Chapter 3

Getting Started with Family History Research

“Chapter 3: Getting Started with Family History Research,” Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual: Religion 261 (2012), 10–15


President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) said of those who have passed away: “I do not like to speak of them as ‘the dead.’ I believe that under the great plan of our Eternal Father and through the atonement of Christ, they are living. Though they have died as to their mortal bodies, they have retained their identity as individuals. They are personalities as much so as are we, and as entitled to the blessings that pertain to eternal life” (“Rejoice in This Great Era of Temple Building,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 59). Understanding the continued existence of those who have passed from this mortal life into the spirit world can increase our desire to learn of our ancestors and provide the saving ordinances of the gospel for them.

In this lesson you will help students strengthen the bond between themselves and their ancestors. They can further this process by collecting records from home, registering for access to the Church’s family history website (available from the home page of, and searching their ancestral history in the Church’s computer databases.

Students will understand that by providing vicarious ordinances for their ancestors, they become instrumental in extending to them the full blessings of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. Students will also understand that they should use wisdom in devoting their time to family history in order to give proper attention to other important priorities in their lives.

The Crucifixion

Gospel Art Book (2009), no. 57

Some Doctrines, Principles, and Gospel Truths

  • We become “saviors on Mount Zion” when we provide saving ordinances for our deceased ancestors.

  • We can begin family history work by gathering our own personal information and focusing on our first few generations.

  • The Church’s FamilySearch website is an important resource for family history records and information.

  • We should use wisdom in determining how much time and effort to invest in family history research.

Suggestions for Teaching

We Become “Saviors on Mount Zion” When We Provide Saving Ordinances for Our Deceased Ancestors

To begin class, invite students to sing verses 2–4 of “While of These Emblems We Partake” (Hymns, no. 174). Prepare students to sing by inviting them to ponder the words while they sing, particularly what the Savior did for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Drawing from the text of “While of These Emblems We Partake,” ask students:

  • What did the Savior do for us that we could not do for ourselves? (List student answers on the board.)

Give each student a piece of paper, and invite everyone to take a few minutes and record their feelings toward the Savior and the sacrifice He made for them. After a few minutes, explain to students that later in the lesson you will have them refer to what they wrote.

Read the following statement to your class:

“The only way for us to be saved is for someone else to rescue us. We need someone who can satisfy the demands of justice—standing in our place to assume the burden of the Fall and to pay the price for our sins. Jesus Christ has always been the only one capable of making such a sacrifice” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 16).

Invite students to read Articles of Faith 1:4 and Doctrine and Covenants 138:32–33. Then ask:

  • What is the difference between how baptism is mentioned in the fourth article of faith and how it is mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 138? (The word vicarious is associated with the word baptism in D&C 138:33.)

  • Why is this difference necessary in section 138? (Baptism for those in the spirit world must be done vicariously by someone alive on earth.)

Explain that in the Church the word vicarious means to do something for someone else that they could not do for themselves. The Savior’s Atonement was a “vicarious” sacrifice for us. The work we do in the temple for those in the spirit world is also a vicarious work—they cannot do it for themselves.

Ask students how many of them have participated in baptisms for the dead. Invite two or three students to share their feelings about the experience. (If none have had that opportunity, you may want to share your own feelings about your experience participating in baptisms for the dead.)

Invite a student to read Obadiah 1:21. Ask the class to explain how their experiences participating in vicarious baptisms for the dead might relate to this verse. Read with students under the headings “Temple work is like the spirit of the Savior’s sacrifice” (3.1.2) and “This work rests upon the Latter-day Saints” (3.1.4) in the student manual. Invite students to share what impressed them in these statements.

Have students silently read what they wrote earlier in the lesson about their feelings for the Savior. Have them take a moment to ponder how the people in the spirit world may have similar feelings of gratitude toward those who vicariously participate in saving ordinances on their behalf in the temple.

We Can Begin Family History Work by Gathering Our Own Personal Information and Focusing on Our First Few Generations

Read the statement from President Hinckley under the introduction of this chapter. Ask students if they have grandparents (or great-grandparents) who have passed away, but whom they can remember. Invite one or two students to share a brief memory of one of their grandparents. Explain that when we begin collecting genealogical records, we should think of these records as representing individuals with distinctive personalities and lives, each needing the Savior as much as we do.

A starting point in family history research is to look for records that are easily accessible to us in our own homes. Ask students to imagine they are detectives who were hired to look for evidence that someone might be living in a particular house.

  • What types of evidence or records would you look for to determine if a specific person was living there? (List answers on the board. Answers could include photos, school records, birth certificates, marriage or death certificates, scrapbooks, diaries, church records or certificates, letters, obituaries, wills, deeds, military records, newspaper clippings, passports, or citizenship documents.)

  • Which of these items or documents would be helpful in family history work?

Ask a student to read the statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles about one way we can begin collecting genealogical records (in the student manual under the heading “Start with gathering and storing your research” [3.2.2]). After reading President Packer’s statement, you might ask students if any of them have a box of this type where they have kept personal documents and other information.

  • What does President Packer recommend concerning the placement of the box?

  • Why do you think President Packer’s suggested approach can help you experience success in gathering records?

  • What is President Packer’s counsel regarding time for this project?

Note to teacher: As technology continues to advance, students will be increasingly knowledgeable about computers. With this in mind, you may want to encourage students to do all they can to scan and store records and information digitally rather than on paper.

Show students a copy of the pedigree chart found at the end of this lesson. Explain that a pedigree chart is a common form used to show parental lineages. Explain to students that in the next lesson they will be given the opportunity to fill out a pedigree chart on their family. Encourage them to come prepared with as much information as they can to fill in the names of themselves, their parents, their grandparents, and their great-grandparents. The first four generations in their ancestries is the recommended starting effort for family history research. Point out to students that electronic forms can be downloaded from Many students may want to bring their computer with them to class and work on this form digitally.

The Church’s FamilySearch Website Is an Important Resource for Family History Records and Information

Introduce students to the Church’s FamilySearch website (accessed from the home page of This site will help them expand research they have begun from gathering information and records at home. If possible (if your class is taught in a stake family history center, or if you have the technology available to access the Internet from the classroom), show them how to enter Demonstrate how to navigate around the site, showing what kind of information is available. (An alternate approach would be to obtain permission from a student before class to trace his or her lineage during class. This student would need to have enough information on his or her lineage to be able to perform the necessary searches.) Also show the class how to register for an LDS account in order to use the family tree feature on the FamilySearch site.

If access to computer technology is not available, explain the Church’s family history websites and what is available (or you may invite a branch, ward, or stake family history consultant to do so).

Also be sure to explain how to register for the Church member family history website. To register, students will need their confirmation date and their Church membership number, which are available from their ward or branch clerk (membership number is also on a current temple recommend). In addition to research information, this FamilySearch website provides an option for users to submit names of their ancestors for temple ordinances, as well as opportunities to add information to the database and correct inaccurate information concerning their own family history. Those who use this website will also be able to see the contact information for others who are working on the same family history lines, so they can collaborate with each other in their research.

Encourage students to get an LDS account if they do not already have one so that they can get on the Church member family history website before the next class and begin searching for information about the first four generations of their pedigree chart. (Students with more family history experience who already have complete information on their first four generations can expand their research to fit their own situations and goals.)

We Should Use Wisdom in Determining How Much Time and Effort to Invest in Family History Research

Invite a student to read Mosiah 4:27.

  • How might this counsel be applied to your family history efforts?

  • What help is available to us in making decisions regarding how much time to spend on family history work? (Possible answers include prayer, counsel from priesthood leaders, parents, and patriarchal blessings.)

Ask a student to read the first three paragraphs of the counsel by Elder Dallin H. Oaks in the student manual under the heading “There are many tasks in the work of redeeming the dead” (3.4.1). To help students apply these principles in their own family history efforts, ask questions like the following:

  • What principles did Elder Oaks teach that can help us work on our family history with “wisdom and order”?

  • What meaning does Elder Oaks’s counsel have for you as an individual?

Consider having students silently study the statement by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the student manual under the heading “You have an invitation and a promise from an Apostle” (3.4.3). As they read, encourage students to read slowly and to identify and ponder the promises Elder Bednar makes to the youth of the Church. Ask the class:

  • Of all the promises Elder Bednar makes to young people, which one carries the most meaning to you? Why?

If you have students who have already had some experience in family history research, ask:

  • How have you already, in some degree, felt one or more of those promises fulfilled in your life?

Encourage students to take some time over the next few days to prayerfully consider current circumstances in their lives and set realistic goals concerning how much time they can spend each week to do this work. You might also suggest that they consider a specific day and time they might set aside each week for this work. Oftentimes having a specific day and time devoted to accomplishing a task leads to greater success. Reassure students that the Lord understands our mortal conditions and our desires to do His work. Because this is the Lord’s work, He will help us succeed, even if success is slow and incremental. Our kindred dead whom we seek out and do the work for are grateful for any and all of our efforts in their behalf.