Today’s “Hole in the Rock”: New FamilySearch
By James W. Petty, AG, CG
In the fall of 1879, one of the great and harrowing episodes of western settlement began. In that season, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under the direction of the Prophet John Taylor, determined the necessity of settling southeastern Utah.
President Taylor called 236 people, men, women, and children to the San Juan Mission, to leave their homes in Parowan, Paragonah, and Cedar City and find a way into that desolate and dangerous area of the Utah territory. There was a long route around Glen Canyon and across the Colorado River, but based on reports of explorers that it would be possible to enter those lands by means of a break in the San Juan mountains known as “Hole in the Rock”, the group concluded to take that shorter and more direct route.
By December, 1879, the families had made their way to grounds just west of the break in the cliffs. It was late enough in the season that snow and ice now blocked the mountain passes leading back to their homes; and the weather would soon deteriorate ahead of them, stranding them from safe and secure campgrounds.
The situation was discussed and the Church leaders guiding the expedition announced the decision to blast a larger opening in the pass, and move ahead in the effort to cross the mountain range and over the river on the other side. The Saints responded with faith and shouts of hope. Testimonies were borne of the promises of God, and their dedication to His cause. The excavation began, and the road from the “Hole” down to the river was prepared. Descriptions of that “road” speak of a 2000 foot descent of 3/4 mile before reaching the water. The trace was littered with boulders and rocks. Special equipment was built to guide the 83 wagons through the narrow gorge and it required dozens of men and teams of horses to move each family down the dangerous decline.
Once across the Colorado River, the wagon teams had to climb the rock hard face of the mountains to go forward. The horses pulling these caravans suffered convulsions in their efforts to reach the tops of the terrain, and left behind the hair and blood from their legs and bodies. It was a frightening and terrifying experience.
The “Hole in the Rock” families displayed great faith and courage in their efforts of obedience to their God. They were blessed with the discovery of beautiful landscapes, and productive farms, and faithful families and descendants.
The Little Red Hen
These are familiar stories for us. Accounts of Faith, Hope and Courage abound when we recall the efforts made by a people who listened to a prophet, who were obedient and willing to the call, who gave their hearts and souls to leave the World behind and bring their families to Zion. This attitude has been repeated again and again as our ancestors crossed the seas, pulled handcarts across the plains, fought off crickets, and other natural disasters in the effort to build an eternal home in the tops of the mountains; and then for many, returned to their native lands to teach the gospel and help the Lord’s Kingdom to grow in every place where two or three could gather in His name.
In our modern world of convenience and technology we seldom think of ourselves as people of such courage and devotion; but like the Saints of yesterday, Heavenly Father intends for each of us to prove our worth. We, too, must be tried and tested to grow as sons and daughters of a Loving Father. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have been called to the mission of Redeeming the Dead.
This work of genealogy and temple ordinances requires commitments involving study, patience, great effort, and personal time. It reminds us of the children’s story about the little red hen who baked a loaf of bread. But before she could bake the bread she had to till the land, plant the wheat, harvest the grain, and prepare the flour. She called upon various animals on the farm to assist her in the work, but they were unwilling, providing excuse after excuse. In the end when all of the work was finished, and the bread was baked, and its savory scent drifted across the farm in the breeze, the barnyard animals flocked to the oven eager to partake of the delicious results.
For many people the work of Redeeming the Dead is like that loaf of fresh bread. Participating in temple ordinance work is a blessing and an activity the Saints are called upon to enjoy. It is easy to pick up the name of an unknown person, and represent them as temple covenants are given and received. But before these blessings can be realized there is a great deal of work that must be completed in preparation for the temple experience. Fields of records must be plowed and hoed; names must be identified by reading and study. When they are found, the good information has to be sifted out of the chaff of incorrect data. The details of the research then has to be harvested, at which time the resulting names must be organized and inputted into family groups ready to be submitted to the Temple. Then we can partake of the blessings of Temple service.
Throughout the past one and a half centuries different programs have been conducted to help the Saints discover and submit names for temple work. Computer technology has been developed in our generation to improve the quality and completeness of the information resulting from research and study. The result of the Church’s most recent efforts to provide a better record-keeping and submission system is the computer Internet program called “New FamilySearch (https://new.familysearch.org).” This is a way of organizing research information in one world-wide pedigree, through which ancestors and long lost family members can be discovered, and people everywhere can work together to discover their genealogical origins
However, New FamilySearch comes with a price. The program gathers together details from all of the previous Church genealogy programs into one database, together with sources for the most complete record, potentially, ever created. But in doing so it also reveals all of the duplications, errors, false lineages, incorrect generations, and bad sources that have resulted through years and years of past genealogy research. Unlike previous efforts of collecting information, New FamilySearch recognizes this problem, and asks.no, requires participants to resolve duplications, incorrect names, dates, places, and any other details attached to the work, and to identify the origins of the information with correct source citations, in order to avoid incorrect duplications and create a trustworthy record in future entries.
This is an overwhelming mission we have been called upon to do. For many it seems impossible. It is almost comparable to being asked to transport 83 wagons with their families, horses, cattle, and contents, through a small break in a cliff, down the 2000 foot descent, to cross one of the mightiest rivers in America, in a mountainous desert, in the middle of winter. This is our “Hole in the Rock.”
Preparing the Way
In 1840, the Doctrine of Redeeming the Dead was revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith as one of the major purposes of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. By divine instruction ordinances of salvation are to be made available to all peoples of all times and dispensations through the family history and temple service of living Saints. This work will not be accomplished by seeking out ancestors at our convenience and in our own good time. Our eternal existence and that of the whole World depends upon the serious and dedicated endeavor required of us as members of the Eternal Family of Man to seek out our kindred dead and provide them with the saving ordinances of the temple.
Since that call one hundred seventy years ago, the Church has been at the forefront, preparing the ways and means to help us accomplish this great mission of family history work and to move our wagons forward despite the frightening obstacles in our paths. Like preparing the trail into the San Juan Mission, they have created multiple family history and genealogy programs, technologies, and opportunities for members to research, record, and submit names for temple work.
In the 1870’s the Church instituted the use of Family Registries and Temple Books. In 1894 they established the Genealogical Library, known today as the Family History Library with its thousands of worldwide branches. In the early 1900’s family group records began to be gathered in a vast collection, consolidating the genealogical research efforts of thousands of members. Microfilming records around the world started in the late 1930’s and by the 1950’s with the advent of the first computer programs, the Church began extracting names from various collected resources. In 1977, shortly before the introduction of personal computers, the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball stated that the knowledge of computers was revealed specifically to advance the Church’s mission of Redeeming the Dead.
During the past twenty to thirty years, the Church has been discovering and utilizing new methods through computer technology to push genealogy and temple work forward to help us excavate the road of our ancestral research, including Personal Ancestral File (PAF), FamilySearch and now New FamilySearch.
New FamilySearch is the latest response to the many steps that have been taken during the past twenty years as computers have become a key tool in genealogy research. As the current Family History program of the Church, it invites all to gather genealogical records and input information online to share and collaborate with our brothers and sisters around the world.
Apostle Russell M. Nelson, speaking on the concept of New FamilySearch in the April 2010 General Conference of the Church, said:
“The new FamilySearch system changes the dynamics of family history work by facilitating the creation of one common pedigree. In the past, a person worked separately, keeping his or her own family records. One often worked without knowing what other family members were doing. Now each person can contribute information while coordinating with others in developing their family tree.