“Finding Ancestors, Uniting a Ward,” Ensign, July 2006, 20–22
For many years the Cincinnati Fifth Ward was perhaps typical of many other wards in the Church. While temple work was an important part of many members’ lives, only a handful were seriously dedicated to researching their family history and finding their own ancestors. When they did find many names, keeping up with the necessary temple work often became overwhelming. Ward leaders wondered: How can we help ward members understand the urgency of finding names and performing temple ordinances for their own ancestors? And how do we help expedite the process for the members who are already involved?
To address these concerns, leaders in the Cincinnati Fifth Ward—later renamed the Eastgate Ward—came up with a simple process that enables ward members to help each other in their family history and temple work. Here is how the process works:
After members find their ancestors’ names and clear them for temple work, they get an ordinance card for each cleared name and then give the cards to the ward coordinator. The coordinator records the names in a spreadsheet and tracks the date each temple ordinance is performed. Before ward members attend the temple, they contact the coordinator to get an ordinance card; afterward they return the card to the coordinator.
Because of this process, as well as the increased emphasis of temple work in the ward, more ward members are participating in family history and temple work efforts. Members can now be confident that when they clear the name of a deceased ancestor, the temple work for that individual will likely be done within the year. Temple work has become more personal. And because ward members are helping each other and having spiritual experiences together, unity among ward members has increased.
A key figure in this work is the coordinator, who must be detail oriented and have strong organizational skills. He or she must be able to track what temple ordinances have been performed and who has each ordinance card at any given time. Once the baptism, initiatory, and endowment ordinances have been completed, the coordinator returns the card to the family member and then lets that person take responsibility for the sealing.
The coordinator also places a status report in the ward bulletin approximately once a month so that members can see how many ordinances have been performed that year and how many ordinances still need to be performed for available names.
“It helps us with planning our ward temple trips,” says Bruce Robinson, who served as bishop until June 2005. “If we’re getting backed up in a certain area, we can shift our resources around so we can catch up in that area, such as if we need more initiatory ordinances than endowments. It helps us keep a balance.”
When the idea of a common repository for names was first implemented, some ward members were reluctant to hand over their ordinance cards to the coordinator. “We had to convince them, ‘You’re not giving up anything. You’re actually going to gain,’” says Bishop Robinson.
Robbie Clark admits she felt some hesitation at the idea of relinquishing the names she had located. But then she saw the care used to keep track of the information, and she found that the coordinated efforts in her ward made her own efforts much more productive. “Previously I was finding information but not doing anything with it,” she says. Now she uses TempleReady regularly to prepare her names for temple ordinances. “The program was an inspiration and catalyst for those collecting information but not getting it where it needed to go,” she says.
“If you have just a few names, you can take care of them yourself,” says Jim Ison, who served as the first coordinator of the process. “But if you have 20, 50, or 100 names or more, you think, ‘This could take me a really long time.’” Trying to independently enlist ward members to help perform ordinances for ancestors can be a challenge. But now that the names go into one ward temple file, the work gets done much more quickly and efficiently.
At the end of the program’s first year, ward members had participated in more than 1,900 temple ordinances.
“It’s almost a habit now instead of a novelty, but the level of excitement that we had when the program first started is still there,” says current bishop Joe Bradley.
John terHorst says he feels a sense of indebtedness to members of the ward as a result of their coordinated efforts in temple work. Baptized at age 14, he had a long line of ancestors to locate. His wife, Janice, found more than 400 of his family names, and many members of the ward have since participated in ordinances on behalf of these ancestors. “Right now I can pretty much guarantee that everybody who’s gone to the temple from our ward has helped someone in my family history,” he says.
Like other members of the ward, Brother terHorst has noticed the impact of temple work on the unity of the ward. He says it is common for members to tell each other, “I did an endowment session for your ancestor last week.” Sometimes, in the right setting, they will share an experience that was particularly meaningful.
“People might not have shared the experience otherwise, but because they know you, they’re open. I don’t know what can bring you closer than having that openness,” he says.
John de Jong shares a similar sentiment, noting that temple work now feels more personal and meaningful. Before he and his wife, Ann, became involved in family history, and before the ward members concentrated their efforts in temple work, “we would go to the temple and take a name there and just go on through,” he says. “Now we get to go through for our own family members and for the ancestors of ward members. It makes our ward feel more like a family.
“Very often we tell people to go to the temple because people are waiting to have their work done. It’s kind of intangible. But if members of the ward know that the de Jongs have a whole bunch of names and all those people are waiting to have their work done, it becomes a stronger reason to go. There’s a connection now.”
“It’s more enjoyable to go to the temple when you have a connection,” says Robbie Clark. “It’s really made us feel like a ward family. Even the kids get involved.”
Youth 12 and up are able to participate by doing baptisms for the dead for their own ancestors or for the ancestors of fellow ward members. Eighteen-year-old Ashley de Jong says, “It feels good to be able to do baptisms for my own ancestors. It’s more meaningful. I’m looking forward to when I can meet them on the other side.”
Jim Waldron, who currently serves as the coordinator, sums up the benefits of the ward’s focused effort: “From an individual point of view, it’s a godsend because we’re able to get things done that we couldn’t get done on our own. From a ward point of view, it binds us together and gives us a greater purpose. It reinforces the fact that there is a purpose in going to the temple beyond the personal, spiritual benefits that we derive.”
Adds Brother Ison, “Now the idea of being saviors on Mount Zion has become much more real and tangible.”
Ward members clear their ancestors’ names and give the ordinance cards to the coordinator.
Before attending the temple, ward members contact the coordinator to obtain a name on an ordinance card.
The coordinator tracks when baptism, confirmation, initiatory, and endowment ordinances are performed. Families are responsible for performing sealings.
Members of the bishopric keep an “emergency fund” of names in case the coordinator is unavailable.
The ward hosts a family history class during the week.