President Henry B. Eyring, Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in the April 2005 General Conference as follows:
Many of your deceased ancestors will have received a testimony that the message of the missionaries is true. When you received that testimony you could ask the missionaries for baptism. But those who are in the spirit world cannot. The ordinances you so cherish are offered only in this world. Someone in this world must go to a holy temple and accept the covenants on behalf of the person in the spirit world. That is why we are under obligation to find the names of our ancestors and ensure that they are offered by us what they cannot receive there without our help.He went on to say:
With those opportunities there comes greater obligation to keep our trust with the Lord. Where much is given, much is required.5 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.At some point in time, we need to stop talking about the doctrine of doing the work for our deceased ancestors and relatives and actually start doing what is necessary to find them. All of the wonderful suggestions and programs we have to help people get interested in family history need to focus on doing the actual work. As President Eyring points out, this may turn out to be difficult work. I can state with absolute surety that we have the tools to significantly advance this work right now. I have been grappling with the challenge of finding my own ancestors for over thirty years and I have used every advance in technology as it has come along and we now have adequate tools to go forward. I know this is the case because I am consistently finding new people to add to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree.
No matter what you see when you look at the Family Tree and initially begin the process of discovery, you have to take the same steps. You may see that many of your ancestors have submitted names for generations back in time. You may also see that some of your ancestors have done very little. In many cases, you may find that no work has previously been done and you are the first in your family to start the process. Wherever you find yourself in the Family Tree, you have the opportunity to make significant progress.
Here in Provo, Utah along the Wasatch Front, it is common for people to appear to have extensive genealogies already recorded in the Family Tree. This is usually the case with families that count many of their ancestors as some of the original members of the Church with ancestral names like Tanner, Kimball, Smith, Cannon, Woodruff and others. My experience over the past few years suggests that the more information you already have in your part of the Family Tree, the more opportunities you have to make significant progress in finding new people whose names can then be taken to the temples.
Many other people have bought into the idea that the "youth" of the Church will solve the problem for them. They look at the fact that the "youth" are comfortable with the technology and therefore they can somehow automatically understand how to do genealogical research. Well, I have taught thousands of people in the last few years about family history, including many youth and older people. I have found that age is not a major factor in having the interest and ability to handle either genealogical research or the technology. For example, I have been using computers now for over 45 years, far longer than any teenager and many of my contemporaries have the same amount of experience. I find as many youth who are challenged by technology as I do mature adults. In fact, I find many of the youth who do not have the attentions span or the research skills or even reading skills to understand the research process at all.
So let's get started. What is the first step? I just finished a series of posts on Genealogy's Star blog that is entitled "Jumpstart Your Family History in Ten Steps." The link is to the last post in the series. I am also going to post a webinar on the same subject within the next few days. The webinar will be broadcast online on December 5th, 2016. No matter where you start, you need to become acquainted with your family and your ancestors. This is the case whether you are from Utah or from Vietnam or Zimbabwe. It is true that finding information about someone who lived their life in the United States or Western Europe is easier than finding someone in some other countries, but the principles and procedures of finding them are the same.
President Eyring in his Conference talk pointed out the same principle:
Because your heart has already been turned, the price may not seem high. You begin by doing simple things. Write down what you already know about your family. You will need to write down the names of parents and their parents with the dates of birth or death or marriage. When you can, you will want to record the places. Some of that you will know from memory. But you can also ask relatives. They may even have some certificates of births, marriages, or deaths. Make copies and organize them. If you learn stories about their lives, write them down and keep them. You are not just gathering names. Those you never met in life will become friends you love. Your heart will be bound to theirs forever.Some of us need to turn our hearts, but most of us simply need to start working. I was trying to help one of my grandchildren with a school science project. When I mentioned to him that he needed to finish the project, he collapsed on the floor and tried to disappear. I have often had the same feeling. We think the work is overwhelming and we do not have the time to do anything. But the key here is to pick ourselves off of the floor and get started actually doing the work. Look at the Family Tree. Start by learning how and why it is there and what it is. You can do this by using The Family History Guide.
In the next few posts, I am going to take a detailed look at the process of discovery by using the Family Tree to find some new people. I have been doing this for some time now and have already made significant progress. I hope this case study will motivate you to take similar steps to discover your own ancestry.