Church History Lesson 40 (Topical Subject)
There are myriad ways to participate in temple and family history work. Members of all ages can assist in name extraction without even leaving their home. Those 12 and older can go to the temple and participate in ordinances. Teens do baptisms for the dead. Adults do initiatory and endowment work. And all Latter-day Saints can turn their heart toward their fathers by researching the histories of their ancestors. The possibilities—and the work—are endless.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “In the work of redeeming the dead there are many tasks to be performed, and . . . all members should participate by prayerfully selecting those ways that fit their personal circumstances at a particular time. . . Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something.”1
The Spirit and Power of Elijah
We often speak of the Spirit of Elijah. This spirit is the one that “turn[s] the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers” (D&C 110:15). We call it the Spirit of Elijah because he is the prophet that restored the keys of the sealing power of the priesthood to Joseph Smith (D&C 110:13–16). Through this power, sealing ordinances can be performed that unite families forever.
The work is so important that the Lord declared that the entire plan of salvation would have been “a waste” if those denied essential ordinances while in life are simply damned by their ignorance or the time of their birth. God intends to save all of His children—not just those who were born under the covenant.
He looks to us whom he has so richly blessed with the knowledge of these things from our childhood to act upon the favorable circumstances of our birth. That is why we were reserved for this day and time, so that we could assist significantly in the work of salvation.
All of the work we do in extracting names, performing ordinances, and writing histories has the temple and temple work as its ultimate expression. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “All of our vast family history endeavor is directed to temple work. There is no other purpose for it. The temple ordinances become the crowning blessings the Church has to offer.”2
The Blessings of Temple and Family History Work
President Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “No work is more of a protection to this church than temple work and the genealogical research that supports it. No work is more spiritually refining. No work we do gives us more power.”3 We obtain this power in a number of ways.
By having a current temple recommend and attending the temple regularly. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I urge our people everywhere, with all of the persuasiveness of which I am capable, to live worthy to hold a temple recommend, to secure one and regard it as a precious asset, and to make a greater effort to go to the house of the Lord and partake of the spirit and the blessings to be had therein. I am satisfied that every man or woman who goes to the temple in a spirit of sincerity and faith leaves the house of the Lord a better man or woman. There is need for constant improvement in all of our lives. There is need occasionally to leave the noise and the tumult of the world and step within the walls of a sacred house of God, there to feel His spirit in an environment of holiness and peace.”4
Even if our circumstances do not allow us to attend the temple regularly, we should hold a temple recommend. President Howard W. Hunter said, “It would please the Lord if every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend. The things that we must do and not do to be worthy of a temple recommend are the very things that ensure we will be happy as individuals and as families.”5
By teaching our children about the importance of the temple. President Hunter suggested that we keep a picture of the temple in our homes and that we teach our children from their earliest years to prepare themselves for temple blessings. We can also encourage them to be worthy of the temple so they can do baptisms for the dead after they reach the age of 12.
By preparing to have ordinances performed for deceased relatives. Even though others in our families may have worked on family history, there will still be some deceased relatives who need to have temple ordinances performed for them. To achieve this, we must first identify them. This is accomplished by research and by name extraction. And today, we have marvelous tools at our disposal that can be used in our own homes on our own computers. Immense databases of names can be searched quickly to identify those who have not yet received their ordinances.
We can list those whom we remember, look through family records, and ask parents, grandparents, and other family members to tell. us about other ancestors. We can also use Church-produced computer programs in our homes and in Family History Centers to help us in these efforts. The Holy Spirit will help us identify these ancestors, and the information can also come to us in expected ways and places.
As we learn this information about our ancestors, we should record the information we find on pedigree charts and family group records. Family history consultants in the ward, branch, or stake can help us prepare the information that the temple will need before ordinances may be performed for our ancestors. Church family history publications, local priesthood leaders, and temples can also provide these instructions.
Some of these include:
— A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work (34697).
— Family history forms (such as pedigree charts and family group records).
— Computer programs.
— Information on Family History Centers (where they are located, etc.)
A Personal Work
Learning about Ancestors’ Lives
How many of our grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents do we know my name? If we have done our four-generation research, this should not be too difficult. But in addition, how much do we know about their lives—their hopes and dreams, their trials, their faith, and their testimonies?
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve counseled, “Arrange to participate for deceased ancestors in the sealing and other ordinances.. . . I find it helpful when receiving ordinances for another to try and relate to that person specifically. I think of him and pray that he will accept the ordinance and benefit from it. Do these things with a prayer in your heart that the Holy Spirit will enhance your understanding and enrich your life. Those worthy prayers will be answered.”6
Teaching Our Children about Their Ancestors
Elder Dennis B Neuenschwander of the Seventy told of his responsibility to teach his children and grandchildren about their family’s history:
“Not one of my children has any recollection of my grandparents. If I want my children and grandchildren to know those who still live in my memory, then I must build the bridge between them. I alone am the link to the generations that stand on either side of me. It is my responsibility to knit their hearts together through love and respect, even though they may never have known each other personally. My grandchildren will have no knowledge of their family’s history if I do nothing to preserve it for them. That which I do not in some way record will be lost at my death, and that which I do not pass on to my posterity, they will never have. The work of gathering and sharing eternal family keepsakes is a personal responsibility. It cannot be passed off or given to another.”7
These are more than stories. They are scripture to all those who have descended from them. If we do not gather and preserve these histories, they will be lost to all our future descendants.
Bruce R. McConkie said:
“Adam kept a written account of his faithful descendants in which he recorded their faith and works, their righteousness and devotion, their revelations and visions, and their adherence to the revealed plan of salvation. To signify the importance of honoring our worthy ancestors and of hearkening to the great truths revealed to them, Adam called his record a book of remembrance. It was prepared ‘according to the pattern given by the finger of God’ (Moses 6:4–6, 46.)
“Similar records have been kept by the saints in all ages. (Malachi 3:16–17; 3 Nephi 24:16–17.) Many of our present scriptures have come down to us because they were first written by prophets who were following Adam’s pattern of keeping a book of remembrance. The Church keeps similar records today (D&C 85) and urges its members to keep their own personal and family books of remembrance.”8
Keeping Our Own Personal and Family Histories
Thinking forward, we may also ask if we are preserving our own life histories for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Will they, and their children after them, know us? Will the experiences of our lives—our own hopes and dreams, trials, faith, and testimonies—be lost? We must take care to preserve them.
President Spencer W. Kimball said:
“Your own private journal should record the way you face up to challenges that beset you. Do not suppose life changes so much that your experiences will not be interesting to your posterity. . . . Your journal should contain your true self rather than a picture of you when you are `made up’ for a public performance. There is a temptation to paint one’s virtues in rich color and whitewash the vices, but there is also the opposite pitfall of accentuating the negative. Personally I have little respect for anyone who delves into the ugly phases of the life he is portraying, whether it be his own or another’s. The truth should be told, but we should not emphasize the negative. Even a long life full of inspiring experiences can be brought to the dust by one ugly story. . . . What could you do better for your children and your children’s children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved? . . . Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events. . . .”9
A Great and Noble Cause
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free . . . Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation” (D&C 128:22, 24).
1. “Family History: ‘In Wisdom and Order,” Ensign, June 1989, 6.
2. In Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 115-16; or Ensign, May 1998, 88.
3. “The Holy Temple,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 36.
4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1995, 72; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 53.
5. In Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 8; or Ensign, Nov 1994, 8.
6. In Conference Report, Apr. 1999, 33; or Ensign, May 1999, 27.
7. In Conference Report, Apt 1999, 109; or Ensign, May 1999, 83-84.
8. Mormon Doctrine, 100.
9. Teachings of Spencer W Kimball, 350–351, 542–543.