Baptisms for the Dead-A Forgotten Record For Finding Early LDS Ancestry
by James W. Petty, A.G., C.G.R.S., B.S. (Genealogy)

Here’s a clue for filling in some of the blank spaces in your family history.

In 1840, William Schofield of Halifax, Yorkshire, England, heard the gospel of Jesus Christ from two Mormon missionaries from America, and his life changed. He listened to their sermons, studied their scriptures, and took the information home to his wife and children to share this glorious new message of hope.

On Christmas day, December 25th, 1840 he was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His wife Hannah Gregson Schofield didn’t receive the gospel as readily, but William’s enthusiasm and desire won her over, and she was baptized June 24th, 1841, two weeks after their eldest son John was baptized. The family welcomed the Church into their lives, and began organizing all of their activities around it. Like other Saints in England, they dreamt of traveling to Zion and making their home near the Prophet of God. Eventually, they saved their money, sold their home, and made arrangements to travel to America and begin their new lives with the other members of the Church in Utah. Arriving in 1860, William and his family settled in Spring City, San Pete County.

Nearly sixty years old, William took on the challenges of a new home in a new world. He was raised in the city, but became a farmer. He also participated in the religious practices of the Church in Zion. In 1865 he and Hannah traveled to Salt Lake City and received their endowments in the old Endowment House. Several years later, William returned to Salt Lake City with his daughter, and performed baptisms for the dead for a number of his family members in England, who had died without hearing the gospel, recalling from memory their names and relationships.

William passed away in Spring City on Jan. 14, 1889 at the age of 84. His family remained in Utah, but only the family of his son John stayed active in the Church. Like may early members of the Church, the second generation of their family did not share the dedication and enthusiasm for Church membership as their parents had. Maybe it was simply the traditional rebellion that many children experience in relation to their parents; but in any case William’s children for the most part, drifted away from church activity. Son John’s children rebelled against their parents generation, and pushed the memories and teachings of their fathers away. The result was that four or five generations later, a hundred years, descendants of William Schofield and Hannah Gregson look back on their family history, and discover many large gaps in the collective knowledge, because the record was lost and forgotten by the generations that followed William and Hannah.

The Blank Spaces
This problem is not unique to the Schofield family. It is a common occurrence for LDS families to look back on their genealogy and find blank spaces where family history should be. Many of these families are amazed and shocked to discover that after a century of membership in the Church, little is known about the genealogy of their original Church ancestors; perhaps nothing more than was told by those early saints to their children. William Schofield is a good example of that loss of family memory. His descendants knew from his church membership records that he was born Dec. 8, 1804 in Halifax, Yorkshire, England, the son of William Schofield Sr. and Sarah Schofield. That is the information William related to his Spring City Ward Clerk.

A century later, that was still all that was known. Earlier family members while tracing the family genealogy may have studied the parish registers of Halifax, England, only to discover there were several William Schofields that lived in that area at the same time. It was a big city for its day, and Schofields were all over the place. They may have found the marriage record of William’s parents, William Schofield Sr. and Sarah Schofield on June 3, 1798; but that only increased the problem. Sarah Schofield was a common name too. Who were their families out of all of the other Schofields that were out there? The multiplicity of Williams and Sarah was confusing, and others of those names appeared in neighboring parishes and communities.

Identifying the families and genealogy of immigrant ancestors through research is challenging for any culture. Most people leave their homeland and their parents, siblings and extended families, hoping to correspond and keep in touch with loved ones. It seldom works out that way. The old saying “Out of Sight; Out of Mind” is sadly very true. And correspondence or other family records are too soon lost or discarded, and the names of more distant family are soon forgotten. The key to unlocking the family historical memory is finding a source that reveals names and relationships of people in the homeland to the immigrant ancestor.

The most important sources for identifying the genealogy of early LDS pioneers are the records of ordinances performed for the dead in the temples of the Church. Of particular importance are the records of the baptisms for the dead, performed in Nauvoo; the Endowment House prior to 1876; and then in each of the early temples at Logan, Manti, St. George, and Salt Lake City, and so on, until the 1940’s. These baptisms for the dead temple records are one of the key sources for tracing early LDS ancestry, but for many genealogists they are forgotten.

Why Forgotten
The reason they are forgotten is because in today’s world of temple ordinances, every name for which baptisms are performed in the temples, receive other ordinances including the Endowment. Therefore, most people assume that this has always been the case. But it is not. Baptism, by proxy, for the dead, was a doctrine introduced to the members of the Church at Nauvoo, Illinois in 1842. The first baptisms for the dead were performed in the Mississippi River in that year. Subsequent baptisms were performed in the Nauvoo Temple, and later in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City from 1855 to 1876. During that time no Endowments for the dead were performed, only for the Living. Endowments and other work for the dead did not begin until the opening of the St. George Temple in 1877, and in other temples after that. Thousands of names of the relatives of early converts to the Church only received proxy baptisms, and never received any further ordinances. Many of these names were forgotten or lost due to the deaths of pioneers who knew them and the poor record keeping of that day.

Not in the T.I.B.
For many years the Church maintained a file known as the T.I.B. (Temple Index Bureau). This was an index of the endowments performed for both living and dead in the various temples of the Church from the 1840’s up to 1970. It was created and utilized to help members of the Church determine which temple ordinances were previously completed for their families, so they wouldn’t duplicate previously done ordinances. A belief or misunderstanding developed among members of the Church that the T.I.B. listed all names for which temple work had been done. But they were mistaken. Thousand of names that were recorded in the temple baptismal rolls, never appeared in the T.I.B.

In the early days of the Church, actually the first eighty or so years, members of the Church were responsible for seeing that all temple work started by their families was completed. Large temple books were kept, or were supposed to have been kept, by each family, showing names and information for which baptisms, endowments, and sealings had been done. The temples kept their own records of the ordinances completed, but those weren’t readily available to the public. Nor was there a way to keep track of work completed from temple to temple.

Many Baptisms, Few Endowments
Now another fact about temple ordinances comes into play. Time. In the early horse and buggy days, travel to and from temples was a major undertaking. Only a few temples existed and most people had to leave their businesses and farms for days or weeks at a time to complete a temple project. At a temple, baptisms for the dead were easy to perform; and a person could do forty or fifty baptisms in a session. But endowments took time, and often many hours were required for a single name. Thus a person might have come to the temple, performed forty or more baptisms for the dead, but then only completed a few endowments for those same names, and left, hoping to return, or have some other relative return, to complete the remaining ordinances at a later date. But often that day never came. Maybe the family records were lost or forgotten, and then ordinance work was never completed for all of those baptisms. Hundreds or more members of the Church had this experience. Occasionally, only ordinances for the women’s names were completed, and not the men’s, because more women than men were able to return to the temples to complete the ordinances begun at an earlier date, and the administrators of the temples did not have the capability to determine which names needed to be finished, or even how to assign those names to other proxies.

The Key
This record of Baptisms for the Dead was the key for the Schofield family research, as it may be for many, many other families with early LDS ancestry. Dozens of family names were performed by William Schofield and his daughters for which baptisms were done, but only a few of the family names received endowments later on. William and his daughters performed thirty or forty baptisms during the 1870’s in the Endowment House, and most of the endowments for the female names were completed, but only a few of the men’s names were finished. When these early records were examined a century later by modern day researchers, the baptismal records revealed the names of both Schofield Grandfathers, Francis Schofield, and Nathan Schofield, and the names and relationships to brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and many cousins were also listed. Some of them were specifically identified as second or third cousins. The baptismal record provided names and relationships, but only additional research could properly identify how those people were connected to the family. William’s parents were both Schofields, but the records didn’t indicate which grandfather was which.

The Schofield family researchers now had something to work with. They made an “Extending Chart”, showing ancestors and their families (similar to a pedigree chart), which identifies the families that extend from there, namely to cousins and their families. Picture your own family. Your first cousins are those relatives who have the same grandparents as you. Second cousins share the same great grandparents. And third cousins share the same great, great, grandparents. By charting the names of relatives that William Schofield identified in the Baptisms for the dead records, it was evident that some of those people were distant cousins who could lead to discovering William’s great, great grandfather. These names were the clues needed to identify additional cousins, earlier uncles and aunts. The forgotten names found in the Baptisms for the dead records provided the jump start needed for future research on the family lines.

The research now turned to locating the cousins mentioned in the baptismal records, and identifying them with their parents and siblings in census records, and various church and vital record sources. This research opened up the family record, and new generations of this early LDS family were found. Parents and siblings were discovered whose ordinance work had never been done, and soon it was determined that Nathan Schofield was William’s paternal grandfather, and Francis was his maternal grandfather. Temple work was then completed for those forgotten family members who were found in the temple records. Because of this research more names were now available for temple work and new information was added to the family history.

Through the baptisms for the dead records, William Schofield’s own memory from one hundred and twenty eight years ago, was used to discover new genealogy! This is something everyone with early LDS ancestry can do, and it is very exciting research! It is exciting, because these names found in the baptisms for the dead registers, were people near and dear to those pioneers, who like William Schofield, had fully intended to finish the temple ordinances for their family members. The descendants of those pioneers can now renew and complete the work their fathers had begun over a century ago.

We encourage everyone to dig out their family records and find which early members of the Church in their families might have gone to the temples to do baptisms for their loved ones. Don’t just look for your ancestors and the ordinances they performed. Look for uncles, aunts, and cousins who might also have done temple work. Determine from your family records, where early ancestors lived and which temple they may have attended. Then search the early baptismal registers for the names of those relatives who acted as proxies in the ordinance. Baptisms for the dead records can be obtained at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, or copies of the films for each temple can be obtained through nearby Family History Branch Libraries. The records are indexed by both the names of the deceased, and also by the names of the “Heir,” or person submitting the names for baptism. The “Heir” Index is important because it leads to all of the names submitted by a given person. In recent years, the Family History Library has extracted the early baptisms for the dead temple records, and made the entries available on microfiche or on computer databases such as the Ancestral File. But these data files do not have the capability to search for family names by the name of the “heir,” or person who submitted the names for baptismal ordinances. It is still necessary to search for your early LDS relatives in the temple register indexes to find out which names they brought to the temple a century ago.

If your family is stumped on an early LDS family line, search your records for possible family members who might have gone to the temple and started, but never finished, the temple ordinances for their relatives. You might find many new names of people still waiting for their temple work to be done. Waiting for you to do it.

 

 

 


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.