Blessings to the Living through Family History

Elder L. Whitney Clayton, Elder Allan F. Packer, Elder Kent F. Richards, and Sister Neill F. Marriott


 

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Elder Packer: Brothers and sisters, this is the leadership session of Family Discovery Day. We are excited by all that has progressed since we met last year, and we look forward to all that we will accomplish in this coming year.

Last year, our theme was “Igniting Interest in Family History,” and we introduced the “spiritual passport,” which encouraged members to begin collecting the stories and information that would help them and their ancestors qualify for eternal life.

I am pleased to report that not only did the total number of names submitted for temple work increase, but the number of individual submitters increased by over 25 percent.

This is great progress, and we congratulate all.

Some of the increase has been from one-time events and focus. These help but are only a step in the cultural change needed for family history work to become part of the regular worship of Church members. You become agents of change for those you serve. You will hear more about this today.

Finding our kindred dead and performing temple ordinances for them is a divinely appointed responsibility. It is necessary for our salvation as well as for our ancestors and our descendants, “for we without [our ancestors] cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect” (D&C 128:18).

In Malachi, we read, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6). And the angel Moroni, when he appeared to Joseph Smith, repeated this message a little differently: “If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (D&C 2:3).

Building the family is at the center of the plan of salvation. On the other side of the veil, we will be organized as families. And that is made possible by the ordinances that take place in temples.

To help spread this message, we have updated the spiritual passport.

Family history should be a source of joy and peace in our lives. Over the years, this work has been simplified. In our recent General Authority training, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles taught that each Latter-day Saint is encouraged to take three steps.

First, find. Using the FamilySearch.org website or the My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together booklet, find the name of one or more of your own ancestors or their descendants.

Second, once you find these names, you take them to the temple or share them with others so they can take them to the temple. When possible, go to the temple as a family.

If you have a long list of names and can’t get to them right away, you may want to use the new Share feature and invite other family members to help. You can find out more about this feature on FamilySearch.org.

Third, when you have personally felt the blessings of taking the names of your ancestors to the temple, teach your family and teach the others you lead to do the same.

Notice that at the end of the passport, there is a section where you can make goals for each of these steps and space to record spiritual promptings that might come to you. Please be mindful of any names that come to mind of people who could be called to participate in family history.

Now, these steps that Elder Cook outlines are simple, but many people are still hesitant to begin or have concerns to overcome. To help us address these concerns, I’ve invited Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Young Women general presidency, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy, and Elder Kent F. Richards, Executive Director of the Temple Department, to join me in sharing some ways we can help members over these hurdles.

Sister Marriott will help us by introducing some of the common concerns people have.

Sister Marriott: One of the biggest concerns we hear again and again is, “My work is done. My grandparents did it all.” There may be leaders watching today who are in this situation. They genuinely want to experience the blessings for themselves, but for whatever reason they have had difficulty finding temple opportunities. Elder Richards, what would you say to members who may be feeling this way?

Elder Richards: I know that feeling well. I used to feel that way. My great-great-grandfather was Franklin D. Richards, who served as the first president of the Genealogical Society of Utah, which later became the Family History Department of the Church. In fact, his personal library became the first genealogical library of the Church! He and his family performed thousands of proxy ordinances. My great-grandfather George F. Richards was the Salt Lake Temple president for 16 years, and he and his family performed additional thousands of proxy ordinances. If anyone could say that Grandma and Grandpa Richards have already done all the work, I could.

But I wanted to be involved. I filled out extensive pedigrees and those wonderful family group records. When the records were put on the computer, I searched for the individual ordinances of over 6,000 of my direct-line ancestors and couldn’t find anyone whose work hadn’t been done. Some people even had their work done many times. I was sure there was nothing left for me to do.

But I was wrong. The temple work for my direct ancestors may be largely completed, but using Family Tree and Ancestry, I have been able to extend those family lines. The new tools on FamilySearch.org have made searching for related descendants of ancestors much easier. I have used the descendancy search features, and I found more “cousins” needing temple work than I ever could have imagined. We have rejoiced in taking these names to the temple with my children and grandchildren and performing proxy baptisms and sealings regularly. We have personally felt the spiritual blessings of family history and temple work.

And the process was so simple. I really didn’t expect to find much, if anything, but I found hundreds of names—enough names to keep my family busy for quite some time.

So if you think all of your family’s work has been done, try a descendancy search, following the instructions on the bookmark, and you may be surprised by what you find.

Once you personally experience the blessings of family history and temple work, you will be better able to teach and encourage others to participate. And as more people participate, we will come closer to reaching our goal of members supplying all the names for their temple worship.

Sister Marriott: Another common concern that many members have is that family history takes too long or is too complicated. Elder Packer, what would you say to members who say, “I can’t do it. It’s too complicated”?

Elder Packer: I would say that family history is easier than ever before. People of all ages can do this. Let me tell you about the Eberts from Bountiful, Utah, a family who has gotten involved in family history and a great example of how much simpler the process is.

The Eberts followed Elder Cook’s direction. They worked together as a family to find the names of their cousins on FamilySearch.org using descendency research. They were able to take the names to the temple as a family, and then they worked to teach Sister Rice, a friend, how to find her own family. They used the methods they were most comfortable with—the computer for the tech-savvy children and their father, and the booklet My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together for Sister Rice, who was helped by Courtney Ebert to enter her information into FamilySearch.org.

Imagine the blessings the Eberts enjoy as they do this work together as a family. Even the younger children who aren’t able to go to the temple yet feel the power of performing saving ordinances for their family members.

Elder Richards: We are pleased to announce that performing ordinances as a family will be getting even easier.

We have instituted family priority times at each temple, where time will be set aside in the baptistry for patrons to come as families. This time will make it easier for families to perform baptisms together in the temple. The instruction has gone out to temple presidents. Patrons just need to check on LDS.org to find the days and times designated for their temple and then call for an appointment. Recently, I observed a three-generation family all participating in family name baptisms. It was precious to see each generation participating with each other. Many had tears of joy.

Sister Marriott: Now that family history has gotten even easier, our leaders may wonder, “How do I organize the work in my ward and stake?”

Elder Packer: The most important thing leaders can do is to do family history themselves.

Elder Clayton: I wholeheartedly agree. The most important thing to do as leaders is to find your own names to take to the temple yourself and then teach others to do the same. And we have found a few actions that leaders can take that lead to high family history activity in their wards and stakes.

Let’s look at a case study. Last year, Dallan Sohm, then president of the South Jordan River Utah Stake, came to RootsTech. He applied these principles in his stake.

He challenged the youth to do two things: (1) Take their own names to the temple and (2) Add a story about an ancestor to Family Tree. As part of the youth challenge, he invited the parents to participate in the goals as well.

Next, some youth were called as family history consultants to help others learn how to use the technology.

The bishops were excited about this work, but they didn’t quite know how to go about it. So President Sohm asked the youth consultants to train the bishops. He then encouraged bishops to make regular assignments in ward council and follow up with progress.

To summarize, he involved the youth and the ward council.

Now, let me show you what President Sohm and his stake achieved.

When President Sohm attended RootsTech last year, none of the young people in his stake had submitted names in the previous 12 months, as shown by this flat blue line. This red line represents the adults in his stake. You can see that they were starting to submit more names.

From January 2013 to January 2014, about 120 adults submitted names, and if the number of submitters continued growing at the same rate, we would expect 250 adults to have submitted names by now.

But that’s not what happened. What happened is nearly miraculous. Incredibly, after one year, 200 of his youth had submitted at least one name to the temple. That is about 20 per ward. Remember, they were at zero. And the adults, instead of holding to their previous trend and reaching 250 submitters, actually reached 400 submitters. From the data, it looks not only like a lot more people got involved in family history and temple activity but also that the motivation and enthusiasm of the youth extended to their family members and other adults as the youth taught them.

That is what we mean by find, take, and teach! That is the power of the rising generation.

Sister Marriott: The growth in the number of submitters is exciting, Elder Clayton. But many leaders say, “I spend much of my time dealing with problems and ministering to the needs of the living.” So they don’t have time to focus on family history like this stake did. How can these two efforts—of blessing the living and the dead—be complementary?

Elder Clayton: The blessings to those who participate in family history are far-reaching. Let’s ask President Sohm about that.

President Sohm: First of all, let me say that we have amazing youth in our stake; however, many struggle with temptations and challenges in their lives. That had been weighing on us, and as a stake presidency, we had been seeking spiritual guidance on ways to strengthen our youth. It was at that time, when we were praying for help, that my wife and I attended the RootsTech conference last year. I had not gone expecting family history to be an answer to our prayers, but it was.

I was powerfully touched by the spiritual promises that Elder Andersen made to the youth of the Church if they did their family history work. And he told us how easy it would be to find family names using new technology and told the youth that in three years they would be finding more names to take to the temple than they did baptisms in the temple. His message prompted memories of similar promises of protection to the youth made by Elder Bednar and Elder Scott. This was exactly what we wanted, and it certainly felt like a powerful answer to our prayers. We wanted our youth to have that protection.

Elder Clayton: How important was the engagement of bishops and other leaders?

President Sohm: Youth leaders, and especially the bishops, had to be involved. The problem was that most of the bishops just simply didn’t know how to find names, so they didn’t see how it could be done. The solution to that ended up being very easy and very effective. We invited the young men and young women to the stake bishops’ meeting and then to our high council meeting. The youth taught the leaders how easy it was.

Elder Richards: President, did you know how to do it?

President Sohm: In fact, I didn’t know how to do it, and I was their stake president giving the challenge. So I asked Kaden Hale, the deacons quorum president in my ward, to come to my house, and he taught my wife and me how to find names. That was the first time in my entire life I’d ever found a family name to take to the temple. It was an unbelievable experience for me.

Elder Clayton: Everyone is so busy, especially leaders. How did you find the time to do something extra?

President Sohm: This didn’t really take a lot of extra time; we just really focused on it in our existing meetings, such as the stake bishops’ meeting and the high council meetings. We talked about it in our stake conference, in our youth conference, and in youth activities. And the emphasis was really easy because we were focusing on the things that concerned us as a stake presidency and the bishops the most, which was protecting the youth and strengthening families.

Elder Packer: What was the impact on families?

President Sohm: Although our primary challenge had been to the youth, we began to see many families working together on this challenge. The most remarkable impact seemed to be when youth would teach their parents, and the entire family got involved.

A mother of one young man described how her son had a challenge with pornography. She told me that after one of our youth activities, he came to her and was so happy because he finally felt he had hope because he believed the promise that family history would help him overcome his problem. This mother was so thankful for the promised protection. This experience served to strengthen her relationship with her son as they worked together on his weakness.

Because pornography and other problems often start so much younger than teenage years, some families started helping their Primary-aged children get involved in family history to have this protection even earlier.

We also found members would share our stake challenge with their extended families outside the stake. My wife and I were in the temple one evening and saw one of our bishops with a whole group of people. We learned that his son had found several family names and had performed the baptisms. This group of people were the bishop’s extended family, who were all there to complete the temple work by performing the sealings for the ancestors whom his son had found. Family history has been very powerful in strengthening the families as well as the youth of our stake.

Sister Marriott: What about the young women of the Church? Did you see the impact of family history on them?

President Sohm: We’d been impressed by the spiritual impact that this was having on all the youth, but there is something very powerful when a young woman has an experience that is associated with the temple. I sensed that with every name they took to the temple, the young women had a greater resolve to stay close to that holy place and be worthy and committed to a temple marriage. You could see it in their eyes and feel it in their hearts. I also believe that the young women have a great impact on the behavior of the young men. When the girls are enthusiastic about something like this, they usually bring the boys along with them.

Sister Marriott: Yes! Young women can be a great influence on young men! Did this emphasis on family research impact any of your less-active youth or families?

President Sohm: Yes! I suspect there were many impacted in ways we can’t measure, but I know we had youth who had never been to the temple before who qualified for temple recommends so that they could take family names to the temple. We had four young men and young women who were brand new converts who found their own family names and were significantly strengthened by their experiences in the temple. We also had some young people who wanted their dads to perform their baptisms. I personally witnessed several dads perform these sacred ordinances who had never done anything like that before. As I watched these men with tears in their eyes as they stood for the first time with their sons and daughters in the baptismal font, it was obvious that strong spiritual ties were being formed between fathers and children that had never been there before.

Elder Richards: I know you baptized many of your youth. What was that like?

President Sohm: The youth actually took many trips to the temple last year. Sometimes they went as families, sometimes as quorums or classes. But last October each of our wards took their youth to the temple, and my counselors and I attended with them as they performed ordinances using their family names. One night, one of the wards had multiple sessions so that their 49 youth could do the work. Their bishop thought it would be neat for their stake president to perform the baptisms, so I was able to perform about 500 baptisms that night. In my 10 years of service as a stake president, this was the most powerful spiritual experience I’d had. I love these youth and felt the Lord’s love for them as well. There was something about being there in the temple with these young people, knowing that they were worthily doing temple work for family names they had found, that brought waves of emotion.

Elder Richards: Did you have the opportunity to baptize any of your own children or grandchildren?

President Sohm: My own children are grown, and my grandchildren aren’t quite old enough to attend the temple. But years ago when our children were old enough, we made it a practice to go to the temple every month as a family to do baptisms. As parents, we felt there was nothing as impactful for our teenage daughters and sons than to be with them as I performed their baptisms in the temple.

Elder Richards: So did you and your wife actually go down into the water and be baptized along with your children?

President Sohm: We did. In fact, probably the most powerful experiences we ever had as parents were when our sons were old enough to be endowed prior to their missions. In our monthly trips to the temple, instead of me performing the baptisms, our recently endowed sons each had their turns to perform the temple baptisms for their siblings and my wife and me. I don’t know of anything that had more impact on our family than being in the temple performing baptisms for family members.

Elder Clayton: Tell me about how this family history activity helped several young men overcome addictions.

President Sohm: I’ve interviewed hundreds of young men and young women who are getting ready to serve their missions, go to the temple, or receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. I have sat through some tearful meetings. I’ve learned a lot from these young people.

First of all, I’ve learned that some of our youth are struggling with the law of chastity in one way or the other. I’ve also learned that these are not bad kids. They are wonderful young people, but many times they just don’t know how to overcome their weaknesses or addictions.

We decided to trust in the promised blessings of protection and started using family history in our interviews as a way to help those who needed strength. And we found it worked.

One example is a young man with a serious problem with pornography. He just didn’t seem to have the ability to control this problem. He was discouraged with himself. During one of our interviews, I challenged him to start doing family history. After a while, he qualified for a mission. Before he left, he wrote me a letter thanking me for my help. He told me that because of his personal commitment to do family history for 15 minutes every night, his appetite for pornography left him, and it gave him the power to live the law of chastity fully. I am certain that he is on a mission today because of the spirit of family history work.

Sister Marriott: Now, with the significant emphasis recently on the hastening of the work of salvation, many leaders are focusing on missionary work, activation, and achieving real growth through deepened conversion. Elder Clayton, what would you say to leaders who say, “I feel stretched in many directions”?

Elder Clayton: I would say this. Family history is a vital part of the work of salvation. While it can stand alone as a divinely appointed responsibility, family history can also help in other areas of the work of salvation. For example, we have some new research about family history and convert retention.

Some newly baptized members don’t yet have a lot of friends at church. They may know the missionaries and the bishop but not many of the ward members. Family history is a powerful tool for retaining this group.

They meet a consultant, who becomes a new friend, and they receive a meaningful responsibility—to take the names of their ancestors to the temple for baptisms. We have found that getting involved in family history has a real impact in helping new members feel the Spirit and build a stronger foundation in the Church. The example of the Dauphinee family of the Springfield Illinois Stake comes to mind.

Jessica Dauphinee was baptized a few years ago, as her husband, Michael, returned to activity. Soon after, both Jessica and Michael were invited to find ancestors and take their names to the temple. They found ancestors who hadn’t had ordinance work done and prepared those names to take to the temple. In early 2011 they were baptized for these family members in the St. Louis Missouri Temple. Doing family history work increased their faith and testimony and brought feelings of warmth, peace, and calm into their lives. Michael says it changed his life. They were sealed together with their children for time and eternity in December 2011.

Family history can be a means of strengthening new converts and activating members who have slipped into inactivity. Anything that helps people feel the Spirit and work toward a goal will help strengthen their testimony and commitment to the gospel.

Elder Packer: We’ve also heard wonderful stories of how family history and temple work can lead to deeper conversion and stronger testimony among active members. The example of the Ivey family of the Rio Rancho Stake comes to mind.

Heather Ivey was first introduced to the Church through Mormon friends. Because she wanted to live her life the way they were, she joined the Church. But her full conversion began when she started attending the temple. Through a friend at a family history center, Heather found relatives at FamilySearch.org. They became real people to her. She had been feeling good about her temple attendance, but realized she hadn’t been partaking of the full blessing of the temple experience.

When she and her husband decided to attend the temple more often, they invited their children to participate. Her children enjoyed finding many ancestors who needed their ordinances performed.

In the temple, Heather was impressed that her ancestors are waiting to feel a remission of their sins through baptism and to gain a knowledge of the love Christ has for them.

Finding and taking family names to the temple has brought Heather many blessings. Her testimony has grown and strengthened, and she’s learning many things. She calls it the “biggest testimony expander” she’s ever had. When we return to our Heavenly Father’s presence, our family members are going to be there. We’re going to give an account of our mission here.

Sister Ivey said, “My mission is to help as many people as I can return to live with Heavenly Father. . . . I want to be able to say I served an honorable mission.”

It’s true that even active members are undergoing continuing conversion. Many attend the temple regularly, but they might be missing some of the blessings of temple work if they are not taking their own family names with them.

I also love how Heather Ivey said that she felt that her family members on the other side of the veil were wondering if their names would be found. And as she involves her children in the work, she is working for the salvation of her family on both sides of the veil.

Elder Richards: Last year, Elder Andersen challenged the youth to prepare family names to take to the temple each time they go. I think this challenge can be extended equally to adults.

Elder Clayton: Then, once you have felt the blessings of family history yourself, organize your youth and ward council to focus on family history. Make it a priority to help youth find their own names to take to the temple. Call them as family history consultants. You know the circumstances of your ward the best. If circumstances permit, aim for at least three family history consultants. Think young men and young women. Have the ward council make assignments to the family history consultants, asking them to focus especially on helping new converts and recently reactivated members with their family history. But don’t just make the assignments and then leave the consultants alone—make sure the high priests group leader and ward council follow up with consultants regularly. If you do this, you will see how the Spirit of the Lord will bless your ward members.

Elder Packer: The real value of a session such as this one comes only when the principles are applied in the lives of the leaders and the members.

Be sure to record the impressions you have had during this session. If names have come to your mind, you know what to do. Will you become an agent of change in your ward, in your stake, and in this great work of salvation? Will you measure your progress? I suggest you use the Quarterly Report that now contains information that will help you assess your progress. The Lord has invited all to make this work a regular part of our personal worship.

 


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