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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Reflections on the History of FamilySearch -- Introduction

From time to time, I have commented on the history of genealogy and the history of the Genealogical Society of Utah and its successor organization, FamilySearch, International. In partial response to an article in The LDSChurch News and a slide presentation by David E. Rencher, AG, CG, FUGA, FIGRS and Chief Genealogical Officer of FamilySearch at the annual Brigham Young University Conference on Family History and Genealogy, I have decided to start a series outlining and commenting on the history of FamilySearch and how it has evolved as the genealogical entity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Part of the motivation for this series is the fact that I find that general awareness of the history and even the present status of FamilySearch is all but non-existent even among members of the Church. Understanding this process is important to members of the Church because of FamilySearch's involvement in the process of submitting names for Temple work.

The basic sources for information on the history of the Genealogical Society of Utah and subsequently, FamilySearch include a book on the subject and brief selection of website references. Here is the list of references.
Absent the book, there would be little or no actual historical information online and readily available although much of the history can be pieced together from digitized copies of The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine online on Google Books. 

Any history of the Genealogical Society of Utah should also be viewed in conjunction with an overall view of the history of genealogy in the United States. As I have recommended in the past, for this history, one of the few modern sources is the book:

Weil, François. Family Trees A History of Genealogy in America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013.

Now, you are probably asking yourself why you should know anything about the Genealogical Society of Utah or FamilySearch? Seeking out their ancestors, documenting them and ultimately, providing essential saving ordinances for them in the Temples is a basic component of believes and to some extent, the practices of the members of the Church. I qualify the statement about practices because only such a small percentage of the membership of the Church is directly involved in the process of submitting names for Temple work. But in any event, the members of the Church should have a basic understanding of how and why we have our present-day genealogical entities, if for no other reason than to dispel rumors and diminish frustration with the system. If you know how a certain procedure came to be and why it was initiated, you are much less likely to be critical or negative towards the institution.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Here's another interesting one by a Canadian professor:

    1. Thanks Nathan. Always helps to have more sources.

  3. Well, I was going to note that Hearts Turned to the Fathers is available to read/download on Family History Books, but it looks like it isn't anymore. But it's readily available online for a few dollars and is an interesting read.

    And it's always fascinating to consider how much of the genealogical program in the church we owe to a single determined woman whose life was deeply affected by repeated and ongoing tragedies, severe physical and mental illness, and dated ideas, but who wielded her formidable personality and position in the community to expand the mission and purpose of what had been a dusty collection of books in a back room into a great organization and program that has done much valuable work over more than a century. In other words, we owe a debt of gratitude to Susa Young Gates for lighting the fire that helped form the organization's early goals and vision.