Bite-sized Bits of Family History
by Darla Isackson
At a fireside about twenty years ago I sat spellbound as my stake president explained Malachi 4:1, “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. The roots,” he said, “symbolize our ancestors, and the branches, our posterity.” He warned that even those of us who had the fullness of the gospel were in danger of being left with neither root nor branch if we did not take advantage of the blessings of the temple, receive the sealing blessings for ourselves, and do the work for our kindred dead.
This good man pled with us to let the spirit of Elijah enter our hearts, to spiritually prepare for the events of the last days by turning our hearts to our fathers and to our children. At the time my life seemed over-full of children and obligations; even occasional temple service was difficult to fit in. Still, I was greatly influenced by the power of his plea and wanted to find a way to be involved. Later in this article I will share “bite-sized” family history ideas for people in similar time-pressed situations. All these years later I recognize even more strongly the importance of my stake president’s words. There is surely no other work in the Church that has more of a “spill-over” effect to bless all other areas of our lives.
Boyd K. Packer said, “The Lord will bless us as we attend to the sacred ordinance work of the temples. Blessings there will not be limited to our temple service. We will be blessed in all of our affairs. We will be eligible to have the Lord take an interest in our affairs both spiritual and temporal . . . Our labors in the temple cover us with a shield and a protection, both individually and as a people.” (The Holy Temple, 1980)
Counting the Blessings
I have experienced the blessings of my small efforts in family history and temple work in profound ways in my personal life. I have also seen those blessings evidenced repeatedly in the lives of those I know. I met Carolyn Clark, a special sister in my ward, just after she returned to full activity in the Church. Within a few years she became highly involved in temple work for her ancestors. Over time I observed an actual change in her countenance; I seemed to see with my own eyes the spiritual growth she was experiencing. Recently, in my capacity as family history consultant, I asked Carolyn to write up her personal experiences with family history and temple work for our ward monthly bulletin. She did such a superb job that I got her permission to include her response in this article for Meridian.
Carolyn said: “Everyone knows the basic reasons you should do your family history work. I think perhaps to those who have never done it, the reasons are a bit abstract. You know the logic without the investment of the emotion and commitment, and without the heart and commitment, there is no joy! I would like to comment on some of the blessings I received from doing this work. It started as something I had been commanded to do and turned into a privilege as the blessings started flowing. I went to the temple once a week [to do family names], sometimes more, depending upon what was needed to keep up with the flow of names my relatives provided. I didn’t do the research but I was blessed beyond measure to be able to help with the temple work.
Doing what matters most
“First came the recognition that my time was being spent providing a blessing with eternal consequences and that I was working hand in hand with my Savior so my family would be safe–forever! If I were trying to decide how to allocate and prioritize my time, what could be more important than that?
The blessing of unshakable testimony
“As I continued to do family names regularly, I began to be aware of those for whom I was doing the work. I was blessed with the knowledge that there really is life after death, families can really be together forever. What a blessing it was to me to come to the knowledge that my brother and sister who have passed on, will indeed be part of my family, and that I will surely see them again and that the Atonement is real, and binding. What a blessing to know that I am loved and that God the Father certainly does have a plan to help bring us safely back home. My brother Jesus Christ shed His blood for me and gave His life so I might find my way back home. What a great privilege it is for me to help provide a way to connect the eternal circle and do the work for my family so they too might find their way back home! What began as a testimony of faith grew into a testimony of knowledge that is mine and can never be taken away or invalidated because I know that God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ really do live!
Blessings in relationships
“Consistently being in the temple in the service of others softened my heart and strengthened my resolve to try and live better. I was blessed in my relationship with my husband; I learned better ways to look at situations and was able to take myself less seriously and use my sense of humor to deal differently with him, instead of being offended. I was helped to be able to stand back and take care of my own business instead of trying to take care of his so much! My focus instead became my Savior and those ancestors I was doing the work for.
Feeling their love
“What started out as names on cards became a labor of love, as I began to realize that I was loved by those people I gave my time to–and that my sacrifice of time was accepted by the Savior. These were real people, with real lives, waiting to continue on with them. By doing their temple work I believe I fulfilled a promise I had made to them and to God the Father before this world was. I had made available to them those ordinances and covenants which would keep them safe for eternity and bind them to me in my family.
Abundant personal blessings
“As I participated in the ordinances for those whose work I did, I was taught about the covenants I was making as they related to me. I was given insight, peace, strength and courage to do work on those things that were personal to me and my family. In a two-year period we did over 400 names. I came to realize that those people whose work I was doing were more centered on me than I was on them. They sought to help me see that their work got done and in return my load was lightened; they helped me as I was helping them. It became an eternal round of love and service being exchanged and burdens being lightened. [Carolyn’s experience is a witness of the truth of a principle I heard in a Sunday School Lesson a couple of years ago. We read from the manual that another reason to do temple work for our ancestors is that it frees them to be more available to help us, their progenitors. I’m trying to track down that reference. If anyone finds it, let me know!] There were many more blessings I could write about that came because of my family history work. I was blessed, buoyed up, softened, taught, soothed, and loved more than I can even describe. “
Carolyn’s testimony shows clearly how the Lord pours out his blessings when we take the time to do family history and temple work. The very process of spiritual growth through this work that Carolyn expressed so beautifully is an important part of our Last Days spiritual preparation.
Bite-Sized Ideas for Busy Latter-day Saints
Let’s say that we have plenty of motivation to do this work, but have a house full of children, or such heavy church, work, and family responsibilities that we feel one more obligation could push us over the edge. How can we come to an understanding of our responsibility and find a way to fulfill it in a reasonable way?
Dallin Oaks said, “There is a time to every purpose under the heaven. There are many tasks to be performed in temple and family history work. We should encourage our members to make prayerful selection of the things they can do in their individual circumstances and in view of their current Church callings. . . Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something.” (“Family History: ‘In Wisdom and Order,’ ” Ensign, June 1989, pp. 6-8) He quoted the scripture in D&C 10:4 “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means . . . But be diligent unto the end.” He suggested that “some of the most important temple and family history work are done at home. I do not refer just to the important work of keeping family genealogies up-to-date and the much-needed verifying that all sealings have been performed. At home we can keep our journals and gather pictures and data for the books of remembrances of our family members. We can gather and record information available through living relatives. We can write family histories and share their great lessons with our children.” (Ibid)
With the advent of the Church’s website: FamilySearch.org, it is now possible to accomplish much of our family history in our homes. By going to that site we can download the latest version of the PAF program without charge. User-friendly and extensive tutorials are provided for its use. By providing a membership number and confirmation date we can register as a member of the Church and have access to the Internet Ordinance Index in order to determine whether temple ordinances have been completed for family names. Unlimited avenues of research have also become available on the Web.
So many options, so many possibilities–but they all take time. How can we squeeze any of it in to an already bursting-at-the-seams schedule? Here are some solutions from people I know.
1. One couple, parents of four little children, sets one evening a month aside for family history. They live near our multi-stake family history center, and he tends the children while she comes over for an hour, then they switch roles for the next hour. With that small sacrifice of time they are making significant progress and will soon have a temple-ready disk completed. Some mothers I know trade baby-sitting monthly; while one tends the children, the other goes to the family history center.
2. Family history enthusiast Catherine Tenney suggests that whenever possible, we commit one hour a week to family history work. An older sister who works full-time goes into the family history center located in her building after her Sunday meetings for her hour each week, saving travel time and making the best use of her Sundays. By keeping careful notes of what she accomplishes each time, she can quickly pick up where she left off. Catherine is a witness of the fact that consistent effort opens the door to amazing results and great satisfaction. Family history is like riding a bicycle: you have to be moving in order to get anywhere! But once you make the effort to get on the bike and pedal ahead–no matter how slowly, the scenery can be breath-taking! In my own case, as soon as I began moving ahead, my mother-in-law found documents that opened up possibilities on my husband’s line, and my sister and I found valuable information in long-neglected boxes left by our parents. As soon as my husband and I had finished the temple work made possible by his mother’s documents, a second cousin contacted with us with information that made it possible for us to process more names on his father’s line.
Elder John A. Widtsoe promised: “If those who wish to secure genealogies will work in the temple for those whose names they can obtain, the Lord will open the way to obtain more names. . . I testify to you that the way will be opened and we shall find ways of accomplishing the work we desire to accomplish, and that the things that make our days dark and dreary will be lifted from us if we go to the House of the Lord to perform holy work therein.”
3. Cooperative efforts often make family history and temple work possible. Older sisters in our ward sometimes baby-sit so younger sisters can go to the temple. Several Young Women in our ward offered service hours to check the Ordinance Index for others who had long lists of names, and insufficient time to check them. One evening, in a cooperative effort, more than a hundred names were checked and made temple ready. Those who are computer literate can help those who are not. Two savvy brothers in our ward volunteer to go into the people’s home who need help downloading PAF. Carolyn, the sister we read about earlier, did not know how to do the computer work or research, but had the time and was very willing to do the temple work. There are so many ways we can cooperate to help each other accomplish this important work.
Our Use of Time Shows the Lord What We Truly Value
President Hinckley said, “That which goes on in the House of the Lord, and which must be preceded by research, comes nearer to the spirit of the sacrifice of the Lord than any other activity of which I know . . . The altars of the temple are places of offering and sacrifice. There we offer our Father in Heaven our hearts and our lives. There we are taught how to ‘come unto Christ . . . And offer our whole souls as an offering unto him’ (Omni 1:26), but we also offer him ‘the greatest selfless act of Christian service that we can perform in this mortal life,’ that of work for the dead.” (“A Century of Family History Service,” Ensign, March, 1995)
Sacrifice means giving up something of value for something of even greater value. Why is this work such a sacrifice? Because it requires our time. Our dispensation offers thousands more options for time use than any other people have ever had. Could many of those options, important as they seem, be distractions from the things that matter most? When we choose to spend a few hours gathering and preparing the information needed to get family names temple ready, then spend a few more hours doing the ordinances in the holy temple, we are making one of the most meaningful sacrifices we will ever make in our lives. Our choices in how we use our time show the Lord what we truly value.
Two-Way Giving, Two-Way Blessings, Two-Way Joy
How fortunate that this family history and temple work we are all called to do is an invitation to joy–and that by accepting that invitation we can make great progress in our spiritual preparedness. The greatest gift we could give to family members who have gone on before is the gift of the temple ordinances. When we sacrifice to perform this work, the Savior gives us abundant blessings of the Spirit and the sweet peace of deep testimony of the divinity of this work. When we bless the lives of our ancestors, we are blessed with joy. So whether we can only spare one hour a month without neglecting our earthly families, or whether we are in the season of our lives when we can work one hour a day or more, this work will bless our lives. The best gift we could give the Savior and our ancestors is a willing heart to give whatever we can to this great work.