Stephanie Christensen sits on the floor of the state historical library. She has several big file drawers pulled out in front of her, and she’s sorting through photographs.
“Here’s one. I know her,” she says, her excitement making her voice a little too loud for the library. But the few people who are there don’t mind.
“We worked with this family,” she says. She pulls the photo out of the drawer and studies the faces. The women are dressed in stiff dresses with big skirts with their hair tightly pinned. The men, unsmiling, look straight ahead, and the children, with baggy long stockings and high buttoned shoes, hold old-fashioned toys. They have been dead for more than a hundred years, but Stephanie can tell you about their lives. She can point out the houses they lived in and tell you who they are related to. She knows where they went to school, whether they talked with the accent of an immigrant, and can name what illness or accident killed them.
But at this moment, Stephanie is looking at their faces, looking for some hint of what they might be like, what they might think or feel. She and the other Young Women of the Meridian 15th Ward, Meridian Idaho East Stake, have just gone to the temple and been baptized for people whose names they had extracted from the local records of a ghost town cemetery. It was an exciting project that took the Young Women nearly a year to complete.
It all started innocently enough. The Christensen family had taken a picnic lunch and had driven about an hour out of the Boise area to visit Silver City, a ghost town. They collected crystals in the tailings left over from the mines. They toured the old hotel. They walked down the dusty streets. And they climbed the small hill to the town cemetery. Reading the gravestones, Stephanie found the name Katie Blackinger, who died at 16, the same age Stephanie was then. “I thought it was sad that she died so young. I wondered what she was like,” said Stephanie.
The Christensens know something about family history, since they’ve worked on their own genealogy for years. Walking through Silver City got the whole family wondering about the people who had lived in that town. Many were solitary miners who never had children. Others had lost all their children to illness. It made them wonder if any had descendants to do their temple work.
Carma Christensen was the Young Women president in her ward. She was looking for meaningful activities for her Young Women. Several of the girls in her ward were involved in their own genealogy, helping their parents assemble their records. Carma felt that the girls might like to spend their midweek activity time doing the genealogical research for the people of Silver City. With the project approved by the bishop and the stake president, she checked with their stake family history center and found virtually none of the names had any ordinance work done for them.
That’s when the work started. The Young Women were lucky in one sense. Someone had already collected all the obituaries from the newspaper that had been printed in Silver City before it became a ghost town. Those records often gave birth and death dates, plus parents’ and children’s names. The girls learned how to read the 1880 census and check other local histories for more information.
Each girl was given several names to research. Young Women leaders were worried at first that the girls would find the research too tedious. They didn’t need to worry. Cori Christensen, 15, said, “People would be jumping up and down yelling, ‘I found them. I found them.’ You would be so excited when you found the person you were looking for.” The girls spent hours poring over documents.
Sister Christensen created a worksheet for the girls to fill out on each person. Volunteers typed the names and information into a genealogical program on the computer. Then the stake family history consultant helped them clear the names for temple work. It took hours and hours, but a feeling of accomplishment piled up with each name.
There were moments of discouragement, like when they suspected certain parents went with certain children, but they had no proof. It made the girls resolve to complete their own family history and write down everything about their own families.
After researching more than 400 names, both male and female, the Young Women of the Meridian 15th Ward invited the Young Men to go with them to the Boise Temple to do baptisms. The temple arranged for the names to be kept in a file for their ward. Heather Bennett, 15, said, “The best part was being baptized for them. The names sounded familiar to me. That was the neatest thing about the whole project. We did work for people that otherwise wouldn’t have been done. They might have been forgotten.”
“While we were sitting in the baptistry in the temple,” said Cori, “we had this totally good feeling. It was a feeling of victory. We’d given them a chance.”
The girls also felt sorry for the hard times many of the people experienced. “There were so many who died because they got sick,” said Janae Jensen, 16. “It makes you grateful for modern medicine.”
Now that the baptisms have been completed, the names are being kept in a special file at the temple for ward members to draw from to do endowments and sealings.
As a conclusion to the project, the Young Women made a special trip to Silver City, a type of farewell party for those resting in the cemetery. Now the history of the town meant something to them. They felt the people who had lived there were friends, friends who might thank them for what they have done.
More than 300 youth groups Churchwide have participated in special extraction projects. Here are some of their comments:
In the Carson Valley First Ward, Carson City Nevada Stake, “We started in small groups of 4–6 to get a feel for the work. We then increased to 10–12 young people at a time. The larger groups were very productive and allowed us to complete about 20 pages in a two-hour session. We started extracting records on May 9 and finished on July 1. We ended up with 420 names ready for temple work.”
In the Five Oaks Ward, Cedar Mill Oregon Stake, “Early on we heard comments from youth like ‘How soon can we get out of here?’ But by the end of the evening some refused to leave—they wanted to do just one more family. They have developed an interest in the people and in seeing that their work gets done.”
In the McLean Virginia Stake, youth and adults worked with 1,503 microfilmed parish birth records from Ireland, clearing them for temple work. Then the youth were baptized in the Washington D.C. Temple on their behalf.
In Rock County, Minnesota, young men and young women have been part of an effort to extract and do work for 35,000 people.
Roxanne Lish of Fielding, Utah, did eight pages of names as part of her Laurel project.
In the Cumberland Branch, Ottawa Ontario Canada Stake, “We learned that family history is not a difficult or impossible task to undertake, and that you’ll come away with a stronger testimony of this important work.”
Want to get involved in family history? Here are some things to consider.
First see what you can do for your own family. “We have a responsibility to provide the saving ordinances of the gospel, first for our own ancestors and then for others who are in the spirit world” (Temple and Family History Leadership Handbook, p. 4). See what your parents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives have done. They’ll probably be delighted by your interest and eager to help you. If you don’t have LDS family members or have other questions, talk to your ward or stake family history consultant to see how to begin your own family work.
The Family History Department has parish and census records just waiting for names to be extracted and prepared for temple work. Here’s how to organize this type of project:
Discuss with your leaders the possibility of a “special extraction project.” Your bishopric may help youth leaders plan such a service project with assistance from your ward family history consultant.
Leaders may call 1-800-346-6044 to obtain training and extraction materials.
Hold a fireside or meeting to introduce the project to the youth.
Extract names onto individual entry forms. If possible, enter the information directly into TempleReady, a computer program that helps you prepare names for temple ordinance work.
If entering information directly into TempleReady is not possible, enter the information into Personal Ancestral File, a computer program that allows you to compile and organize genealogical information on home computers. Then enter the Personal Ancestral File diskettes into TempleReady.
Arrange to deliver the TempleReady diskettes to the nearest temple and schedule a date for baptisms.
In addition, remember that the Church does not promote unusual, spectacular, or exotic projects that focus on emotional appeals or on the notoriety of those for whom work is being performed, and that there is a long-established policy of not performing temple work for those born within the past 95 years without obtaining permission from the deceased’s closest living relative (see A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work, p. 14).