Everyone’s Blessing
December 1994

“Everyone’s Blessing,” Ensign, Dec. 1994, 16–20

Everyone’s Blessing

We make our own lives richer as we serve others through temple and family history work.

Ensign: Temple and family history work are often linked together. Would you comment on the connection between the two?

Elder Brough: In fact, you can’t separate family history from temple work. Members have been asked to identify their ancestors through family history research and then to make sure temple ordinances are performed for those ancestors. Our goal in the Family History Department is to assist members in this work.

The principle of temple and family history work has always been an important part of the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The angel Moroni taught the principle to Joseph Smith when he visited him in September 1823. He appeared to the Prophet Joseph four times, and each time he quoted the same scriptures to Joseph to fully embed them in the Prophet’s mind. Several of the scriptures had to do with the prophecies of Malachi. Joseph Smith wrote of these prophecies in his account of the angel Moroni’s visits:

“And again, [Moroni] quoted the fifth verse [of chapter four of Malachi] thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

“He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (JS—H 1:38–39).

Joseph didn’t totally understand those scriptures that night, but Moroni informed him that the prophecies were about to come to pass. So as we can see, this doctrine was reestablished early in the restoration process so that this generation could be responsible for providing the redemptive work for past generations.

This doctrine is unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It provides an opportunity for all mankind to hear the gospel. The Lord’s temples are built on the basis that life extends beyond this mortal world and that those who have passed on from this life are vibrant and interested in their own salvation. This doctrine has been clearly established by the prophets. There are important reasons to link generations—son to father, father to his father, and so on. Therefore, we do this work.

Ensign: Should all members of the Church be involved in temple and family history work?

Elder Brough: The mission of the Church is to “invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59) “and be perfected in him” (Moro. 10:32). This mission has three dimensions: proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead (Temple and Family History Leadership Handbook, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992, p. 1).

Temple and family history work fulfill our goal in mortality to “redeem the dead.” As far as I can tell, the commandment to do this work is comprehensive. We members are not somehow able to excuse ourselves from this responsibility. I don’t see anywhere in the scriptures where it suggests that anyone is an exception.

And spiritual blessings do come to people who are involved in this work! I suppose we could invent computer systems that would do all the work for us while we did something else, but there are very important reasons for every individual to be personally involved in the search.

Thirty-five years ago I was called to serve a mission in England. My mother had been pursuing her grandmother’s family history, but she knew nothing more than that her grandmother had been born in a little place called Pilly Green, England. My mother had never been able to locate this town. Near the end of my mission, as I was driving to a conference, I saw a little sign that said “Pilly Green.” Several weeks later I returned and drove down a winding country lane until I came to a quaint little village with a church that had been built in 1174. I went out into the cemetery and looked at each headstone. During the next few hours, I had the privilege of finding the headstones of my great-grandmother’s family members. I’ll never forget how I felt that day standing in that cemetery in that beautiful place in England. I felt a connection with my ancestors, particularly with my great-grandmother, who as a seventeen-year-old girl loved the Lord enough to leave her family in England and move to Zion. What a great experience! This kind of joy really can come to every member of the Church. At Church headquarters, we receive countless letters from people who have had similar experiences. They speak of the joy they felt when they knelt in the sealing room of the temple and served as proxy for one of their ancestors. Some have spent years searching for that ancestor. Often these people write of having a strong feeling that the ordinances have been accepted by their ancestor. This spiritual witness is an enormous reward to those who engage in temple and family history work.

Ensign: Are there guidelines to help members get involved in temple and family history work?

Elder Brough: Yes. Most members need guidance in learning how to do temple and family history work. That’s why the Church produced A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work. This is a very simple booklet—only seventeen pages. Among the many things that it teaches are the three basic goals of temple and family history work: “First, to identify your ancestors; second, to determine which ancestors require temple ordinances; and third, to make certain the ordinances are performed” (p. 4). This booklet is available through priesthood leaders in every ward and branch.

Ensign: What other resources are available to members to help them identify their ancestors?

Elder Brough: Members should first gather information from family members. Then they should locate the nearest Church family history center. The Church sponsors more than 2,200 family history centers across the world. Almost all members will have access to a family history center, and in North America, virtually everyone is within thirty minutes of a center.

The Family History Department has developed many resources to facilitate family history research in our family history centers. The computer tools are probably the finest things we’ve done. Let me tell you about FamilySearch®, one of the computer tools we use.

With FamilySearch, you can search with lightning speed through the names of millions of people; dates and places of birth, marriage, and death; names of parents, spouses, and children; and dates of completed temple ordinances. This information, compiled from a variety of sources, is organized into files and indexes. Ancestral File™, International Genealogical Index™, and Family History Library Catalog™ are three of these important files.

  1. Ancestral File is a collection of millions of names that are organized into family groups and pedigrees—in other words, a central collection of lineage-linked data. Names are being submitted continually to this file by people from throughout the world, and it is updated approximately every six months. You can sit down at the computer and, using Ancestral File, you can very quickly find out if someone else has submitted a family group sheet or pedigree chart on your family. In this way, you can prevent duplication of family history research.

    Ancestral File also contains the name and address of each person who submitted a record, so our hope is that families will communicate with each other and cooperate in their work. That way they can make their work more productive.

  2. The International Genealogical Index (IGI) is an index of temple ordinances that have been completed for deceased persons. It is a valuable genealogical resource, containing dates and places of birth, christening, or marriage; and names of parents, spouses, or children.

    Also, for the past six years, the Family History Department has been involved in a tremendous program, using more than one hundred thousand volunteers who are converting old temple records to a computer-readable form. These temple records will soon be added to the IGI, and it will become a complete list of all the temple ordinances that have been performed in this dispensation.

  3. The Family History Library Catalog describes the records, books, and microfilms in the Family History Library’s collection, listing their call numbers. Most of the items listed are available on microfilm through a family history center.

Ensign: How do members determine which of their ancestors require temple ordinances?

Elder Brough: TempleReady™ is another important computer process on FamilySearch. It is designed to help members determine which of their ancestors have already had their temple ordinances performed.

In order to explain TempleReady, we need to talk about the past when members sent the information about each of their ancestors to Church headquarters. It was a slow, complex process to clear a name for temple ordinances. It could take as long as nine months. In fact, often people submitted a name to be cleared, and by the time it actually cleared, they had forgotten about it.

In 1976, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve determined that the responsibility for clearing names should be moved from Church headquarters to the members. But at that time technology was not available to do it. It’s been interesting to observe how technology has improved until today we have met that First Presidency goal with TempleReady.

TempleReady automatically checks the names of your ancestors against a database of previously completed temple ordinances (the IGI) to determine if the ordinances have ever been performed. If ordinances need to be done, the name clears. The information can then be transferred to the user’s computer disk for submission to the temple. The goal is to stop processing names at Church headquarters and to have all members clear their own ancestors’ names through TempleReady.

Ensign: How do members make certain that the temple ordinances are performed for their ancestors?

Elder Brough: Currently, names are gathered at the temple in one of two files: the temple file or the family file. Temple file names come from the name extraction program, and the temple provides the proxies. Family file names are generally the names of direct family ancestors of those who submit the names, and the family provides the proxies.

TempleReady has already made a big impact. Six years ago, 70 percent of all names that came to the temple were supplied by name extraction, and only 30 percent of the names were submitted by families. Today that ratio is exactly opposite—70 percent of the names are in the family file and 30 percent are in the temple file. We think that’s wonderful! Before long, we expect that most temples will run almost entirely from the family file.

To create a family file, members send to the temple on a computer disk names that have been cleared using TempleReady. Temples can receive this information on paper, but a computer disk is preferred. If it is a very large file, members submitting names should give the workers at the temple a few days to prepare the family file cards. Members then arrange for the temple ordinances to be performed by family members, friends, or members of their ward or stake—preferably within sixty days.

You have a very different spiritual experience at the temple when you serve as proxy for an ancestor. Every member ought to have that experience. It influences our lives and gives us a better understanding of the doctrine of redeeming the dead. Our hearts are really turned to our fathers when we’re doing those ordinances.

Ensign: Who should contribute family history to Ancestral File?

Elder Brough: I’d recommend that every member submit their information to Ancestral File. We’ve been commanded in the scriptures to keep records (see D&C 128:24 and Moses 6:46). This is a very important collection of records, and I know I certainly want to have my family history there.

Two steps are involved.

Step one: Type all your family history data into a family history computer program, such as Personal Ancestral File®. This program was designed to help users organize their research into family group sheets and a pedigree chart. Personal Ancestral File is available at family history centers as part of FamilySearch. Or, if you have your own computer, you can purchase a copy of the software for $35.00 from the Salt Lake Distribution Center, 1919 West 1700 South, Salt Lake City, Utah 84104-4233.

Step two: Transfer your family history data onto a computer disk as a GEDCOM file. The simple directions are included with the software. In order to add this data to Ancestral File, send the disk to Ancestral File Contributions, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Many family history libraries in the United States and Canada have FamilySearch available. In the event that you do not have access to FamilySearch, you can mail your family history information, typed or printed carefully on paper, to the above address. The Family History Department will help automate it.

Ensign: Does all this mean that every member of the Church needs to purchase a computer to do their family history?

Elder Brough: No. In fact, quite the opposite. We’d be very reluctant to come up with a plan that required members to spend a lot of money on a computer. That is why computers with FamilySearch are available at our family history centers.

Ensign: Some members feel that most of their temple and family history work has been done. Are there other ways members can give meaningful service?

Elder Brough: Nothing any of us can do removes from us the obligation to be individually involved in finding our own ancestors. But there are wonderful, meaningful service opportunities that can be done in addition to that work. Many of those opportunities are described in A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work, including: serving in family record extraction; serving in the temple, a family history center, or as a family history worker; participating in family organizations; keeping a personal journal; and preparing family histories (see p. 6).

Ensign: It seems that choice spiritual blessings come to those who are involved with temple and family history work. Would you comment on that?

Elder Brough: D&C 84:31–34 speaks of a special group of people called the sons of Moses and the sons of Aaron, who will do the work in the temple. Those verses speak of great blessings that come to those who do that redemptive work, and these individuals are referred to as “the elect of God” (D&C 84:34). So as we can see, choice blessings are reserved for those who help redeem the dead.

I feel deeply about my testimony of temple and family history work. Many others feel deeply as well, and they often share their testimonies of personal, sacred experiences they have had while involved in this work. All members are invited to sincerely experience the joyous blessings that come as a result of being involved in temple and family history work.

Photography by John Luke

Right: photo by FPG International