Across the globe, interest in genealogy has increased in the past few years, but for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as Mormons or LDS) this type of research has gone on for generations. As a result, millions of records—including birth, marriage, and death certificates, land documents and census reports—have become digitized and are readily available worldwide. Genealogical research has become a lucrative industry for some, but LDS resources and sites such as Familysearch.com, are free to the public. Family History Centers (Mormon genealogy centers) are located in some Latter-day Saint meetinghouses and genealogical and Church-related information is maintained in permanent storage in the Granite Mountain vault in the Wasatch Range of Utah.
As people begin researching their family lines, they often feel a strong connection to their own roots and find it hard to stop unraveling the mystery. Mormons consider this to be the “Spirit of Elijah.” However, this drive to connect to the past is not only an LDS interest. In fact, currently, more non-LDS patrons utilize the Family History Centers than Church members.
Why does Mormon genealogy exist? At the core of Mormon doctrine is the belief that there is life after death and that families can progress and be together forever. This makes it essential to know about those who have gone before. In Malachi 4:5–6 it states that Elijah, the prophet, will come before the coming of the Lord, and “he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” Latter-day revelation explains that Elijah was able to bind or “seal” families forever through his priesthood keys, and that this blessing would later be restored for the benefit of all mankind, as it has been in our day.
Mormons believe in a loving God who would not ignore some of His children and bless others, any more than a good father or mother would choose one child over another. His love is all inclusive—every person who has lived is entitled to receive all He has to offer.
Jesus Christ taught, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). So, what happens to all who have died without the opportunity for baptism? Surely God would not leave them hopeless—and He does not.
This is the purpose of Mormon genealogy. To attempt to baptize every person who has ever lived is a daunting task, but by linking families, a chain connecting the past with the present is created. Once family names are found, proxy ordinances on behalf of the dead, including baptism, endowments, and sealings, are performed in Mormon temples by the proper priesthood authorities. However, those on the other side do not have to accept the work that is done on their behalf. Temple work simply provides the physical means to allow them to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and to be with their families, if they choose since they cannot do these earthly ordinances for themselves.
This same temple work was performed in ancient times. Paul asked, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29). However, at the death of the apostles, the priesthood was lost. Through direct revelation, the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored in the 1800s by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He received the keys of the priesthood from heavenly messengers, including the sealing power to bind families for eternity.
Since that time, Mormons have had a solemn responsibility to care not only for the living, but also for their kindred dead through Mormon genealogy.
As more people do genealogy, the chance to connect family lines for eternal blessings is greater. For example, last year I was contacted in Colorado by a man named Ken who lives in Alaska. He had seen my sparse ancestral line on one of the genealogical sites. He emailed me to find out if I had more information on a person who appeared to be a common ancestor. Ken explained that he wanted to provide a “family tree” for his daughters.
After comparing notes and researching various internet sites, we were thrilled to find an entire family we hadn’t been able to find despite years of looking. We were able to confirm that my third-great grandmother and his second-great grandfather were brother and sister. Neither of us had ever been able to verify who their parents were. But working together we found them. Interestingly, the search didn’t stop there. Ken made a cross-country trip to visit graves and information bureaus—and along the way, he looked for my family—even though he wasn’t related! This effort not only connected us to the past, but to each other here and now.
Personal Stories about Mormon Genealogy
Jan Mayer is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). A “Mormon woman,” Jan is a graduate of BYU and mother of five children. She has written for numerous publications, including The Denver Post, The Villager, and NorthStar.