“Has the temple work for the founding fathers of the United States been done?” Ensign, Oct. 1991, 62
Thomas E. Daniels, manager of public relations, Church Family History Department, and a high councilor, Salt Lake Holladay Stake. This is a question that many members of the Church have asked. In 1986, some of the staff of the Family History Library’s LDS Reference Unit were assigned to compile and computerize all the existing genealogical data on the founding fathers, to identify their families, and to document completed temple ordinances for each. For purposes of the project, a founding father was identified as one who had signed one or more of the following documents: the Articles of Association (1774), the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Articles of Confederation (1778), or the Constitution (1787).
Various sources were used to compile the information, including information recorded by Wilford Woodruff. In his journal entry of Sunday, 19 August 1877, Elder Woodruff, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and president of the St. George Temple, wrote: “I spent the evening in preparing a list of the noted men of the 17 century and 18th, including the signers of the Declaration of Independence and presidents of the United States, for baptism on Tuesday the 21 Aug 1877.”
His journal entry for August 21 reads, “I, Wilford Woodruff, went to the temple of the Lord this morning and was baptized for 100 persons who were dead, including the signers of the Declaration of Independence. … I was baptized for the following names.” He then listed the names of one hundred men (one of whom was shown twice, so actually there were ninety-nine), including forty-five “eminent men” of several nationalities. The baptisms were performed by J. D. T. McAllister, a counselor in the temple presidency.
Elder Woodruff continued his journal entry: “When Br. McAllister had baptized me for the 100 names, I baptized him for 21, including Gen. Washington and his forefathers and all the presidents of the United States that were not on my list except Buchanan, Van Buren, and Grant.” (The work for these presidents has since been done.)
“It was a very interesting day,” Elder Woodruff continued. “I felt thankful that we had the privilege and the power to administer for the worthy dead, especially for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, that inasmuch as they had laid the foundation of our Government, that we could do as much for them as they had done for us.
“Sister Lucy Bigelow Young went forth into the font and was baptized for Martha Washington and her family, and seventy of the eminent women of the world. I called upon the brethren and sisters who were present to assist in getting endowments for those that we had been baptized for today.” (Wilford Woodruff’s journal, typescript, vol. 7, Church History Library; spelling and punctuation modernized.)
Proxy ordinations and endowments for the men, and endowments for the women, were performed and recorded over the next few days. The library study of 1986, referred to earlier, revealed that there were no sealings of children to parents performed at the time the baptisms and endowments were performed. It was, no doubt, a major task just to research and prepare the list of these men and women. To produce the names of all the spouses and children would have taken a major genealogical research project for which they were not equipped. That task was left for a later time.
The first public mention of these events was made nearly a month after the baptisms were performed. In an address in the Tabernacle on Temple Square on 16 September 1877, Elder Woodruff first told publicly of the visitation of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. “They waited on me for two days and two nights,” he said,
“I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them.” (Journal of Discourses, 19:229.)
The founding fathers’ appearance to Elder Woodruff illustrates the importance of family history and temple work as well as the interest many of those living in the spirit world have in receiving the saving ordinances of the gospel.