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

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Seeking After Our Dead, Our Greatest Responsibility

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in 1928, the Genealogical Society of Utah (the predecessor to FamilySearch) published the following book:

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Genealogical Society. Seeking after Our Dead Our Greatest Responsibility. [Salt Lake City]: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1928.

The book is a course of lessons for the study in classes in family history. At the beginning of the book, there is a quote from Brigham Young on pages 7-8:
Our ancestors back for hundreds of years * * * are all looking to see what their children are doing upon the earth. The Lord says, I have sent the keys of Elijah the Prophet——I have imparted that doctrine to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers. Now, all you children, are you looking. to the salvation of your fathers? Are you seeking diligently to redeem those that have died without the Gospel, inasmuch as they sought the Lord Almighty to obtain promises for you? For our fathers did obtain promises that their seed should not be forgotten. 0 ye children of the fathers, look at these things. You are to enter into the temples of the Lord and officiate for your forefathers." (Brigham Young, Discourses, p. 625.) (omissions in the original)
Most of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been taught and re-taught the doctrine concerning the necessity of redeeming our dead ancestors through performing the vital proxy ordinances for them in the Temples. The Church recently dedicated its 148th Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana. The continued emphasis on building Temples reinforces the importance of this great work. Why then is there such a lack of interest in actually doing the work and in some cases, active opposition?

Part of the explanation is given in the quote from the book on page 32:
There are many duties before us in life, claiming our attention and efforts. It is often puzzling to know which are of most importance. Says the Prophet, "The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead." (Times and Seasons, Vol. 6:616.)
 At pages 35 and 36, the book goes on to expand on this issue:
Do we as Latter-day Saints fully realize the importance of the mighty responsibility placed upon us in relation to the salvation of the world? We are doing a great deal in the attempt to convert and save a perverse and wicked generation; we are sending out hundreds of missionaries into all parts of the earth, and are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in this very necessary labor, _with results that are not so very startling. We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the building of meeting houses, church schools and other buildings, and in the education of the youth of Israel * * * and in every way diligently striving to improve our own people, and disseminate knowledge that will convert the world to the gospel; but what are we doing for the salvation of our dead? Many there are, it is true, who comprehend this great work, and are faithfully discharging their duties in the temples of the Lord, but of others this cannot be said. * * * It matters not what else we have been called to do, or what position we may occupy, or how faithfully in other ways we have labored in the Church, none are exempt from this great obligation. It is required‘ of the apostle as well as of the humblest elder. Place or distinction, or long service in the Church, in the mission field. the Stake of Zion, or where or how else it may have been, will not entitle one to disregard the salvation of one's dead. Some may feel that if they pay their tithing, attend their regular meetings and other duties, give of their substance to the poor, perchance spend one or two or more years preaching in the world, that they are absolved from further duty. But the greatest and grandest duty of all is to labor for the dead. We may and should do all these other things, for which re-ward will be given, but if we neglect the weightier privilege and commandment, notwithstanding all other good works, we shall find ourselves under severe condemnation. (omissions in the original)
Now, today, we have electronic resources unimagined by our forbearers who were being taught back in 1928, nearly a hundred years ago. How can we expect to escape this obligation, when we have been given an easier path to follow? The consequences are clear as quoted on page 36:
Any man who neglects the redemption of his dead that he has the power to officiate for here, will have sorrow when he gets to the other side of the veil; if you have entered into these temples and redeemed your progenitors by the ordinances of the house of God you will hold the keys of their redemption from eternity to eternity." (Wilford Woodruff, Deseret News Weekly, Sept. 17, 1898.)
What did they have to say about doing family history research in 1928? Did they say how much fun we would have? Here is a quote from page 39:
Though research may at times prove tedious and disappointing, it holds out the highest compensations. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." (I Cor. 2:9-10.)
 Now given that introduction, here is a discussion from this book written in 1928, I think some might find interesting. I was wondering about the date of publication of this book, once I read this. It sounds a lot like what many of us have been saying today.
A man was identified by the name of John Jones, who was born in 1566 and died in 1620. His wife's name being unknown, her real name was disguised under the artificial title of “Mrs. John Jones,” and her temple work was done under that name. 
Later it was discovered that this John Jones had been married thrice. The name of his first wife was Anne Weeks and complete identification was found for her, name, parentage, dates of birth, marriage, and death. The name of the third was found to be Anne Thompson; and John Jones was her third husband. Her complete identification was obtained. Nothing was learned of the second wife. 
Can you decide for which of his three wives the baptism, endowment, and sealing of "Mrs. John Jones" may be applied? Nothing but approximated dates were used, which were totally unlike the real ones for the first wife. 
Such guess work would not be countenanced in genealogy; for it leads absolutely nowhere in the tracing of an ancestor. Is it justifiable in ordinance work? Is it a help or a hindrance in the final analysis? Again, if you know that John Jones died leaving a wife Anne, with no further particulars, except that John Jones was the father of eight children, can you truly perform the work for this family, from these facts alone? 
Or, suppose the children in this family were known, and the name of the mother, but the name of the father was unknown. Hence we do his work as “Mr. Jones;" born 1566, died 1620. Is he identified? The records may show that there were about 3,000 males of the surname Jones living during that period, many were born in that same year and many others died in 1620. 
Each individual is known and distinguished by a given name. Since many in the world bear the same given name, individuals are further distinguished by adding the family name or surname of the father.
I think this example says more than enough. What would those who were writing manuals for the Church think of the way work is done today? Some of the rules have changed since 1928, but the principles have not.

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