On April 3, 1836, the prophet Elijah came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple. He conferred upon them the sealing power of the priesthood, making it possible for families to be sealed throughout the generations. In conferring this power, he fulfilled the prophecy that the Lord would send him “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers” (see D&C 110:14–16; see also Malachi 4:5–6).
Through family history work, you can participate in the continuing fulfillment of this prophecy. You can learn about your ancestors and increase your love for them. You can be inspired by their stories of courage and faith. You can pass that legacy on to your children.
These are lasting benefits that come from family history work, but they are not the principal reasons for the Church’s great effort to gather genealogical records. All of the Church’s family history endeavors are directed to the need to form a “welding link … between the fathers and the children” (D&C 128:18). This welding link is formed by the power of the priesthood, through sacred temple ordinances we receive in behalf of our ancestors.
Redeeming the Dead
Many of Heavenly Father’s children have died without having the opportunity to receive the fulness of the gospel. In His mercy and infinite love, the Lord has prepared a way for them to gain a testimony of the gospel and receive the saving ordinances of the priesthood.
In the spirit world, the gospel is “preached to those who [have] died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. These [are] taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and all other principles of the gospel that [are] necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (D&C 138:32–34).
Many in the spirit world embrace the gospel. However, they cannot receive priesthood ordinances for themselves because they do not have physical bodies. In holy temples, we have the privilege of receiving ordinances in their behalf. These ordinances include baptism, confirmation, Melchizedek Priesthood ordination (for men), the endowment, the marriage sealing, and the sealing of children to parents. The Lord revealed this work to the Prophet Joseph Smith, restoring a practice that had been revealed to Christians shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:29).
As you receive priesthood ordinances in behalf of those who have died, you become a savior on Mount Zion for them (see Obadiah 1:21). Your effort approaches the spirit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice—you perform a saving work for others that they cannot do for themselves.
Your Responsibilities in Family History Work
In family history work, you have three basic responsibilities:
- Receive the temple ordinances for yourself and help immediate family members receive them.
- Hold a current temple recommend and attend the temple as frequently as circumstances allow.
- Gather family history information so you can help your ancestors receive the blessings of the temple.
You can participate in temple and family history work, at least to some extent, regardless of where you live or what your circumstances are. While you probably will not be able to do everything, you can do something. The following ideas may help you get started:
- Record important details about your own life. Record your birth date and birthplace and the dates of your baptism and confirmation. Keep a personal journal to record the highlights of your life, including personal experiences that will strengthen the faith of your children and other future generations.
- Learn about your ancestors. Begin by recording information from your memory and from accessible sources at home. Record the vital information you accurately remember or can find about siblings, parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Where possible, obtain copies of certificates or other documents that include this information. As you gather more information, you may want to search in other locations, such as public records. The local ward or branch may have a family history consultant who can help you. You may also want to visit the Church’s official Web site for family history, www.familysearch.org.
- As you identify your ancestors, use pedigree charts and family group forms to record the information you find. These forms are available on paper and also in Church-produced software programs, such as Personal Ancestral File.
When you have gathered the necessary information about your ancestors who have died without receiving the gospel, ensure that temple work is performed for them. Even if you do not live near enough to a temple for you and your family members to be able to do the ordinance work, you can submit ancestors’ names to a temple so others can do the work for them. You may be able to visit a nearby family history center or consult with local ward or branch family history consultants to see how to do this.
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that there are “principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as … they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (D&C 128:15). Through your participation in family history work, you and your ancestors progress toward salvation.
David A. Bednar Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
An Invitation to the Rising Generation
I now invite the attention of the young women, young men, and children of the rising generation as I emphasize the importance of the Spirit of Elijah in your lives today. My message is intended for the entire Church in general—but for you in particular.
Many of you may think family history work is to be performed primarily by older people. But I know of no age limit described in the scriptures or guidelines announced by Church leaders restricting this important service to mature adults. You are sons and daughters of God, children of the covenant, and builders of the kingdom. You need not wait until you reach an arbitrary age to fulfill your responsibility to assist in the work of salvation for the human family.
The Lord has made available in our day remarkable resources that enable you to learn about and love this work that is sparked by the Spirit of Elijah. For example, FamilySearch is a collection of records, resources, and services easily accessible with personal computers and a variety of handheld devices, designed to help people discover and document their family history. These resources also are available in the family history centers located in many of our Church buildings throughout the world.
It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. Your fingers have been trained to text and tweet to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord—not just to communicate quickly with your friends. The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation.
I invite the young people of the Church to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah. I encourage you to study, to search out your ancestors, and to prepare yourselves to perform proxy baptisms in the house of the Lord for your kindred dead (see D&C 124:28–36). And I urge you to help other people identify their family histories.
As you respond in faith to this invitation, your hearts shall turn to the fathers. The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be implanted in your hearts. Your patriarchal blessing, with its declaration of lineage, will link you to these fathers and be more meaningful to you. Your love and gratitude for your ancestors will increase. Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives.
Parents and leaders, please help your children and youth to learn about and experience the Spirit of Elijah. But do not overly program this endeavor or provide too much detailed information or training. Invite young people to explore, to experiment, and to learn for themselves (see Joseph Smith—History 1:20). Any young person can do what I am suggesting, using the modules available at lds.org/familyhistoryyouth. Aaronic Priesthood quorum and Young Women class presidencies can play an important role in helping all youth become acquainted with these basic resources. Young people increasingly need to be learners who act and thereby receive additional light and knowledge by the power of the Holy Ghost—and not merely passive students who primarily are acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26).
Parents and leaders, you will stand all amazed at how rapidly your children and the youth of the Church become highly skilled with these tools. In fact, you will learn valuable lessons from these young people about effectively using these resources. The youth can offer much to older individuals who are uncomfortable with or intimidated by technology or are unfamiliar with FamilySearch. You also will count your many blessings as young people devote more time to family history work and temple service and less time to video games, surfing the Internet, and Facebooking.
Troy Jackson, Jaren Hope, and Andrew Allan are bearers of the Aaronic Priesthood who were called by an inspired bishop to team teach a family history class in their ward. These young men are representative of so many of you in their eagerness to learn and desire to serve.
Troy stated, “I used to come to church and just sit there, but now I realize that I need to go home and do something. We can all do family history.”
Jaren reported that as he learned more about family history, he realized “that these were not just names but real people. I became more and more excited about taking the names to the temple.”
And Andrew commented, “I have taken to family history with a love and vigor I did not know I could muster. As I prepared each week to teach, I was often nudged by the Holy Spirit to act and try some of the methods taught in the lesson. Before, family history was a scary thing. But aided by the Spirit I was able to step up to my calling and help many people in our ward.”
My beloved young brothers and sisters, family history is not simply an interesting program or activity sponsored by the Church; rather, it is a vital part of the work of salvation and exaltation. You have been prepared for this day and to build up the kingdom of God. You are here upon the earth now to assist in this glorious work.
I testify Elijah returned to the earth and restored the sacred sealing authority. I witness that what is bound on earth can be bound in heaven. And I know the youth of the rising generation have a key role to play in this great endeavor. I so testify in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
By Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received. The First Presidency has declared, “Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors.”7
Do you young people want a sure way to eliminate the influence of the adversary in your life? Immerse yourself in searching for your ancestors, prepare their names for the sacred vicarious ordinances available in the temple, and then go to the temple to stand as proxy for them to receive the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. As you grow older, you will be able to participate in receiving the other ordinances as well. I can think of no greater protection from the influence of the adversary in your life.
In the Russia Rostov-na-Donu Mission the youth were invited to each index 2,000 names and then qualify at least one name from their own families for temple ordinances. Those who accomplished this goal were invited to go on a long journey to the new Kyiv Ukraine Temple. One young man shared his experience: “I was spending a lot of time playing computer games. When I started indexing, I didn’t have time to play games. At first I thought, ‘Oh no! How can that be!’ When this project was over, I even lost interest in gaming. … Genealogical work is something that we can do here on earth, and it will remain in heaven.”