New Directions in Work for the Dead

    “New Directions in Work for the Dead,” Ensign, June 1978, 62

    New Directions in Work for the Dead

    Sweeping changes make genealogy work easier and more efficient than ever before.

    In 1978 April Conference, President Spencer W. Kimball said: “I feel the same sense of urgency about temple work for the dead as I do about the missionary work for the living, 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.

    “The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve recently gave careful consideration as to how we can lengthen our stride in this tremendously important responsibility. … We want to emphasize again and place squarely upon the shoulders of … individuals and their families the obligation to complete the four-generation program. Families may extend their pedigree beyond the four generations if desired.

    “We are introducing a Churchwide program of extracting names from genealogical records. Church members may now render second-mile service through participating in this regard in extracting these names in this program, supervised by the priesthood leaders at the local level where you will receive further detail.” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 4.)

    In the following interview Brother George H. Fudge, managing director of the Genealogical Department, describes how the new program will work.

    Ensign: It has been announced that the present method of handling the four-generation program will be changed in December of this year and that an expanded genealogy program will begin next year. Could you discuss this change?

    Brother Fudge: The current program has served the Church well. It has given the Saints an opportunity to become familiar with the family group record forms, to get them to begin recording genealogical data, and to bring these records into the archives of the Church. Much genealogical and temple work has been accomplished as a result of this program.

    But now new technology has been made available to mankind which can help us accomplish the Lord’s purposes at a much faster pace and with much greater accuracy than ever before. It is felt that we would be at fault if we didn’t harness this technology to accomplish the Lord’s work.

    In the past, beyond the responsibility to complete four generations of family group sheets, each person was to continue to do his own research to fill in subsequent generations on his pedigree chart and on corresponding family group sheets. That kind of research might have required that he travel or write all over the world in order to seek out his kindred dead. This, of course, has required a great deal of time and money—and much of it has been unproductive. However, unknown to the first person, another relative might at the same time have been spending time and money doing similar research in order to gather the same information. Then what has happened when each has completed a certain amount of research and has sent his sheets to the Genealogical Department? The records which took all that time and are supposed to contain identical information often contradict each other.

    This happens often. We’ve found many discrepancies in the records sent in by different members of the same families. This inaccuracy, of course, is unacceptable. And although our genealogical programs have been successful to a great degree, with the tremendous amount of work to be done, we, the kingdom of God on earth, simply can’t afford the luxury of duplicating time and effort any more.

    Ensign: What are the changes in the program?

    Brother Fudge: Rather than have every individual in the Church submit his four-generation family group sheets to the Genealogical Department, the Church requests that members unite as families to do this work. Each individual is asked to meet with his brothers, sisters, and parents to compare the information on family group sheets, check the accuracy of the information, and send a final, correct copy of the four-generation pedigree chart with accompanying family group sheets (as well as all other charts as far back as the lines have been extended) 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. As you can see, the importance of family organizations is continuing to increase.

    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.

    Now we come to a very significant idea associated with this thrust: as has been announced, original research beyond the four-generation level will be accepted but will no longer be required of individual members of the Church. Instead, the Church feels the responsibility to begin a massive records gathering and extraction program in order to prepare names for temple work. (See President Kimball’s statement, above.)

    Ensign: What is this gathering and extraction program?

    Brother Fudge: We currently have eighty-five cameras (ninety-five by the end of this year) filming records in thirty-five different countries throughout the world. We are presently gathering many records—between forty to fifty million pages a year. We then classify and catalog them.

    After the records are gathered, information from records must be “extracted” and sent to temples so that ordinances can be performed. Therefore, between the filming of the records and the completion of the ordinance work, many people need to be involved in the huge task of copying or “extracting” information from the records and processing it so it can be used in the temples. To do that, we have now begun records extraction programs in the stakes of the Church.

    Let me give you some idea of the scope of our work. 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 by the end of this year—and there will be many more in the years ahead—you can see 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, we have, and nothing accomplished under that instruction is wasted. However, we all share our ancestors! There is no way we can escape that. 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. A great article on this, showing how it actually happens, was printed by the Ensign in January 1977, “The Kinship of the World.” Let me say that as the Church continues to grow, the chances for duplication of ancestors within the Church increase. For example, in surveying the pedigree of Prince Charles of England we’ve discovered that by the time the pedigree gets back to Edward the Third, he has over 1600 ancestors who appear over and over at different places on his pedigree chart because of intermarriage among his ancestors. Now multiply that by three or four million members of the Church, and you’ll find that pretty soon we’re all sharing our ancestors.

    In the past it’s been the common thought that “I am responsible for my dead and you’re responsible for your dead; don’t you research my dead, and I’ll keep away from yours.” So the real question has to be asked, “When do your ancestors become my ancestors and when do mine become yours?” And even more basic: we must never forget that we’re just one step removed from our premortal life where we were all brothers and sisters, all children of our Heavenly Father.

    Rather than spending time, money, and energy continually trying to extend individual pedigrees, members of the Church will become involved in a program of mutual activity. We might be stakes—or continents—apart. But the common result will be that we are engaged in an effective operation of saving our earthly and spiritual kindred.

    In section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants we read: “Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple … a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.” (D&C 128:24.) The Lord desires that we accomplish this task by working collectively, “as a church and a people,” as well as individually, “as Latter-day Saints.”

    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. But suppose I were sent to teach the gospel only to those people who share my surname or who are closely related to me. I would go to England, the land of my people, and start looking for all persons named “Fudge.” I would find one here and another one there, and I would preach the gospel to them, passing all the other doors as I went down the streets. When I finished, I would probably discover the need to go to Australia because of a great-great-aunt who had moved there. So I would spend time and money going around the world to preach the gospel to maybe one family of relatives in Melbourne and not give the other people in England or Australia a chance to hear the message.

    Of course we don’t do missionary work that way; it would be foolish. 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, however, 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: These ideas are very stimulating. Can we back up for a minute? 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 thirty-five countries, the vast majority of records are in foreign languages. Consequently, most of the people who are going to do extracting either need to know how to read a foreign language or need to be trained to extract in another language.

    It’s surprising how many people—even in the United States—speak Spanish or German or some other language in addition to English. In the near future we will use language surveys to determine how many people in a stake speak foreign languages. If a certain stake has a number of people who speak Danish, for example, we would probably send them Danish records to extract. Or a stake in Hamburg might extract German records, and a stake in Mexico might extract its own records in Spanish.

    After persons who qualify have been identified, they will be called and set apart by the stake president as stake genealogical missionaries. It is the role of the stake president to determine 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.

    And I should mention that to check for accuracy, two individuals will extract each entry, so we end up with two extractions for every record. When the results are fed into a computer by two typists, the computer compares the information. If discrepancies appear, the keyboard locks and the second typist, a verification typist, immediately makes an evaluation as to which extraction contains the correct information. For example, a and o can look very similar, but one letter can make a big difference in a name.

    We hope to reach the point—as computers become more accessible—that members within stakes can make accuracy checks so that all of this work can be done at the local level before being sent to the Genealogical Department.

    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 because much of the handwriting is difficult to interpret. It takes time to develop the skill—the more you do it, the better you get.

    Ensign: But if a person is not serving as an extractor, does he have no further genealogical responsibilities after submitting his own four-generation sheets?

    Brother Fudge: Oh, no! As President Kimball said, this whole effort is really going to open the door for “second-mile service.” No one who desires to serve will be excluded.

    Indexing records is an important service that members could perform. Indexing reduces the time it takes to search records. Rather than going through roll after roll of film, one could simply check the index and be directed to the specific film needed.

    But the major activity for members will be to do the temple ordinance work for the names being extracted from the records. This is going to take great planning and activity. Let me explain how records extraction affects the amount of temple work to be done. 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! Can you imagine! Only forty people from two stakes—out of the entire temple district! When more stakes in that temple district participate in the extraction program, the temple will need to stay open longer hours and hold more sessions or another temple will need to be built in that district—or both! The same can be true for all temple districts in the Church. President Kimball’s prophetic desire that each temple district 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.

    It is easy to see the day that President Kimball has envisioned when our temples will be going twenty-four hours a day and when temples dot the land. Record gathering and extraction will usher that condition in. Greater emphasis than ever before will be placed on building new temples and on attending the temple. And the only way this work will ever be accomplished will be 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: As the work soon begins to increase, it will no longer be possible for Church headquarters to monitor the genealogical activity of the Saints. Church headquarters has neither the manpower available nor the foreign language capability to continue having direct control over every name submitted for temple work. And much precious time is lost by mailing records from the stakes to Salt Lake City and then back to the stakes. Therefore, 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 without shipping them to Salt Lake City and then back to the temple districts. After the temple district has completed the work, only the film negatives will be sent to the Genealogical Department.

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

    Brother Fudge: As soon as the need arises. We have one now in Mexico City, one in Sao Paulo, and one in Tokyo. This is all part of the great thrust 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.

    Let me also say that recording 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 priesthood leaders.

    By using computers, temples will be able to record their own information. And rather than sending tons of paper back to Salt Lake City, they will send a concise computerized record of all their work. Consequently, our indexes will be easier to compile.

    Ensign: With all these innovations, are there new resources available to help persons still completing their four-generation family group sheets?

    Brother Fudge: Yes. That’s why we introduce a new Sunday School twelve-week genealogy course this September. The new manual is geared to four-generation research. We feel that everyone can become involved. Usually parents or grandparents have an abundance of records—even personal knowledge—about these four generations. So the Church is not asking members to become professional genealogists, but to learn to be accurate in finalizing their four-generation assignment.

    For example, suppose a convert takes the Sunday School genealogy class. There he learns how to submit his four-generation family group sheets. But before spending a great deal of effort, the first thing he would do is check the Church’s computerized file to see if parts of his pedigree were already in our files. Then we would give him all the information we had and send him the names and addresses of the persons who submitted that information. He could then contact his newly discovered relatives and join their family organization.

    In this way, as persons join the Church we can bring families together, regardless of where they live in the world. We can also reduce duplication of effort.

    A third tool to help Saints is a computerized catalog we are developing. This catalog, to be continually and automatically updated, 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 a person needs, the catalog will guide him directly to it; if we don’t have it, the catalog will direct him to the original record source. As you can see, the compilation of such a catalog is an ambitious undertaking. Hopefully, by reproducing the catalog on microfiche, or some other means, we can distribute it to stake meetinghouse libraries frequently and inexpensively.

    Ensign: Brother Fudge, 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: First, I would see that my children, in cooperation with my sister and her children and with my father, meet together to be sure that the information on our pedigree and family group sheets is correct. Then when July 1979 comes, we will be ready to submit them. Since my pedigree information extends beyond four generations, I will submit all I have—and that information can go into the computerized file of the Church.

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

    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. That kind of information can be brought to light most effectively if a record is kept of the activities of people as they go through life. We have some typical examples of that in my own family. What appear to be common, everyday activities of our grandparents have often inspired us to be more conscientious in keeping the commandments. We have seen their faith demonstrated in their life histories. Personal records bring us closer to our ancestors and turn our hearts more readily to them because we know more about them. 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 with its theme “Preserving our Heritage”?

    Brother Fudge: Yes. We want to encourage people to keep personal and family histories. Also, 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.

    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.

    Photography by Eldon Linschoten

    Eighty-five photographers, working in thirty-five countries, are annually filming forty to fifty million pages of genealogical records.

    A genealogical missionary in the St. George, Utah, project copies or “extracts” information in his native German from filmed records.

    Genealogical information is transferred from extraction cards onto computer files.