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

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Taking the Drudgery and Work out of Family History: A Blessing or a Curse?

We frequently hear the word "work" used in the context of religious discussions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We commonly use the term "family history work" or the "work of salvation" to describe the process of searching out our ancestors. As an example, on the webpage, "Hastening the Work of Salvation" the term "work" appears a minimum of 12 times. In fact, one of the most persistent historical doctrinal issues in Christianity involves the relationship between faith, works and salvation. Quoting from the Handbook 2: Administering the Church it says:
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ are sent forth “to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:56). This work of salvation includes member missionary work, convert retention, activation of less-active members, temple and family history work, and teaching the gospel. The bishopric directs this work in the ward, assisted by other members of the ward council.
 The doctrinal position of the Church concerning the relationship of works to salvations is very clear. One example is also found in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138:55-59 as follows:
55 I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God. 
56 Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men. 
57 I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead. 
58 The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, 
59 And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.
Notwithstanding this clear doctrinal connection between the process of working out our salvation and our ultimate salvation, I find that many would reduce this process to something that is represented as fun, simple, and easy and involves little or no work. Those of us who have spent years involved in our family history realize that the "work" component means exactly that. There is a great deal of intense, relatively difficult or even very difficult work involved in discovering our family history. In addition, the process usually involves a tremendous commitment of time and effort. However, in many instances the work component of the process has been minimized or claimed to be eliminated.

Is it wise to represent that the "work of salvation" requires no work? Central to this concept that there is very little work involved in discovering family members who need Temple ordinances is the idea that the  Family Tree has an endless supply of names ready for Temple work. Coupled with this basic idea is the concept that retrieving names from the Family Tree is simply a matter of finding and clicking on green icons. By taking this attitude are we selling ourselves and our youth short? Are we depriving people of the real opportunity to work out their own salvation? By ignoring the tremendous number of duplicate records in the Family Tree program are we simply discouraging the idea that there is any work involved at all?

Many of us pride ourselves on our "work ethic." We encourage our children to learn how to work. We pride ourselves in our work and what we are able to accomplish through intense physical or mental effort. We even glorify athletes who spend incalculable hours working at perfecting their ability in this particular sport. We help our children practice the piano to learn a valuable skill and sometimes become extremely proficient. Our children spend hours a day at school only to come home and do homework. Yet, given all of this, we somehow expect that family history can be done without any effort. Additionally, we seem to assume that the use of the church can do their family history without any instruction, practice or work.

We would not expect to send our child to a piano recital unless they had spent many many hours practicing. Likewise we would not expect our children to participate in any team sport without a great deal of practice. We are proud when any of our children "make the school team" because of the amount of time and effort and practice and real work that has gone into the accomplishment. But now, we expect our youth to understand a complex subject like family history with either little or no instruction and certainly no practice. One of the reasons why taking our own names to the Temple is a more significant activity is because of the work involved in finding those names. If we eliminate the work component are we in effect minimizing the importance of the activity?

Cleaning up the Family Tree can involve many hours of work and finding one qualified name can take weeks or months or even years of intense effort. Can we expect the members of the Church to expand that type of effort if they are led to believe that FamilySearch or someone has already done all the work necessary to find qualified ancestors who actually need Temple ordinances? Obviously, for those whose families have previously done little or no family history, the process of completing Temple ordinances for immediate family members who are deceased can be relatively simple. But this reservoir of "low hanging fruit" is very quickly depleted.

One aspect of this tragedy is that instruction in proper family history procedures has never been more available. It's many young people are called as "Family History Consultants" with no provision whatsoever being offered to assist them in being trained on how to successfully accomplish what they've been called to do. At the same time, youth are challenged to "take a name to the Temple" without any training or preparation in the actual processes necessary for accomplishing this vitally important work.

In the great scheme of things, work is often portrayed as a curse. We often refer to the story in Genesis and focus on the only part of the statement in the Pearl of Great Price in Moses 4:23 wherein the Lord cursed the ground. The entire phrase is that "cursed shall be the ground for thy sake" (emphasis added). Yes, the way to live in the world was made difficult and Adam and Eve had to suffer the following:
24 Thorns also, and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.
25 By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground—for thou shalt surely die—for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou wast, and unto dust shalt thou return.
 But we too often forget that all of this was done "for our sake." In other words, this was done for our own benefit. If we neglect the work we are denied the benefit. If we teach our children that family history work involves no work, then are we not denying them the benefits of the family history work? Granted, by attending the Temple they are gaining some benefit from the experience (perhaps). But just as we do not benefit fully by attending the Temple without doing our own family history and taking our own names to the Temple, are you do not benefit from "clicking on green arrows."


  1. Thank you for your insightful posting. I agree with you.

    It does seem that there are those who have been replacing the word “work” with “easy.” I believe they are actually trying to find the "sweet spot" between work and easy, or accuracy vs just click, in an effort to get more members involved in Family History.

    Is there a better way to get more members involved in family history work than selling it as easy?

    1. I guess I don't know the answer about a better way, but I am convinced that selling it as easy will come back to haunt.

    2. I agree, but I do not know how to convince the "easy" folks on this. My worry is that Family Tree could end up like ancestral file.

  2. Janet reminds me that work brings satisfaction, not that it was easy but that it was rewarding.

  3. This reminds me of an old BYU devotional by one of my husband's chemistry professors, Eliot Butler, "Everybody Is Ignorant, Only on Different Subjects." He said, among other things, "To learn is hard work. It requires discipline. And there is much drudgery. When I hear someone say that learning is fun, I wonder if that person has never learned or if he has just never had fun. There are moments of excitement in learning: these seem usually to come after long periods of hard work, but not after all long periods of hard work."

  4. I like this post very much and I agree with the thought process. However, I think that in agreeing I am sometimes agreeing too much. For example, I recently went to a talk by a FamilySearch employee about finding cousins. He emphasized that duplicates must be checked, and hints should be checked, so you know you are doing work for a real person. At the same time he taught how to use the descendancy view to find families that need research/temple work.

    A couple days later (both this week actually), I put on my Family History Consultant hat and went to visit a family in my ward. The wife wanted only to find a name and print it for the temple. She wanted easy. At first I said it does not work that way, but quickly I remembered the talk I had just been to and I taught this nice couple the same things. They had 3 names printed by the end of the hour. We even took care of the duplicates, and added a source to the family group (which I feel are the minimum standards). In the end, the faith of the couple and my own faith was strengthened. I realized that the experience was heart turning for that couple. I am in love with the "work" aspect, so it is hard for me to see that sweet spot sometimes. I think we hit it that evening.

    1. Thank you so much for that wonderful example. However, I am afraid that the message is not getting through to too many people. I hear of Church leaders telling Family History Consultants that they don't want to hear anything about duplicates.