I could certainly get into a long discussion about the causes of this lack of knowledge of the LDS websites and online resources, but that will have to be in another post. The purpose of this post and those that follow is to highlight the vast free genealogical resources provided by the Church and all of its subdivisions. Here is a brief summary introducing the history and background of the main LDS organization, FamilySearch.
The involvement of the Church in the field of genealogy cannot be understood without examining its doctrine and teachings. As stated by Joseph Fielding Smith, a former President,
Salvation for the dead is the system whereunder those who would have accepted the gospel in this life, had they been permitted to hear it, will have the chance to accept it in the spirit world, and will then be entitled to all the blessings which passed them by in mortality” (DS 2:100-196). Provisions have been made, therefore, for the living to provide, vicariously, ordinances of salvation for their deceased family forebears and friends. This cannot be done without information about the dead.
At the April General Conference of the Church in 1894, President Wilford Woodruff announced that he had received a revelation and admonished the members saying,
We want the Latter day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it…. This is the will of the Lord to this people.” Later that year, the First Presidency of the Church authorized the formation of the Genealogical Society of Utah. Franklin D. Richards was selected as its first president. Archibald F. Bennett, later an executive secretary, gave the following historical summary: “It was to be benevolent, educational, and religious in purpose-benevolent in gathering together into a library books that would help the people trace their ancestry; educational in teaching the people how to trace their ancestry…; religious in that they would do all in their power to encourage the people to perform in the temples all the necessary ordinances.
One of the founders of the Genealogical Society of Utah, Nephi Anderson made the following statement in January of 1912:
I see the records of the dead and their histories gathered from every nation under heaven to one great central library in Zion — the largest and best equipped in the nations, but in Zion will be the records of the last resort and authority. Trained genealogists will find constant work in all nations having unpublished records, searching among the archives for families and family connections. Then, as temples multiply, and the work enlarges to its ultimate proportions, this Society, or some organization growing out of this Society, will have in its care some elaborate, but perfect system of exact registration and checking, so that the work in the temples may be conducted without confusion or duplication. And so throughout the years, reaching into the Millennium of peace, this work of salvation will go on, until every worthy soul that can be found from early records will have been searched out and officiated for; and then the unseen world will come to our aid, the broken links will be joined, the tangled threads will be placed in order, and the purposes of God in placing salvation within the reach of all will have been consummated.
This religious mandate explains, only in part, the vast effort the Church and its members have expended in creating one of the largest record repositories for genealogical information in the world. It is truly amazing to contemplate the extensive genealogical organization of the Church.
Through the years the Church’s genealogical interests have been conducted under a variety of names and organizations. Beginning in 1894 the Church sponsored the Genealogical Society of Utah and despite the name changes in 1944 to The Genealogical Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then in 1975 to The Genealogical Department, later in 1987, and another name change to The Family History Department, the Church kept using the name and titles of the Genealogical Society of Utah. In 2000 the Church consolidated the Family History and Historical departments into the Family and Church History Department. Today FamilySearch is used as the tradename for the Utah Genealogical Society, even though FamilySearch, International is also a separate corporation.
Today, FamilySearch is a large international organization employing hundreds of people and utilizing hundreds of volunteers Church-Service missionaries.
Tune in for the next installment.