Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Can you teach what you do not know?

Frequently made comments on the way genealogy or family history is promoted in Wards and Stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints involve the fact that those encouraging involvement in various aspects of family history have had little or no experience actually researching their ancestors or submitting names for Temple ordinances. This comes back to the old adage, you can't teach what you do not know. It also reminds me of the injunction to lead by example. How can a leader challenge members to "take a name to the Temple" if they themselves have not done so?

In bringing up this subject, I am certainly not criticizing any particular leader or individual. But I do have to acknowledge that this is a very common topic of conversation, especially when I am talking to someone who has come to a Family History Center to try and comply with the challenge given to them by a leader. 

The issue of the "challenge to take a name to the Temple" is one that is particularly difficult for some who have either spent years looking for people in their family without success or for those who have no idea whatsoever about what is involved in researching family history for that purpose. In my own personal experience with patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, I have seen duplication simply for the purpose of fulfilling such a challenge. I have also seen that many times the names for such a challenge activity end up being provided to the members from someone who "has done the research." So the goal of increasing family history activity is short circuited.

There seems to be a common misimpression that Family Tree is a place where you can go and after a short search, find a name to take to the Temple. Part of this impression originated with the now discontinued program that allowed duplicative work without too much difficulty. Fundamentally, the misimpression comes from a lack of understanding of the nature of Family Tree. The most simple explanation about why Family Tree is not a "source" for finding people who need Temple ordinances involves learning about the origin of the content of Family Tree. Essentially, Family Tree is primarily a repository for the names of people whose Temple work has already been done. Especially for those members whose ancestors have been members of the Church for several generations, it is extremely likely that any names found in Family Tree have already had their work completed. 

There are more appropriate challenges. Perhaps, the members could be involved in Indexing or in making access to the website and adding photos, stories or documents. It is apparent that the purpose of such challenges, in many cases, are to increase Temple activity and not particularly to increase genealogical research. It is certainly true that involvement in family history is one way members become motivated to increase or maintain their Temple attendance, but it seems to me that it is inappropriate to challenge people to "find a name to take to the Temple" without providing a detailed way that the challenge can be a success.

If you want to increase involvement in both family history and Temple attendance, may I suggest that a more appropriate way to do this is through following the guidelines in the Family History manuals on It would be a better practice to elicit the help of the seasoned genealogists in teaching and helping those who have the opportunity to find prospective individual ancestors and families that need Temple work, than merely challenging everyone to "take a name to the Temple." Why not invite a group of Ward Family History Consultants to go into the homes in the Ward and find those whose families were not traditionally members and help them, one-on-one, to prepare names for a Temple excursion, perhaps, for new members to do baptisms for their ancestors and have other family members or Ward members assist with the other ordinances if appropriate and desired by the new members. As an alternative, they could reserve the names and then work towards going to the Temple for the first time and then doing the work for the ancestors found.

There are also presently fabulously helpful tools for finding "cousins" who may need to have their Temple work performed. The program and the new Descendancy View in Family Tree both help identify family members who may need further research and therefore are candidates for additional valid Temple work.

If any of my suggestions refer to programs or procedures that do not seem familiar to you, perhaps you need to spend some time learning a little more about family history. There are likely Family History Consultants in your Ward or Stake or other experienced family historians at a local Family History Center who would love to help you learn. 

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