located in many stakes throughout the world. At family history centers you will find published family histories and microfilm copies of records from many countries. Staff members at family history centers can help you find the answers to research questions and direct you to useful resources.

Record Your Information

Pedigree charts and family group records are standard forms you can use to record your information and organize your family records.

Pedigree charts are used to list your direct ancestors for several generations. Some pedigree charts include boxes you can mark to show which temple ordinances have been performed.

Family group records are used to list all members of an ancestor’s family along with information such as dates and places of births, marriages, and ordinances. You can use completed family group records to type information into computer programs such as TempleReady or Personal Ancestral File.

Complete a family group record for each couple listed on your pedigree chart. To determine what should be included on your family group records for ordinances to be performed, see pages 10–12.

You can get copies of pedigree charts and family group records through a Church distribution center or family history center. Your ward family history consultant may also have copies of the forms. If you need help in obtaining or filling out the forms, see your ward family history consultant.

Recording Information Using Personal Ancestral File

Personal Ancestral File is a computer program that helps you organize your family history information into family groups and pedigrees. Using this program, you can identify areas where additional research is needed and keep track of ordinances that need to be completed. You can also prepare ancestors’ names for temple ordinances.

Personal Ancestral File may be available on a computer in your meetinghouse or at a family history center near you. You can purchase Personal Ancestral File through Church distribution centers. It is available in versions that operate on MS-DOS and Macintosh computers. Your ward family history consultant can help you get started using Personal Ancestral File.

Note: Personal Ancestral File and a number of other commercially available computer programs organize information so that it can be shared with FamilySearch. Also, information found in FamilySearch can be copied onto a computer diskette and used with any of these programs. A list of these programs is available at family history centers and from FamilySearch Support, Family History Department, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Organizing and Storing Your Information

If you are using pedigree charts and family group records, organize them so that they are easy to use. There are several effective ways to do this. The best method is the one that works best for you. Talk to others to see how they have organized their records. Your ward family history consultant may also have some suggestions.

Where possible, store your family records in a safe place. You may want to send additional copies to relatives. In this way, your family information will be preserved even if your own copies are lost or destroyed.

One of the best ways to make certain that your family information is preserved is to contribute it to Ancestral File. Contributing your information to Ancestral File is also a good way to share it with others. See your ward family history consultant for help.

Provide Information Needed for Ordinances

When you have gathered and recorded information about an ancestor, you need to determine whether you have enough information for ordinances to be performed.

This chart lists the minimum information needed to perform ordinances. As explained below and on the following pages, some of this information may be estimated. The information should be as accurate as reasonably possible.


  • Name

  • Sex

  • Event date (for example, a birth date)

  • Event place (for example, a birthplace)


  • Information under “Baptism and Endowment”

  • First or last name of the father


  • Name of husband or wife

  • Marriage date

  • Marriage place

Although temple ordinances can be performed when only the minimum information is available, try to provide as much information about an ancestor as possible. More complete information identifies your ancestor uniquely so that he or she cannot be confused with another person. With less complete information, ordinances may be done more than once for the same person.

The following information explains how to record names, dates, and places so that ordinances can be performed.


Provide a name that is as complete as possible, for example:

Given name(s):

William Arthur

Last name:


Given name(s):

Jose Juan ante Portam Latinam

Last name:

Gonzalez Espinoza y de Nunez y Sainz y Rodriguez

If you don’t know the complete name, provide what you do know. For ordinances to be performed, you need at least the given name or last name for the person.

Also remember the following when recording names:

  • If a person was known by a nickname or by more than one name, write “or” between the names, for example, “Elizabeth or Betty.”

  • When both the wife’s given and maiden names are not known, write “Mrs.” plus the husband’s name, for example, “Mrs. William Arthur Smith.”

  • When you don’t know a child’s given name, record the child’s sex and the father’s surname.

  • Do not include descriptions or titles such as boy, girl, child, stillborn, Miss, Mr., Jr., Dr., or farmer as part of a person’s name. (“Mrs.” is the only exception, as explained above.) Also, avoid using explanations such as “unknown.” The TempleReady program may interpret titles or explanations as given names or surnames. This could result in duplicate ordinances being performed for this person.

Event Dates

For ordinances to be performed for a person, you need the date and place of an event that identifies the person. Or you need a record that identifies the person and contains a date and place. Events or records you can use, in order of preference, are—

  • Birth, christening, or adult christening.

  • Marriage.

  • Census, will, or probate record.

  • Death, burial, or other event.

Provide a complete birth or christening date if possible. If you don’t have a complete date, provide what you know. Write dates as day, month, and year, using the three-letter abbreviation for the month. If you have more than one date for the same event, separate the dates with a slash (/) or the word “or,” for example:




23 Mar 1742


Dec 1852




14/16 Jul 1822


2 Feb 1839/40


1878 or 1888

If you don’t know a date, calculate one if possible (see “Calculating and Estimating Information”). You must have at least the approximate year of an event for ordinances to be performed.

Note: If you are certain that a person born within the last 110 years is now dead but you don’t know the death date, write “D” or “dead.”

Event Places

Remember the following when providing the places where events happened:

  • Provide a place name that is as complete as possible. List place names from the smallest to the largest geographical divisions, separating the divisions by commas.

    • Chicago, Cook, Illinois, USA

    • St. Dunstan, Canterbury, Kent, England

    • Victoria, Peel, Ontario, Canada

    • Generally you should avoid using two-letter postal abbreviations. These abbreviations are often misinterpreted. Whenever possible, use the complete name of the state, province, or country.

  • Use an extra comma to indicate that part of the place name is missing, such as an unknown county.

    • Henderson, , North Carolina, USA

    Note: If you were entering “Henderson, , North Carolina, USA” into Personal Ancestral File, you would simply leave the county level blank.

  • Boundaries on maps may not correspond to those accepted by nomadic or tribal peoples, such as Native Americans. For such people, use the following four categories of places: (1) clan, band, or totem; (2) tribe or nation; (3) province or state; (4) country.

If you don’t know the exact place where an event happened, provide an assumed location if possible. For ordinances to be performed, you need at least a country of residence. (See “Calculating and Estimating Information.”)

Calculating and Estimating Information

You may calculate or estimate dates and places if exact information is not available.

Calculated dates. You may calculate a date, such as a birth date, when you know the date of an event and the person’s age at the time of the event. For example, if the 1860 census lists a person as two years old, you may calculate the birth year to be 1858. (When you are using TempleReady to prepare names for the temple, the program can calculate dates for you if you provide the date of an event and the person’s age at the time of the event.)

Approximate dates. You may estimate dates based on other information. Write “abt” (for “about”) before approximate dates. You need at least the approximate year of an event for ordinances to be performed. Following are some examples of how you may estimate a date:

  • You may use family knowledge or tradition. For example, if family tradition says that an ancestor was sixteen when she married in 1876, you can estimate that she was born “abt 1860.”

  • You may use standard genealogical approximations. From a marriage date, you can estimate birth dates. You can estimate that a man was married at age twenty-five and a woman at age twenty-one. You can also estimate that a first child was born one year after the parents’ marriage and that subsequent children were born every two years after that.

    For example, if a couple were married in 1825, you could estimate that the husband was born “abt 1800,” the wife was born “abt 1804,” their first child was born “abt 1826,” their second child was born “abt 1828,” and so on.

Remember, for ordinances to be performed, you need to list at least an approximate year.

Assumed places. You may assume places of residence based on a place where one member of a family was born or died or lived at some time, or where the husband and wife were married. This place can be used as a probable place of residence for the other members of the family.

For example, if the birthplace of a child was Hendersonville, Henderson, North Carolina, USA, you can list this town as the probable place of birth, marriage, and other events for other family members. To show that a place may not be the actual location, precede it with the word “of,” for example, “of Hendersonville, Henderson, North Carolina, USA.” For ordinances to be performed, you need at least a country of residence, for example, “of Germany.”