On April 3, 1836, the prophet Elijah came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple. He committed unto them the sealing power of the priesthood, making it possible for families to be sealed throughout the generations. In committing this power, he fulfilled the prophecy that the Lord would send him “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers” (see D&C 110:14–16; see also Malachi 4:5–6).
Through family history work, we can participate in the continuing fulfillment of this prophecy. We can learn about our ancestors and increase our love for them. We can be inspired by their stories of courage and faith. We can pass that legacy on to our children.
These are lasting benefits that come from family history work, but they are not the principal reasons for the Church’s great effort to gather genealogical records. All of the Church’s family history endeavors are directed to the need to form a “welding link … between the fathers and the children” (D&C 128:18). This welding link is formed by the power of the priesthood, through sacred temple ordinances we receive in behalf of our ancestors.
Many of Heavenly Father’s children have died without having the opportunity to receive the fulness of the gospel. In His mercy and infinite love, the Lord has prepared a way for them to gain a testimony of the gospel and receive the saving ordinances of the priesthood.
In the spirit world, the gospel is “preached to those who [have] died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. These [are] taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and all other principles of the gospel that [are] necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (D&C 138:32–34).
Many in the spirit world embrace the gospel. However, they cannot receive priesthood ordinances for themselves because they do not have physical bodies. In holy temples, we have the privilege of receiving ordinances in their behalf. These ordinances include baptism, confirmation, Melchizedek Priesthood ordination (for men), the endowment, the marriage sealing, and the sealing of children to parents. The Lord revealed this work to the Prophet Joseph Smith, restoring a practice that had been revealed to Christians shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:29).
As we receive priesthood ordinances in behalf of those who have died, we become a savior on Mount Zion for them (see Obadiah 1:21). Our effort approaches the spirit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice—we perform a saving work for others that they cannot do for themselves.
In family history work, we have three basic responsibilities:
- Receive the temple ordinances for ourselves and help immediate family members receive them.
- Hold a current temple recommend and attend the temple as frequently as circumstances allow.
- Gather family history information so we can help our ancestors receive the blessings of the temple.
Visit familysearch.org to begin your family history work.