Imagine the millions of people who have lived on the earth. Many of them, including your ancestors, died without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were not baptized by one having priesthood authority. They did not have the opportunity to go to the temple and be sealed together in eternal families.
As members of the Church, we share the responsibility to provide the saving ordinances of the gospel for all who have lived—first for our own ancestors and then for others. Faithful performance of this duty allows us to share the joy our ancestors feel as they receive the opportunity to attain eternal life. Further, as we serve our brothers and sisters, we come to better understand and appreciate the meaning of the Savior’s atonement in our own lives.
Provide Ordinances for Your Ancestors
In the Church, doing family history work means identifying your ancestors and providing temple ordinances for them. This is not a one-time service. You should participate in some aspect of this work throughout your life. However, you should not attempt to do everything at once. Decide what to do by prayerfully considering your circumstances, resources, and abilities. (See Mosiah 4:27.)
As you provide ordinances for your ancestors, do not try to determine their worthiness, whether they will accept the ordinances, or the feelings of other deceased persons affected by the ordinances. In order to be binding in eternity, any ordinance in behalf of the dead must be accepted by the people involved, merited by individual worthiness, and sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise (see D&C 132:7, 18). These determinations must be made beyond the veil.
Where to Begin
Family history work generally includes three steps:
Identify your ancestors.
Find out which ancestors need temple ordinances performed.
Make certain that the needed ordinances are performed.
Each of these steps is explained in part 2 of this guide.
If you are just getting started, complete a pedigree chart and a family group record for yourself. On the pedigree chart, list your name first, then your parents’ names, and so on. If you are married, complete two family group records—one showing you as a husband or wife and the other showing you as a child.
After you have completed these forms for yourself and your immediate family, begin gathering information about the ancestors who are easiest to identify. Generally, this does not require skill in genealogical research. The most important thing you need is the desire to provide the saving ordinances of the gospel to those in the spirit world waiting to receive them.
Don’t forget the powerful influence the Spirit can have in helping you to identify your ancestors. As you exercise faith, names and information thought to be unavailable may come to you in unexpected ways and places. If you are not able to find information about an ancestor, be patient. In the meantime, ask the Lord to direct your attention to other ancestors whose information is more accessible.
For additional help in identifying your ancestors and providing ordinances for them, contact your ward family history consultants. If you don’t know who the consultants are, ask a member of the elders quorum presidency or high priests group leadership.
Attend the Temple
You can provide ordinances for your ancestors and others in the spirit world by attending the temple yourself. Doing so blesses you as well as those you serve. Elder John A. Widtsoe said:
“Temple work must be done first by each person for himself or herself; then it may be done for one’s dead ancestors or friends as frequently as circumstances will allow. This service will open the doors of salvation for the dead and will also help fix upon the mind of the living the nature, meaning, and obligations of the endowment. By keeping the endowment fresh in mind, we shall be better able to perform our duties in life under the influence of eternal blessings” (“Looking toward the Temple,” Ensign, Jan. 1972, p. 58).
President Ezra Taft Benson further promised that “with increased attendance in the temples of our God, you shall receive increased personal revelation to bless your life as you bless those who have died” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, p. 108; or Ensign, May 1987, p. 85).
Attend the temple as often as possible. If you have not yet identified ancestors in need of ordinances, perhaps members of your ward need help in providing ordinances for their ancestors. Also, the temple can provide you with names of deceased individuals for whom ordinances need to be performed. If distance and cost of travel make temple attendance difficult, go to the temple as regularly as possible.
Teaching Families about the Temple
If you have children, instill in them a desire to prepare to receive temple ordinances. Emphasize the blessings of the temple without discussing the specifics of the ordinances and covenants. Also consider the following:
Set a proper example through attending the temple regularly where possible.
Testify frequently about the blessings of the temple and the importance of temple ordinances. Use family home evenings and individual time to tell your children how you feel about the temple. Share stories from family histories to help your children feel like part of an eternal family.
Express gratitude in family prayers for the temple and its ordinances. Pray that your children will keep themselves worthy to receive temple blessings.
Take your children twelve years of age and older to the temple to perform baptisms for the dead where possible. Family members are spiritually strengthened as a father baptizes and confirms his wife and children in behalf of their ancestors. Children who receive baptisms for the dead must be baptized members of the Church. (Talk to the bishop about receiving a recommend for your children to go to the temple.)
Teach that the temple is the right place to be married. President Ezra Taft Benson has said, “By precept and example, our posterity should understand the transcendent importance of marrying the right person in the right place and sealing families for time and eternity” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, p. 98; or Ensign, May 1988, p. 85). You may wish to display pictures of the temple in your home.
Emphasize the importance of the temple endowment. Its purpose is to prepare us for exaltation, not only for marriage or a mission.
Teach that regular temple attendance increases our ability to feel the Spirit of the Lord, strengthens us in righteousness, purifies our thoughts, gives us comfort in adversity, and helps us find answers to the challenges of daily life.
Other Opportunities to Serve
Following are some additional temple and family history activities you may want to consider. What you do and how much you do at a particular time depend on guidance from the Spirit, your circumstances and abilities, what your family members have already accomplished, and direction from Church leaders. Many of these activities can be part of regular family home evenings and other family service projects.
Serve in family record extraction. In family record extraction, members transfer information from the vital records of many countries onto computers. This information then becomes part of the FamilySearch® computer system. Members can use FamilySearch to quickly and easily identify ancestors and prepare names for temple ordinances. Most of the extraction work can be done at home, and almost every member of the family can participate. Talk to your priesthood leader to see if the extraction program is available in your area.
Contribute information to Ancestral File™. Ancestral File contains information about millions of deceased people from throughout the world. The information you contribute to Ancestral File is combined with information contributed by others. Names, along with dates and places of birth, marriage, and death, are organized into pedigrees and family groups. The result is an extensive resource that you and others can use to see what research has already been done. Your ward family history consultant can explain more about Ancestral File and how to contribute to it.
Perform research to identify difficult-to-find ancestors. This usually involves coordination with more distant relatives and research in libraries or original records. In most stakes, you can go to a family history center for help with more difficult research.
Serve in the temple, in a family history center, or as a missionary. Volunteers are needed throughout the world to staff and operate temples and family history centers. Church-service missionaries and missionaries with additional assignments in family history or temple work are also needed to help leaders and members carry out their responsibilities in this important work. Talk to your bishop about these and other opportunities.
Participate in family organizations, keep a personal journal, and prepare personal and family histories. These activities can strengthen family relationships and increase feelings of love and gratitude for your kindred dead. Younger children can participate by reviewing the life and works of an ancestor. Of the value of journal keeping, President Spencer W. Kimball wrote:
“A journal is the literature of superiority. Each individual can become superior in his own humble life.
“What could you do better for your children and your children’s children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved?
“Some of what you write may be humdrum dates and places, but there will also be rich passages that will be quoted by your posterity” (“The Angels May Quote from It,” New Era, Oct. 1975, p. 5).
All of these activities can help you provide the sacred ordinances of the temple for your ancestors and others. As you do, you will know the great joy of being a savior on Mount Zion for some of our Father’s children.