While I have done some indexing and poked through familysearch.org, I haven't delved too deeply into family history. On my dad's side, we come from a very large, very Mormon family and as far as I can tell most of the work is already done. This lesson definitely changed my outlook on that.
Because I felt inadequate to teach on this, I reached out to three women in our ward who are family history experts. Two are our ward Family History consultants, the other an avid fan. I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of knowledge these women possess and the excitement with which they shared it with the class. If you are teaching this lesson, I strongly urge you to rely on your ward family history consultants and let them share with the class.
Elder Cook's talk is divided into three sections, so I structured the lesson the same way. I'm including my loose outline here, as usual, but since so much of the content for this one came from the three other women and the class, I will include that in italics. I mostly scribed on the board (forgive my bad handwriting) and I recommend doing this so class members may be able to keep track of the resources given.
Intro: Elder Cook begins by talking about the great question of what happens after we die. He says that through our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Happiness, we are assured of eternal life. He says, “In this life we laugh, we cry, we work, we play, we live, and then we die. Job asks the succinct question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” The answer is a resounding yes because of the atoning sacrifice of the Savior. “ He talks about how families are central to this plan and how the scriptures speak repeatedly about our “roots and branches.”
He divided his talk into three topical sections and that’s how we’ll break up our discussion today: Doctrine, Temples, and Technology.
Quote 1: “Elijah’s return occurred in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. He declared he was fulfilling Malachi’s promise. He committed the priesthood keys for sealing families in this dispensation. Elijah’s mission is facilitated by what is sometimes called the spirit of Elijah, which, as Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught, is “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family.””
What is the spirit of Elijah?
- a feeling of connection with your ancestors. Wanting to know more about them
- feeling deeply the importance of the family. Wanting to do everything possible to be with them forever
- Also makes you want to improve yourself in order to obtain exaltation and be with them forever
What is the doctrinal basis for vicarious temple work?
- the ordinances performed are essential for salvation and exaltation
- they allow for eternal progression
- they support finding YOUR names
Quote 2: “The Savior was emphatic about the necessity of baptism. He taught, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The Savior was personally baptized to set the example. What about the deceased who have not been baptized?”
What is your understanding of temple work for the dead?
- it's just providing an opportunity. the person who the ordinance is performed for must still choose to accept the work done on their behalf
- despite the amount of work that has been done, there are still so many people actively waiting for the work
- someone pulled out a quote I'm not familiar with about how the large majority of people whose work has been done WILL accept the Gospel in the spirit world
One interesting distinction that Elder Cook makes is that we are responsible for OUR dead.
Quote 3: “The doctrine of the family in relation to family history and temple work is clear. The Lord in initial revelatory instructions referred to “baptism for your dead.” Our doctrinal obligation is to our own ancestors. This is because the celestial organization of heaven is based on families.”
Family history constultant #1 shared here about performing work for our own ancestors and gave an intro into how you start that. She had handouts with information on one side and a basic family tree structure on the back (I believe these are available in the family history center). She also brought temple ordinance cards and talked about the differences between them and how you initiate the process to perform family names.
This may be an obvious question but it's just to get the ball rolling. Why are temples necessary for this doctrine?
- because that is the only place with the correct authority to perform these binding ordinances
Quote 4: “Less than a year after President Thomas S. Monson was called as an Apostle, he dedicated the Los Angeles Temple Genealogical Library. He spoke of deceased ancestors “waiting [for] the day when you and I will do the research which is necessary to clear the way, … [and] likewise go into the house of God and perform that work … that they … cannot perform.”
The statistics on temple building are pretty impressive. According to Elder Cook, when Pres. Monson dedicated that library, there were only 12 temples existing. Now there are 142, with 28 more that have been announced. I was surprised to read that 85 percent of church members live within 200 miles of a temple.
What is your reaction to these statistics? Sure, they are impressive, but what do they mean?
- we need to go more often
- as these temples pop up, they are a beacon of righteousness to the world
- temples provide us with continual goals
- the increasing number of temples and their proximity emphasizes how important they are to Heavenly Father's plan
- we are given even more opportunities for blessings that we should take advantage of
Quote 5: “What a great time to be alive. This is the last dispensation, and we can feel the hastening of the work of salvation in every area where a saving ordinance is involved. We now have temples across much of the world to provide these saving ordinances. Attending the temple for spiritual renewal, peace, safety, and direction in our lives is also a great blessing.”
There has been great emphasis on building temples and making it possible for everyone to attend. I feel this is so indicative of the importance of this work. To me, the rate at which temples are spreading across the earth gives me a sense of the urgency of the work.
Sister #2 spoke at this point. She brought in a personal, spiritual aspect of how it felt as she performed the work for her family members. She said she felt compelled by her ancestors to quickly complete it. Her comments pertained mostly to the temple and the blessings that come from performing the work there.
Quote 6: “President Howard W. Hunter declared in November 1994: “We have begun using information technology to hasten the sacred work of providing ordinances for the deceased. The role of technology … has been accelerated by the Lord himself. … However, we stand only on the threshold of what we can do with these tools.” In the 19 years since this prophetic statement, the acceleration of technology is almost unbelievable. A 36-year-old mother of young children recently exclaimed to me, “Just think—we have gone from microfilm readers in dedicated family history centers to sitting at my kitchen table with my computer doing family history after my children are finally asleep.”
I feel like Elder Cook is basically saying… you have no excuse for not doing it. You can do it any time, in your own home. The tools are abundantly available, more so than any other time.
Family History Consultant #2 spoke here and had so much information. She outlined the various websites and mobile apps that can be used for family history work.
- indexing (digitizing of physical records so that people can search them)
- familysearch.org: now gives hints AND allows you to upload pictures, documents, and sources to back up the information there
- puzzilla.com: helps locate the "holes" in your family tree
- ancestry.com: now available free to members through LDS.org. Sign in using your LDS.org sign in information.
- Billion Graves: a mobile app that allows you to photograph gravestones so that others can search for them without physically traveling to that cemetery.
- How to clean a gravestone before photographing: use a soft brush and water. Don't use soap and don't make a chalk rubbing.
- Also check out websites for genealogical societies. You can email them and they are most helpful.
- The church offers online courses if you'd like to learn more about the process.
Elder Cook says:
Quote 7: “If the youth in each ward will not only go to the temple and do baptisms for their dead but also work with their families and other ward members to provide the family names for the ordinance work they perform, both they and the Church will be greatly blessed. Don’t underestimate the influence of the deceased in assisting your efforts and the joy of ultimately meeting those you serve. The eternally significant blessing of uniting our own families is almost beyond comprehension.”
At the close of his talk, Elder Cook draws a parallel between us and Christ. Christ overcame death for mankind because we could not do this for ourselves. When we perform vicarious ordinances, we are similarly overcoming obstacles for others and acting as saviors in Mount Zion. In this way, he says, we can nourish the roots and branches of our family tree and be exalted with our families.