Adoption and Family History—Everlasting Ties, Eternal Connections
March 2022

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Adoption and Family History—Everlasting Ties, Eternal Connections

How can we know whether we should do family history work for our biological or adoptive lines?

stack of old photos

We are blessed to be able to participate in temple ordinances that seal us together as families for time and all eternity. As President Russell M. Nelson taught: “Exaltation is a family affair. Only through the saving ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ can families be exalted. The ultimate end for which we strive is that we become happy as a family—endowed, sealed, and prepared for eternal life in the presence of God.” 1 This opportunity extends to both those born in the covenant and those who are adopted and sealed to their families through sacred temple ordinances.

“Loving, eternal families can be created through adoption. Whether children come to a family through adoption or birth, they are an equally precious blessing. Children who are sealed in the temple to their adopted parents can receive every blessing of being part of their eternal family.” 2

When an adoptee begins family history work, there are two possible pedigrees to follow, research, and consider temple work for.

Whether to follow the sealed line (as a person’s adoptive family might be called) or the biological line—or both—should be sought through family councils and revelation. There is no single correct answer, and each person facing this choice should approach it as a matter of prayer.

Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received. The First Presidency has declared, ‘Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors’ [First Presidency letter, Feb. 29, 2012].” 3

It’s common for adopted individuals to have conflicting feelings about what this means in terms of their ancestors. Mary (name has been changed) said: “Family history is very confusing for me. I’m told my ‘ancestors’ are the ones I’m sealed to, and sometimes I feel pride in that heritage, but I always feel a tinge of impostor syndrome because they aren’t my bloodline. My biological family has done extensive family history work and shown me some journals and pictures. It was surreal and exciting to actually see where some of my physical features came from … and to feel a kind of connection as I read words from my genetic ancestors. But I almost feel like I’m borrowing that feeling of connection, because I’m going outside of that temple ordinance.”

Susan (name has been changed), like many adoptees, had a great curiosity about her birth parents. She was sealed as an infant to her adoptive family and felt the power and confirmation that these were her people—the ones she was meant to be with forever. She felt blessed by doing family history and temple work for this family. However, that didn’t take away her curiosity or her desire to offer the saving ordinances to the people on her birth line. She worried that she was being somehow disloyal to her adoptive family for having that desire. But after a loving conversation with her parents, she was assured that feelings of love and loyalty would not be diminished by pursuing the sacred work for her birth line.

A Matter of Counseling and Revelation

Family dynamics are wide ranging, and what works for one person might not be comfortable for another. If your adoptive parents feel uncomfortable with you pursuing your biological pedigree, perhaps it’s best to push pause on that work and concentrate on other ancestors. The time may come for your biological line later, as every person born on earth will have a chance to receive temple ordinances at some point. But know that family configurations in the next life that seem so confusing for us with our finite vision will someday become clear.

President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, told this story that a friend shared with him:

“After the death of his beloved wife and the mother of his children, a father remarried. Some grown children strongly objected to the remarriage and sought the counsel of a close relative who was a respected Church leader. After hearing the reasons for their objections, which focused on conditions and relationships in the spirit world or in the kingdoms of glory that follow the Final Judgment, this leader said: ‘You are worried about the wrong things. You should be worried about whether you will get to those places. Concentrate on that. If you get there, all of it will be more wonderful than you can imagine.’

“What a comforting teaching! Trust in the Lord!” 4

FamilySearch Options

In the meantime, certain features within FamilySearch leave your options open. It’s easy to track both a sealed line and a biological line on your pedigree chart if you choose to. Within the Family Tree at FamilySearch.org, you can choose the option to “Add Parent” to your record. This will create a line with a separate pair of parents you can research and fill in as far back as you desire. You can designate which set of parents you prefer to display, but you can easily switch back and forth. Within your individual record, you can also specify whether the parent relationship is biological or adoptive if you so desire.

Church policy requires that you submit only names for those you are related to, so this allows you to submit temple names for biological, adoptive, and foster family lines connected to your family.

Adoption in the House of Israel

The concept and practice of adoption applies to nearly every person who has ever been born. Mark A. Peterson, a former Brigham Young University professor, taught:

“Adoption is not limited to the special cases we call ‘adopted.’ It pertains to all of us. The Apostle Paul … spoke of adoption as the process by which we become members of the covenant, part of the family of Abraham. … To Paul, the term adoption was used to show that those who believe in Jesus become part of a very special family. This is true for all of us who are baptized into the Church today. We become brothers and sisters.

“It is perhaps clearest in Galatians:

“‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

“‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

“‘And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’ [Galatians 3:27–29] …

“Becoming a part of the house of Israel is expressed to us in specific terms when we receive our patriarchal blessings. Therein we are told which lineage is ours. This, too, in many cases, is a manifestation of family creation through the process of adoption. Sometimes within one family are some who are of the lineage of Ephraim whereas another might be of Judah or Dan or Manasseh. Membership in each of these lineages is often part of the adoption process of which Paul spoke. When we choose obedience and repentance and partake of the blessing of the covenant, we are welcomed into the household of faith, the Church. We are no more strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens, brothers, and sisters with the Saints.” 5

The Great Plan of Happiness

Heavenly Father’s great plan is a plan of happiness. He knows that being sealed in eternal family relationships can bring us joy in the form of close connections and loving feelings of familial bonds. Through prayer, you can discover the path that your own personal journey should take regarding biological and adoptive family lines as you participate in temple and family history work throughout your life.