Why Family History
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the largest genealogical library in the world. This is evidence of the importance the Church puts on genealogical work (now more commonly referred to as Family History). The reason for such interest in ancestors comes from doctrines of the Church. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that after death, a person's spirit still has the opportunity to learn about the gospel, and accept Jesus Christ as his Redeemer. But in order for him to become a member of Christ’s Church, he must be baptized and have other saving ordinances performed on his behalf. This is the job of those who are still living. In temples, members are baptized, or have other ordinances done, on behalf of those who have passed away (such work is said to be done "by proxy"). This gives that person, if he chooses to accept it, the opportunity to become a member of the Church. Every person who has ever lived has a right to make such an important choice. Members of the Church are strongly encouraged to only perform ordinances for people from their own family lines, and to obtain permission from surviving descendants of the recently deceased.
The Church also teaches that remembering those who have gone before is vital to our salvation. Malachi 4:5–6 teaches, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with as curse.” This turning of the hearts is family history work and the subsequent work done in temples that unites families across generations.
How the Family History Program Works
The Church of Jesus Christ gathers genealogical information in two ways—through people who submit names of members of their own families, and from public records (as governments allow). These two ways of gathering information are called "submitting names" and "extracting names." The work in both of these areas has become much easier with technological advances, especially advances in computer technology. People submitting names used to have to fill out by hand long pedigree charts, and to search for hours on microfilm for the names of their ancestors. This can now all be done on the computer.
The Church also sends volunteers all over the world to find local history records like parish records, vital records (tax and census), military records, and immigrations records. These volunteers take pictures of the records so that they can be put on microfilm or turned into digital copies and stored. The originals stay where they were found, the master copy goes to the genealogical library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and other copies are sent to libraries and individuals all over the world. The Church provides much service, enhancing family history accessibility for people worldwide. For instance, Church members indexed many of the records from Ellis Island, helping to establish that database for all whose ancestors passed through there as they immigrated to the United States. 
Many people outside of the Church are now becoming interested in doing their own family history. So how does one get started? The best way to start is by writing down what you know, then talking with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or anyone else who would be able to fill in missing information. After doing this, anyone can visit one of the 3,700 FamilySearch Centers run by the Church. One can call any Church ward or stake to find out when the local FamilySearch Center is open. There are volunteers who work at the FamilySearch Centers who help with the use of available software and equipment. Information is also available on the internet through Family Search . Much, but not all, of the information stored in the FamilySearch Library can also be found here. Also recommended is writing one's own personal history or histories of close relatives. Doing this leaves an irreplaceable legacy for one's descendants.
An online service called "New Family Search" was instituted in 2009 for members engaged in family history research and temple work. Late president and prophet Gordon B. Hinckley explained the need for such computerized help in 2005:
- "One of the most troublesome aspects of our temple activity," he explained at the October 2005 general conference, "is that as we get more and more temples scattered across the earth there is a duplication of effort in proxy work. People in various nations simultaneously work on the same family lines and come up with the same names. They do not know that those in other areas are doing the same thing.
- "We, therefore, have been engaged for some time in a difficult undertaking. To avoid such duplication, the solution lies in complex computer technology. Preliminary indications are that if it will work, and if this is so, it will be a truly remarkable thing with worldwide implications."
New FamilySearch, which is simply called FamilySearch, and its internet-based technology performs the following functions for church members:
- 1. Simplifies the temple process by clearing names from home in a process that requires only five steps.
- 2. Reduces duplication by allowing everyone using the program to see what temple ordinances have been completed for which ancestors. The database is updated immediately when ordinances are requested or performed, so no one else will be able to do the same ordinances.
- 3. Enables collaboration by providing one common pedigree for all relatives to work on together.
- 4. Helps family history newbies to see what work has been done on their line rather than starting from scratch.
- 5. Requires members to read and agree to church policies on work for the dead. These policies include not doing work for recently deceased family members without asking permission from relatives. This protects the living members of the extended family who might be offended if a deceased relative were to have work performed in a Latter-day Saint temple. The policy also forbids temple work for deceased Holocaust victims, unless the person doing the temple work is very closely related to the deceased person.
OCLC has partnered with FamilySearch International to share data between WorldCat and the FamilySearch Catalog. As a result, more than 1 million FamilySearch genealogical records are now discoverable in WorldCat, the world’s largest database of records representing resources in libraries worldwide. Links to WorldCat are now available on FamilySearch.org.
The partnership between OCLC and FamilySearch is an ongoing effort to improve and enhance the tools available for genealogy researchers throughout the world.
Those who use the FamilySearch Catalog now have access to local histories of counties, cities, and regions; maps, photos, and other images; local biographies and profiles of prominent citizens; and city directories, catalogs, inventories, and original manuscript materials.
Those who begin their research by using WorldCat will have access to collections from FamilySearch that include historic documents of genealogical value, including: civil registration records; church records; probate, census, land and tax records; military records; family histories; clan and lineage genealogies; and oral pedigrees.
Many FamilySearch records added to WorldCat represent large collections of vital information, such as birth and death records from localities all over the world. If digitized, these records link back to FamilySearch.org where they can be viewed online. If on film, these records can be requested from FamilySearch to a satellite or affiliate FamilySearch Family History Center. FamilySearch records with a corresponding WorldCat record will indicate a library or libraries that hold the item.
Steve Fox, product manager for FamilySearch, said, “This means genealogists using the FamilySearch Catalog may now be able to find additional copies of books and other sources at libraries closer to them. Many additional materials related to their research that are not in the FamilySearch collection will also be discoverable in the collections of other libraries that include their holdings in WorldCat.”
FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch and its predecessors have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at FamilySearch.org or through over 5,000 family history centers in 129 countries, including the main FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In September 2020, FamilySearch hit 8 billion searchable names in its worldwide historical record collections online.
FamilySearch International, AmericanAncestors.org (New England Historic Genealogical Society) and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD), in concert with the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower, announced on September 16, 2020, that tens of thousands of Mayflower Society member applications (over one million images) and documented descendant family trees of the Mayflower passengers are now freely accessible online. There are an estimated 35 million descendants today of the 26 Mayflower couples that survived the first winter. The deceased generations in the applications are available online. Search the records at FamilySearch.org/Mayflower and AmericanAncestors.org.
- See also Ancestors, Family Tree, FamilySearch, and FamilySearch Library
- FamilySearch.org - Genealogy site operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- How to Make A Family Tree - Information on genealogical software and websites.
- The Folk Historian - a genealogical website for the beginning and experienced genealogist.
- Millions of Civil War Records Now Available on Family Search
- Millions of new records and images added to Family Search in 2011
- A family history center locator
- "In Search of Mary Dudley," by Jill Dudley Dyches
- New census records now available on Family Search
- TV shows pique interest in family history research
- LDS Family History center within the Alex Haley Museum in Tennessee
- Preserving the World's Records
- All Talks and Trainings about Family History