Chapter 4: Gathering and Recording Family History Information

    “Chapter 4: Gathering and Recording Family History Information,” Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual: Religion 261 (2012), 16–21

    “Chapter 4,” Family History Teacher Manual, 16–21

    Chapter 4

    Gathering and Recording Family History Information


    This lesson reviews the basics for recording family history information and the importance of being as accurate and complete as possible in keeping records. The lesson is designed to also remind students that as they gather names of their ancestors, they are dealing with people who live as spirits in the postmortal spirit world. The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44), “We without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect” (D&C 128:18).

    President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) noted one connection between us and our deceased ancestors that illustrates this connection: “The dead are anxiously waiting for the Latter-day Saints to search out their names and then go into the temples to officiate in their behalf, that they may be liberated from their prison house in the spirit world. All of us should find joy in this magnificent labor of love” (“A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 5).

    As students learn more about becoming involved in family history work, they will become increasingly aware that the names they submit to the temple belong to real people who have passed through mortality and will have the opportunity for further eternal progression because of the actions of their descendants—your students.

    As you begin each class, you may want to allow opportunity for students to give progress reports, ask questions, and share experiences. If your students are using computers for their family history research, you will need to work adequate time into your lesson periods for follow-up and continuing assistance. For example, students were encouraged in the previous lesson to register on the Church members’ family history website. Some follow-up might be appropriate for them. It is interesting for peers to hear of other students’ success in family history endeavors.

    Some Doctrines, Principles, and Gospel Truths

    • The name of each deceased ancestor represents a child of Heavenly Father, a real person in the postmortal spirit world.

    • Accurate and organized records facilitate the gathering and sharing of family history information.

    • Before temple work can be performed for deceased ancestors, certain information about each ancestor must be obtained.

    • There are guidelines for recording family history information.

    • Pedigree charts and family group sheets are standard forms used for recording family history information.

    • We can obtain valuable information by contacting and interviewing other family members.

    Suggestions for Teaching

    Note to teacher: Because of the length and amount of material in this lesson, it is suggested that you take two class periods to teach this lesson.

    The Name of Each Deceased Ancestor Represents a Child of Heavenly Father, a Real Person in the Postmortal Spirit World

    Write the following information on the board:

    Alvin Smith

    Born February 11, 1798 or 1799

    Died November 19, 1823

    Tell students that Alvin Smith is an older brother to Joseph Smith. He listened to Joseph’s story of the First Vision and believed it. Alvin and the rest of the family also heard Joseph tell about his visits with Moroni. Alvin died a few months following Moroni’s first visit, several years prior to Joseph receiving the gold plates. Just before Alvin died, he said to Joseph, “I want you to be a good boy and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the records. Be faithful in receiving instruction and in keeping every commandment that is given you” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 401).

    Joseph wrote the following about Alvin: “Alvin, my oldest brother—I remember well the pangs of sorrow that swelled my youthful bosom and almost burst my tender heart when he died. He was the oldest and the noblest of my father’s family. He was one of the noblest of the sons of men” (Teachings: Joseph Smith,  485).

    Ask students how old Alvin was when he died. (You may want to point to the information written on the board; he was 24 or 25 years old when he died.)

    Have students turn to Doctrine and Covenants 137 and note the date of that revelation. (January 21, 1836.) Ask how many years after Alvin’s death this revelation was received. (About 12 years.)

    Explain that prior to this revelation, the doctrine of salvation for the dead was not clearly known.

    Ask a student to read aloud Doctrine and Covenants 137:1–6.

    • What does this revelation reveal about Alvin Smith, Adam, and Abraham?

    Point out to students that among other things, it teaches that following death we continue to exist as individual beings, with individual identities.

    • What impact do you think this revelation had on Joseph Smith and his parents?

    • Would Alvin Smith need the ordinances of the gospel performed for him? (Yes.)

    • Why? (He died before the ordinances were restored, and he died after reaching the age of accountability—8 years of age; see D&C 68:25–27; 138:32−34, 58−59.)

    Ask two students to read aloud the statements in the student manual under the headings “Each name represents a real person” (4.1.1) and “Each person is a member of a family” (4.1.2).

    • How might remembering that deceased ancestors are more than just names on a paper affect our attitude about doing family history work?

    Write “More than just names” on the board. Testify that just like Alvin Smith, deceased family members of students are real persons in the spirit world. These persons need the saving ordinances of the gospel if they are to gain the greatest happiness available through Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.

    Accurate and Organized Records Facilitate the Gathering and Sharing of Family History Information

    Read or display some of the following excerpts, taken from letters sent to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, before computer technology for family history was developed. Ask students to note the humor illustrated in attempts at communicating information that sometimes came out differently than it was intended. (You may want to ask students how the wording contributes to a failure to accurately communicate and how to reword the excerpts to better communicate what they think the original intent was):

    “I have had a hard time finding myself in London. If I was from there, I was very small and cannot be found.”

    “Enclosed please find my grandmother. I have worked on her for 50 years without success. Now see what you can do.”

    “Please baptize this sheet.”

    “For running down the Wheelers, I will send $3 more.”

    “My grandfather died at the age of three.”

    “Source of information: Family Bible in possession of Aunt Maime, until the tornado hit Topeka, Kansas. Now only the good Lord knows where it is.”

    “I would like to find out if I have any living relatives or dead relatives or ancestors in my family.”

    Invite students to give reasons why it is important to keep accurate and organized records in family history. Summarize their answers on the board.

    Divide the class into three groups. Assign one group to search Doctrine and Covenants 127:5–9, another Doctrine and Covenants 128:3–4, and a final group Doctrine and Covenants 128:7–8, 24. Have each group identify words and phrases in these verses that relate to the importance of record keeping. Allow time for study as groups, then call for a representative from each group to summarize their findings. Ask students to suggest how we can contribute to the fulfillment of Doctrine and Covenants 128:24.

    Read Doctrine and Covenants 132:8 together as a class and ask:

    • What do the truths contained in this verse have to do with accurate record keeping?

    Tell students that we do not have to be professional genealogists to do family history. But we must record information clearly and accurately, so that it will be understood by others.

    Before Temple Work Can Be Performed for Deceased Ancestors, Certain Information about Each Ancestor Must Be Obtained

    Ask if anyone knows what minimum information is needed for basic temple ordinances to be performed for a person (list answers on the board). (If necessary, let students review the student manual under the heading “A minimum amount of information is required” [4.3.1].)

    • When would it be appropriate to submit names for temple ordinances with only a minimum amount of information? (When additional information cannot reasonably be found.) Remember that with the pedigree sheet found at, we can clear the name and do the ordinances and then continue to refine the data and add new facts without impacting the individual and changing the fact that his or her ordinances are done. We only want to put the work on hold if there is some question as to whether we have the right person, or whether it is one or more people we are dealing with who have similar names and dates.

    • What caution would you give to beginning family history students about using the minimum amount of information necessary to submit names? (Don’t rush to submit names without doing adequate research for information; minimum information may lead to confusion for those doing research later.)

    There Are Guidelines for Recording Family History Information

    Ask students to open their student manuals to the section “Follow the guidelines for recording names” (4.4.1).

    Refer to Alvin Smith’s birth and death dates listed on the board.

    • According to the guidelines in the student manual, how would Alvin’s birth and death dates be written?

      Born 11 Feb 1798/99 or 11 Feb 1798 or 1799 (Both answers are correct.)

      Died 19 Nov 1823

    • What other minimum information would be needed to perform temple ordinances? (In addition to the name, gender, and a date for an event, you would need either a location for the event or a relationship to someone who was established in the family tree.)

    Tell students that we know the birthplace of Alvin Smith, and there are also guidelines for recording this information.

    Note to teacher: Many potential genealogists have become discouraged because they have bad handwriting or they are not as detail oriented as they would like to be. Genealogy software programs are designed to make up for these challenges and allow all users to be good genealogists.

    • What are the guidelines for recording places? (See the student manual under the heading “Follow the guidelines for recording places” [4.4.3].)

    Near the birth date on the board, write the birth place: Tunbridge, Orange, Vermont, United States (Orange is the county where the town of Tunbridge was located).

    Tell students we also know the place of Alvin’s death. Ask if that should also be listed. (Yes; although it is beyond the minimum information needed to have temple ordinances performed, the records should be as complete as possible.)

    Near the death date on the board, write the death place: Manchester, Ontario, New York (Ontario is the county where the city of Manchester was located).

    With revelations that followed (such as D&C 127 and 128), Joseph could begin to do the temple work for his brother Alvin.

    Students can practice by looking in Joseph Smith—History 1:3 and the section introduction for Doctrine and Covenants 135 for birth and death information about Joseph Smith. Invite a few students to come to the board and record information like they did for Alvin Smith. Let class members make any adjustments, corrections, or comments they have. As an alternative approach to this teaching method for students who bring computers to class, invite students to do this exercise using the family tree feature or some other record manager. These programs handle the formatting of dates and places for you.

    Ask students if they have any questions about recording names, dates, or places.

    Note to teacher: These exercises are designed as motivators for beginning family history record keeping, rather than creating permanent copies for studentsʾ family history files.

    Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets Are Standard Forms Used for Recording Family History Information

    Give a blank pedigree chart to each class member. Students who bring their computers to class may work on a pedigree chart online. Pedigree charts are used to list several generations of your direct ancestors. Have students fill in the pedigree chart for as many ancestors in their first four generations as they can remember. For now, this is just a practice exercise from memory, so students shouldn’t worry about the correctness of the information. The first four generations would include themselves, their parents, their grandparents, and their great-grandparents.

    You can get copies of pedigree charts and family group records through Church distribution, at family history centers, or at

    Next, display or pass around a family group record (found at the end of this lesson), or have students retrieve one on their computers. Family group records are used to list all members of an ancestor’s family along with dates and places of births, marriages, and ordinances. Have students fill in a blank family group sheet (or write on a piece of paper) the information they can remember for their father and mother’s family, which includes themselves and their siblings.

    Invite students to form pairs and each take turns summarizing what they have learned so far in this lesson, including the purpose and value of a pedigree chart.

    We Can Obtain Valuable Information by Contacting and Interviewing Other Family Members

    Ask students to tell the names of two or three family members whom they might talk to in order to gain more information about their family (such as a grandmother or grandfather, aunt, uncle, or cousin).

    Working together as a class, make a list of questions on the board they think would be beneficial in finding out information from another family member.

    Suggest that if students have access to a recording device, such as a smart phone, they could record their interview with a relative, if the relative feels comfortable being recorded. Let students know that there is voice recognition and transcribing software available to help them if they want to transcribe such interviews to text that they can then share with others.

    To conclude the lesson, allow an opportunity for a student volunteer or two to share any success they’ve had in family history work so far, or any positive feelings about their family history efforts.

    Testify that our deceased ancestors now live in the spirit world and many of them await the temple ordinances we can provide for them. Encourage the students to faithfully continue their family history efforts.