Have you ever wondered who came before you? Who made possible your sojourn on earth? Each of us have a family history. Knowing who our ancestors are can have a profound impact on how we perceive our own life and even the choices we make. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe family history is vital not only to our own lives, but for the salvation of the human family.
Our Church has invested great amounts of time and money to help the world document their family histories. Their family history website now has over 3 billion digitized records available for review. Why such time and effort to gather the names of any person who ever lived?
There are many reasons for this. First, if you consider the vast amount of people that have lived on the Earth who never had the chance to hear the good news of the gospel. What happens to them? Is it "tough luck" for them after this life because they were born at a time or in a location where they didn't hear about the Savior and his gospel? The answer, we believe, is no. We believe there is a great work happening right now amongst those who have passed away and that the gospel is being preached to them. If they accept, they will need ordinances like baptism. We record their names and ensure ordinances are completed for them so that, if they wish, they can choose to follow the path the Savior set for them.
Another reason we engage in family history work is in pursuit of spiritual benefits. We believe there is spiritual power and protection in the work of seeking out our ancestors, recording their names, stories, and memories, and seeing ordinances are performed for them.
So, how do you do family history?
First, gather the names of those as far back as you can. If your parents and grandparents are still alive, sit down with them and map out a family tree beginning with you and stemming back through your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. This may require some research. A standard family tree to get started is typically 4 generations - you, your parents, grand parents and great-grandparents.
Next, sign up for an account on familysearch.org. (It's free, and while it asks you if you're a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, membership is not required to use the program.) Once you've signed up, input the names you've found into the Family Search records. You may not need to input all 4 generations - once the Family Search program has enough information to link your family line to other records already loaded onto the program (remember, there are over 3 billion already) it will automatically link you up with those lines of your ancestry. It's such a gratifying moment to look back and see a rich family history!
If you're stuck, Family Search has vast amounts of resources, including family history consultants available to you and family history centers near you - all accessible free of charge. We believe the work of family history is so important that we've assigned members of the church who have the responsibility to help all - members of the Church or not - to do family history work. You can access that help here.
The process of seeking out and recording your family history is now simple and incredibly gratifying with modern technology. You'll often find that, for at least some of the branches on your family tree, the names have already been recorded and you'll be able to search far back to see where you've come from. You may be surprised at how powerful it is to know where you came from.