Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have several social, practical and theological reasons for being involved in family history or "doing their genealogy." However, despite tremendous technological advances supporting active family history participants and a constant stream of admonitions about the importance of family history, the vast majority of the members are still not persuaded to get involved. In addition, there is a small, but significant number who actively oppose efforts to advance genealogical programs in the wards and stakes or become personally involved. Why does this apathy or even antipathy exist?
One simplified explanation for the lack of interest classifies members in three categories: those who say they don't have enough time, those who are just not interested and those who believe that "my genealogy has been all done." All three of these are not really reasons, they are excuses. I would turn the question around and ask, what motivates some people get involved in genealogical research about their families?
Back in 1995 President Howard W. Hunter wrote an Ensign article for February entitled "A Temple-Motivated People."
Surely we on this side of the veil have a great work to do. For in light of all the above-noted facts about temple ordinances, we can see that the building of temples has deep significance for ourselves and mankind, and our responsibilities become clear. We must accomplish the priesthood temple ordinance work necessary for our own exaltation; then we must do the necessary work for those who did not have the opportunity to accept the gospel in life. Doing work for others is accomplished in two steps: first, by family history research to ascertain our progenitors; and second, by performing the temple ordinances to give them the same opportunities afforded to the living.
Yet there are many members of the Church who have only limited access to the temples. They do the best they can. They pursue family history research and have the temple ordinance work done by others. Conversely, there are some members who engage in temple work but fail to do family history research on their own family lines. Although they perform a divine service in assisting others, they lose a blessing by not seeking their own kindred dead as divinely directed by latter-day prophets.President Hunter went on to explain the need to obtain both halves of the blessings of temple work.
I recall an experience of a few years ago that is analogous to this condition. At the close of a fast and testimony meeting, the bishop remarked, “We have had a spiritual experience today listening to the testimonies borne by each other. This is because we have come fasting according to the law of the Lord. But let us never forget that the law consists of two parts: that we fast by abstaining from food and drink and that we contribute what we have thereby saved to the bishop’s storehouse for the benefit of those who are less fortunate.” Then he added: “I hope no one of us will leave today with only half a blessing.”
I have learned that those who engage in family history research and then perform the temple ordinance work for those whose names they have found will know the additional joy of receiving both halves of the blessing.From a practical standpoint, we have many Church "programs." Active members of the Church are involved in all sorts of activities and responsibilities. In many cases, family history is seen as "just another church program and one that is not my responsibility right now."
This unity of temple and family history work has been repeated more recently by Elder Richard G. Scott who spoke about "The Joy of Redeeming the Dead" in General Conference in October, 2012.
Through further revelation to Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets, there has come an understanding of and the provision for temple work and the family history effort that supports it. Every prophet since Joseph Smith has emphasized the imperative need to provide all ordinances for ourselves and our deceased ancestors.
Temple and family history work is one work divided into two parts. They are connected together like the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Some members may not be able to do both works because of health or distances to temples.From these and many other teachings, we learn that temple and family history are one work and the motivation for doing both comes from the influence of the Spirit. We should prayerfully consider these words and ask for guidance in including family history research as part of our lives. As President Henry B. Eyring pointed out in an Ensign article in April of 2005 entitled, "Hearts Bound Together,"
Your opportunities and the obligations they create are remarkable in the whole history of the world. There are more temples across the earth than there have ever been. More people in all the world have felt the Spirit of Elijah move them to record the identities and facts of their ancestors’ lives. There are more resources to search out your ancestors than there have ever been in the history of the world. The Lord has poured out knowledge about how to make that information available worldwide through technology that a few years ago would have seemed a miracle.
With those opportunities there comes greater obligation to keep our trust with the Lord. Where much is given, much is required. After you find the first few generations, the road will become more difficult. The price will become greater. As you go back in time, the records become less complete. As others of your family search out ancestors, you will discover that the ancestor you find has already been offered the full blessings of the temple. Then you will have a difficult and important choice to make. You will be tempted to stop and leave the hard work of finding to others who are more expert or to another time in your life. But you will also feel a tug on your heart to go on in the work, hard as it will be.
As you decide, remember that the names which will be so difficult to find are of real people to whom you owe your existence in this world and whom you will meet again in the spirit world. When you were baptized, your ancestors looked down on you with hope. Perhaps after centuries, they rejoiced to see one of their descendants make a covenant to find them and to offer them freedom. In your reunion, you will see in their eyes either gratitude or terrible disappointment. Their hearts are bound to you. Their hope is in your hands. You will have more than your own strength as you choose to labor on to find them.