We had a few last letters on family history work that could help those of us who are doing genealogical research in part-member families. This work, made so much more pleasant by the advent of NewFamilySearch, is so important that this last Circle of Sisters reminder on the subject is a cheerful task for me.

Our first letter offers some practical advice:

To the sister in Maine, leave the “new” people alone, and just go back another generation or two. The Church has asked us to not do any temple work without permission from those living relatives. But we can do work for people who have been dead for 100 years, without the relatives’ permission, as I understand it.

With the research availability we have today, you can usually get back several generations. Most of these ancestors have been dead for at least long enough to be able to send them to the temple without permission.

Give that Sister in Maine a pat on the back for doing what she has been asked to do. It will be very hard for someone new to join the Church, want to do Grandma’s temple work, and find out a fifth cousin jumped in ahead of them, because they needed a name.

A Sister Who’s Been There

Thanks for some wise counsel, Been There. The nifty thing about doing the work for people who have been dead for more than 100 years is that they’ve been waiting longer, and are possibly going to be even more grateful than relatives who just died a few years ago.

Here’s a letter that challenges us to look at things from an eternal perspective:

I know there are those who ignorantly oppose the work we do for our dead in the temples. First, if they do not believe that it is important or effective for our dead, then what difference does it make? Why oppose it?

Here is my take on it. First, a little background. We lived for what we mortals would describe as eons before coming to this earth to fulfill our assignment here. We more than likely knew our specific assignment and who would be our ancestors and descendants a long, long time before our arrival, allowing for significant discussion with both groups about the consequences of our actions.

We certainly discussed the Plan of Salvation and how important it would be in our lives. We also sadly knew that many of us would not live on the earth when the gospel was here or in our area of birth. Therefore, our ancestors most assuredly extracted sacred promises that when their descendants found the Gospel they would do everything necessary to get our work done for them in the temples.

Check out Moroni’s revision in D&C section 2 of Malachi 5:5-6. The crux of the matter is we made very sacred promises with eternal consequences to our ancestors that we would take care of them. If we fail them, the joy and rejoicing in our posterity we so long for may not be ours.

A number of years ago in an evaluation meeting after a stake conference, Elder James E. Faust looked at me and with sincerity told me that sometimes it is a lot easier to get forgiveness than approval. I will choose to get the work done, and if I err it will be on the side of compassion.

Robert W. Cowart

I’m sure your letter tickled the imaginations of a lot of readers, Robert. I’ve spent the past several minutes wondering which of my ancestors were the ones I promised to do their work. I often wonder if some of my ancestors are watching over me, egging me on from the other side _ or slapping their foreheads in dismay when I make another boneheaded decision.

For the sister who is having a problem getting information from hostile relatives:

If you have a belligerent relative that won’t give you any information regarding common relatives, then there is precious little can be done. We have all encountered this problem at some time, and there is no choice but to go around them to other relatives who hopefully may have the information.

I think, however, many problems could be avoided by the initial approach. Most nonmembers do not understand the concept of baptism for the dead. I haven’t met one yet who has accepted that idea _ even when reference was made to 1 Corinthians 15:29. But I also have not met anyone yet who has objected to contributing to a family tree which they could be included in.

Our approach has always been to talk about something they are familiar with _ and everyone knows what a family tree is. They are often flattered that they have been approached.

Of the dozens of people we have contacted over the years, only two have questioned what we planned to do with the names, and that was because they knew we were members of the Church.

So many millions of people who are not members understand the term “family tree” to be self-explanatory. Only one contact we have ever made objected and refused to give information because of some false information he insisted on clinging to. We wished him well and moved on.

This doesn’t mean we avoid talking about or answering questions regarding our faith. It simply means we have found there is no point in introducing topics that can result in objections, when none currently exist.

We have been doing family research for more than 30 years, from Australia to Great Britain, and my wife and I are the only members of the Church in all but one of the many branches of our respective families.

I hope this helps

Doug and Shirley Garrett

Medicine Hat

Alberta, Canada

That’s a great suggestion, Doug and Shirley. It’s one thing to lie about something, and quite another to volunteer more information than you’re asked for. The concept of offering way too much information reminds me of the old, old joke about the kid who asks his mother, “Where did I come from?” The mother responds with a long and clinical explanation of the birds and the bees. Finally the kid says, “Yeah, but where did I come from? Johnny says he came from Cleveland.”

I know you’re going on to a new subject next week, but if you’ve never seen this article from Ireland, you might want to try to reference it as related to today’s column on temple work.


Make it a good day!

Paul Johnson

That was a great article, Paul. This is something that most of us would never have found if not for your intrepid detective work, so I thank you for sending it.

Our last letter in this topic, just as the first one did, comes from “A Sister in Maine.” Let’s see what she had to say:

Thank you for running the topic on family history (https://meridianmag.wpengine.com/circleofsisters/100531hostile.html), and silent thanks to all who responded. The word “hostile” in your intro was an eye-catcher that made me wince. I worried a bit that I’d conveyed the wrong message, but the readers read so well between the lines that even my unexpressed concerns were answered.

The letters brought me a great deal of comfort and affirmed my decision to exercise patience regarding the temple work for all my kin born within the recent window.

I had the 95-year figure but couldn’t remember where from and thought it was from date of death. Now I stand corrected and can cite the source! I’ve been involved with NewFamilySearch since its first beta, and it’s been a long while since I read the “fine print.” Oops. I’ve put a copy of today’s article in with my genealogy paperwork for future reference.

THAT “Sister in Maine”

Thanks so much for writing back to us and telling the readers that their letters helped, S-i-M. It makes writing the column worthwhile.

Okay, readers, we really are going to a new topic next time. If you have any topic suggestions, send em to [email protected] Put something in your subject line to indicate your letter isn’t spam. We’d love to hear from you.

Until next time _ Kathy

We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.

Shirley Abbott