“Are copies of priesthood lines of authority available from Church headquarters?” Ensign, July 1994, 67
Answered by Glenn N. Rowe, President of the Japan Tokyo South Mission, on leave from his position as director of special projects in the Church Historical Department.
Recent growth of the Church and the simplification of the Church’s record-keeping procedures have made it increasingly difficult for the Church Historical Department to trace a member’s priesthood line of authority. As a result, the Church Historical Department no longer traces each member’s priesthood authority line.
These changes have placed the responsibility and opportunity of record keeping squarely on the family and on the individual. It is important for each of us to recognize that it is our responsibility and privilege, not the Church’s, to preserve records about ourselves and our families.
A priesthood authority line traces a priesthood holder’s authority from the person ordaining him back to Peter, James, and John, who conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1829. For decades, the Church Historical Department provided members with a printed priesthood authority line for their ordination to their current priesthood office. This service required lengthy searches of ordinance and action records, old membership records, Church census records, vast volumes of minutes of ward and stake meetings, ward and stake annual historical reports, and other records. Through the years, Church curriculum materials and handbooks encouraged priesthood holders, young and old, to obtain their priesthood lines of authority and to provide copies to those whom they ordained.
Through the nineteenth century and most of the current century, clerks and record keepers meticulously kept a record of most ordinances involving individual Church members. These records have been retained by the Church Historical Department. However, the Church’s worldwide growth has necessitated the discontinuing of certain types of records about members. New, simplified membership recording systems have been implemented, and new membership records now record only information about a priesthood holder’s current priesthood office. Further, only a very simplified summary of historical events is submitted by stakes, missions, and districts. With the limited information now being recorded, it is no longer possible to trace individual priesthood authority lines.
One of the easiest ways to obtain a priesthood line of authority is for the ordained individual to request an authority line from the priesthood holder who ordained him. If that priesthood holder does not have an authority line, he might, in turn, seek out the person who performed his ordination.
Thousands of ordinances are performed weekly throughout the Church. These ordinances are to be performed by priesthood holders who have been properly ordained and properly authorized by one who has the keys to authorize the ordinance under the direction of the prophet. Therefore, it is “known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” (D&C 42:11). This trust comes because of the wisdom of the Lord in establishing an orderly procedure in which delegation of the keys of the priesthood is always held by the living prophet.
Individuals and families are encouraged to keep their own records of priesthood ordinances, such as blessings of babies, baptisms, priesthood ordinations, patriarchal blessings, missionary calls, marriages, and so forth.