“Primer in Genealogy,” Ensign, Feb. 1971, 4
If you were to suddenly catch fire with the spirit of Elijah and realize that genealogical research and temple ordinance work are part of the gospel of Jesus Christ, would you know what to do?
There is a distinct possibility that the answer to that question for thousands of Latter-day Saints would be no, despite the increasing emphasis on these programs in the past few years. No questions are more frequently asked of those engaged in genealogical research and temple work than “How do I begin” or “Where do I start?” Though the answers to such questions may appear to some to be quite obvious, the majority of Church members evidently still need direction and clarification.
Motivation and confidence come from knowledge. It may be that in the few words to follow we can lay a sufficient foundation of knowledge so that you will develop some confidence and be motivated to pursue this great work of the gospel.
The first thing that every member of the Church should do is to gather all possible information about himself that might be found in the home and from close relatives. The purpose of this is to identify yourself as an individual and to know from whom you have descended.
These dates, names, and places, which are called vital statistics, establish that you have been born into mortality as a member of a family and identify you as a single individual among all of the vast multitudes of our Heavenly Father’s children. With this information recorded on a family group record form, you can show that you are either a parent or a child in an identified family. Now this may seem so obvious as to not warrant doing, but it serves as the vital first step in creating the link with your ancestors.
With this sheet completed and the sources properly noted so that they can be found again easily, you should move to the generation that preceded you and do the same thing for that family. Assuming you are a parent, this next family would be your mother and father, with you shown as a child. Another step back would be a family group record for your two sets of grandparents. And the fourth step would be the same information on four sets of great-grandparents.
This is the basic thing that the Church has asked each of its members to do as a foundation for doing serious genealogical research. These family group records are to be submitted to the ward high priests group leader for processing in the Church’s four-generation program. The high priests group leader then gives the sheets to a ward record examiner for checking. If there are mistakes in format, the sheets will be returned to you by the group leader with information as to how corrections should be made. Corrected and approved copies of each family group record should eventually be placed in the Genealogical Society’s archives through the high priests group leader.
Copies of each family group record should be retained by you for inclusion in your own book of remembrance. And the same sheets should be used to prepare a pedigree chart.
This is the beginning of this important work, but it may be as far as you can go without help. Assistance, however, is available from a number of sources. The ward high priests group leader is designated as adviser to the bishop in this program. He is always ready to aid members of the ward in doing this work.
Priesthood genealogy classes, under the direction of the bishop, are scheduled on a regular basis in most wards so that Church members might have the opportunity of learning the fundamentals of family exaltation. The workshop-type course prepares people in the basics of the program and in genealogical research.
Booklets and manuals used in classes are available, some without charge, from Church Distribution, 33 Richards Street, Salt Lake City, Utah. For the priesthood leader in the ward, a pamphlet is available entitled Priesthood Genealogy Handbook. Another booklet containing an outline of all the priesthood genealogy programs of the Church is called A Continuing Priesthood Program for Family Exaltation. It explains details for executing the Church’s program within the ward.
The Genealogical Society publishes a brochure titled Records Submission Manual, outlining how names may be submitted to the Society for clearance so that temple ordinance work may be performed. There is a small charge for this booklet. Other written materials available from the Genealogical Society explain the microfilming, indexing, and storage work.
Individuals may be assisted greatly, too, by the branch genealogical libraries that have been established in more than one hundred locations throughout the Church. Trained personnel in these branch libraries can help members of the Church in fulfilling the divine commandment to search out the records of their ancestors.
The physical magnitude of the work is inspiring. There are on hand in the Salt Lake City archives over 750,000 rolls of microfilm and more than 100,000 books dealing with genealogy-related material.
Genealogical research and temple ordinance work are required of every Latter-day Saint. The current priesthood genealogy program has broadened to the point that most of us are left without excuse if we do nothing.
Our dead are anxiously waiting for this people to search out their names and then go into the temples of God to officiate for them, that they may be liberated from their prison house in the spirit world. The keys of this great power given to the Prophet Joseph Smith are with us today. This power, to officiate for the dead, breaks down the barriers of the grave. All of us should find the joy of this magnificent labor of love.