Creating strong family relationships is one of the greatest blessings of belonging to our church. The family is where life begins, is nurtured through childhood and adolescence, and where family members find the fundamental values that will carry them through the rest of their lives. Preparing family histories continues relationships beyond this life into the past, helping members understand the influence that past generations have on those living today. We believe that connecting families through performing temple ordinances brings great joy to saints now living and to those souls who have passed through the veil long ago.
The greatest satisfaction in family history work often comes when an ancestor is discovered who needs temple work and then completing that sacred work in the temple; and the greatest disappointment may come when finding that an ancestor’s work has already been done by someone else. This may be hard for some to accept. One thing that members should understand is that when you start climbing the family tree, it’s likely that many other people have already been out on the limbs gathering the fruit.
In the 2009 Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work the church presents guidelines that give members a great deal of freedom when submitting family names to the temple. Submitting names of immediate family members and direct-line ancestors is the responsibility of the individual member. The Guide goes on to say that other more distant family members may be included such as any biological, adoptive, foster family, such as uncles, aunts, cousins and their families; and even “possible ancestors” including anyone who may have a probable family relationship“ that cannot be verified because the records are inadequate.”
These guidelines present a ladder into the limbs and branches of many other trees in the orchard.
The church declares in the Member’s Guide that “The primary purpose of family history work is to find ancestors’ names and perform temple ordinances for ancestors.” However; the freedom the church allows in finding “ancestors” brings many branches into the family tree. This means that when a great-great-great grandfather is discovered who had seven brothers and sisters that not only the brother’s and sister’s names may be submitted to the temple but their wives, the families of their wives, the ancestors of their wives and all of their children, all of their descendents down the line, their in-laws and anyone who had the same last name who lived in the same vicinity of those people.
So when a member starts climbing the family tree in search of the choicest apples, the search may quickly become a harvest of gathering fruit from the whole orchard.
People who are researching families today have the advantage of being able to find other people who are doing research on the same family lines. The church maintains the email addresses of people who contribute family names for temple ordinances. Contacting these people presents many opportunities to discover how distant family twigs are connected to the branches of your own family tree. Comparing the events and stories of the past with others who have different or more complete details helps us better understand the true spirit of those who have gone before. One of the greatest blessings of doing family history work is finding someone else who is searching to find the same answers to the same questions that you have. Collaboration on preparing family names for ordinances brings the joy found in the temple home.
So don’t be discouraged when you unexpectedly find that an ancestor’s name has already been taken through the temple. Many people are doing their best to see that past generations are linked together and receive the blessings of the fullness of the gospel. That’s what temple work is all about. There’s nothing like finding a name of an ancestor who needs temple work and then completing that sacred work. But there’s more. Finding joy in serving in the temple for all who have passed is a high calling indeed. Go to the temple often and take the names of your ancestor’s along. Find joy in knowing that others have performed ordinances for your own ancestors, and don’t be afraid of doing the work for any and all who are waiting across the veil.