INTRODUCTION: We all have ancestors lost in history. They languish in the spirit world, waiting and hoping for someone to find them and reunite them with their families. Our longing to locate the dead who are lost should be as compelling as our anxiety to find the living who are lost.
1. THE SPIRIT OF ELIJAH IS PROMPTING PEOPLE TO TURN THEIR HEARTS TO THEIR ANCESTORS.
Elijah came to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the children to the fathers.
With that, natural affection between generations began to be enriched. This restoration was accompanied by what is sometimes called the Spirit of Elijah—a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family. Hence, people throughout the world, regardless of religious affiliation, are gathering records of deceased relatives at an ever increasing rate. (Russell M. Nelson, “A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34)
This growing concern with our ancestors is demonstrated by the fact that genealogy is now among the fastest growing areas of non-commercial use of computers in the home. A PBS broadcast about family history called “Ancestors” was the highest-subscribed program in their history when it aired. 340 of 353 PBS stations scheduled the program.
This spirit of Elijah does not need to work through priesthood channels. Multitudes of our neighbors have been touched by a longing to look backward and find their roots. Consider this sweet story:
Joe Groom . . . had a special experience with his father as a result of family history. Unlike Sandy, Joe had a wonderful relationship with his father, who was active in another faith. “It seems like in every generation there are family members who have that spirit of Elijah,” says Joe, “and in our family it just happened to be my father and me. We published a family history book together.”
But Joe and his father had one line where their research came to a dead end. When Joe’s father became terminally ill, they joked about his sending back a message telling Joe how to get past that block. Three days after his father’s funeral, Joe took a trip to Atlanta, but he was able to spend only two hours in the Georgia State Archives. He reached down and picked up a book at random and began to flip through it. Stopping to glance at two pages, he found the information he needed to know to get past the block on his father’s line.
“I almost fell over,” remembers Joe. “I wanted to scream. Then a peaceful feeling came over me and a thought came into my mind: ‘Did you get it?’ I knew my dad had helped me.’” (LaRene Gaunt, “Family History Wellspring,” Ensign, Aug. 1993, 24)
The number of completed proxy temple endowments is approaching an estimated 140 million, meaning that this work has been performed for about .13 percent (just over one tenth of 1 percent) of the earth’s estimated historic population of 105 billion. Obviously, an enormous amount of work remains to be done.
Considering the scope of the unfinished work for the dead, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in 1977,
When we contemplate how big it is, it is astonishing; it is past astonishing, it is overwhelming!
But it is not discouraging.
If the numbers seem staggering, we will move ahead. If the process is tedious, we will move ahead anyway. If the records have been lost, if the obstacles and opposition are overwhelming, we will move ahead anyway. (“That They May Be Redeemed” [address delivered at Regional Representatives’ seminar, 1 Apr. 1977], 1-2).
Have you felt the spirit of Elijah prompting you to move ahead? How has this work touched your life?
2. EACH MEMBER OF THE CHURCH CAN PARTICIPATE IN TEMPLE AND FAMILY HISTORY WORK.
Since family history is one of the four great missions of the Church, we ought to ensure that we are involved. I have often felt that each of us ought to be doing something in each of these areas continuously. This should not be an overwhelming burden. “Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something.” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks: “Family History: ‘In Wisdom and Order,’“ Ensign, June 1989, 6)
The Sunday School manual suggests four activities that will allow us to become involved in this work.
1. Have a current temple recommend and attend the temple regularly. I have frequently described a temple recommend as an invitation to the house of the Lord. “Come and visit me in my house,” he seems to be saying, and he has promised that if we come worthily, his glory and presence will be there (see D&C 97:15,16) Where else in the world is the fulfillment of such a promise available? In addition, we ought to encourage our children who are 12 or older to have recommends to do baptisms for the dead.
2. Prepare to have ordinances performed for deceased relatives. With the increased number of Family History Centers, it’s easy to access needed information and skilled help in completing this. I remember the uncounted hours my father spent with books and histories trying to locate and record necessary names and dates to perform proxy work for the dead. So much of the difficulty of this work has evaporated with the advent of computers with their research programs and access to the church’s family history site on the Internet. My circumstances make the search more interesting. My ancestors and those of my wife have been in the church for generations. But there are still those ancestors who lack the ordinances and who are longing for someone—anyone—to make the effort to provide them.
3. Learn about ancestors’ lives. There are so many inspiring, delightful, even humorous stories regarding those who went before. As we find such treasures, we ought to file them and share them with family members. I located a brief 1858 journal in Special Collections at BYU. It was written by my great grandfather about a mission to the Moqui Indians of Arizona. It is fragmented, incomplete, poorly written, and ungrammatical, and yet it is a treasure of faith and devotion. My children and my siblings have been richly blessed by its inherent message of trust in God.
4. Keep a journal or prepare a personal history or a family history. President Kimball taught:
We hope you will begin as of this date. If you have not already commenced this important duty in your lives, get a good notebook, a good book that will last through time and into eternity for the angels to look upon. Begin today and write in it your goings and your comings, your deeper thoughts, your achievements, and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. We hope you will do this, our brothers and sisters, for this is what the Lord has commanded, and those who keep a personal journal are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives. (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Personal Journals,” Ensign, Dec. 1980, 61)
Joseph Smith . . . advised the elders all to keep daily journals. “For,” said he, “your journals will be sought after as history and scripture . . .’ That is the way the New Testament came, what we have of it, though much of the matter there was written by the apostles from their memory of what had been done, because they were not prompt in keeping daily journals.” (Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet, p. 65)
3. THE CHURCH PROVIDED MANY RESOURCES TO HELP US PARTICIPATE IN TEMPLE AND FAMILY HISTORY WORK.
In order to compete any assignment, four things are necessary: 1) clear instructions; 2) the necessary tools; 3) sufficient time; and 4) a willing heart. Are any of these lacking in your efforts to fulfill this assignment? Numbers 1 and 2 have been supplied by the Church. The rest must come from us.
CONCLUSION: Elder Nelson said the following about family history work:
We are exalted when we can dwell together with our extended families in the presence of Almighty God. The Prophet Joseph Smith foresaw our duty: “The great day of the Lord is at hand,” he said. “Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter‑day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple … a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.”
The preparation of that record is our individual and collective responsibility. As we work together, we can make it worthy of all acceptation by the Lord. That record enables ordinances to be performed for and accepted by our deceased ancestors, as they may choose. Those ordinances can bring liberty to captives on the other side of the veil. (Elder Russell M. Nelson, “Generations Linked in Love,” May 2010 Ensign)