What Is It With Mormons And Geneology?

I hit upon an episode of “Hoarders” on A&E tonight and found myself wondering why in the world one big bone of contention between the mother [the hoarder] and her daughter was a huge file folder of geneolgy paperwork and photos. I mean, they were almost at a fistfight over the mother having paperwork that someone else was supposed to have, that there were certain documents that she wasn’t supposed to have copies of, and so on.

So…what’s the Dope?

According to LDS theology, one of the primary missions of the church is to “redeem the dead.” Which is basically a shorthand for the idea that folks get a second chance after they die to accept Christ and all the rest. So they can still get to the bestest heaven ever. However for the dead to get this chance, the living have to stand in as proxies for the important rituals like baptism; the ordinances as the Mormons call them.

And this is where the genealogy comes in. These ordinances can not be done in proxy on a generic or bulk basis. They have to be done for a unique and identifiable individual. And they have to be done separately for each individual. It is up to each family to research their own ancestry and do the work for “their” dead. It is taken very seriously. One does not want to accidentally miss great-great-great-great uncle George who died of smallpox at the age of 2 and have him be left out of heaven. So getting the details right is of no small importance.

Without having seen the show in question, I couldn’t tell you what the specific problem between the mother and daughter would be though. Ideally the material would be shared out to the family, and copies passed on to the church archive, so as to prevent duplication of effort. No member would be likely to encourage a hoarder to throw out relevant genealogical information. Although I can imagine that not sharing the information would be considered a point of contention. When you’ve been looking for a copy of George’s birth certificate for 20 years and the county doesn’t have it because of a records fire 80 years ago, I can imagine finding a long forgotten copy in a stack of phone bills from 1980 could be aggravating.

This might be a starting point. The operating concept is that you can somehow shoehorn your ancestors into the fold if you are an adherent. Apparently the mother considered her lineage to be priveleged information.

The dead are given the opportunity to convert to Mormonism, they got into trouble a few years ago by trying to baptize Jews who were killed in the holocaust.

Jumping off this question, what happens if Mormons do go through the procedure for an ancestor, but they get something minor wrong? E.g. they want to give their great-great-grandmother Ann E. O’Reilly the LDS postmortem sacraments, but they misread a document (or a document had a mistake) and she was “actually” named Anne O. Reilly? (or, say, after great-great-grandfather died she actually ran off to California and married again without notifying her children, taking the name “Ann E. O. Smith” resulting in you having the wrong name.) Is the sacrament void due to error or is it the intent and identification of a specific person that is identifiable that counts? Or, what happens if the identified person is not actually your ancestor due to an act of adultery that is currently known to nobody except the Mormon God?

I don’t know what happens if the name isn’t exactly right, but I assume that they would think that God can figure it out. As far as people that aren’t your ancestors, that isn’t really a problem. Baptism for the Dead can be for anybody, it doesn’t have to be one of your ancestors.

Just as an FYI, The Family History Library in Salt Lake City is an amazing place for genealogy research. I stopped in one day and found really cool stuff about my grandparents (oceanliner passenger manifest, old photos, etc…).

The place is free (I think some photocopies cost money) and contrary to popular opinion, there is not converting or proselytizing going on. You don’t need an appointment either, just walk right in…Definitely worth it, although if you are not of Caucasian/European descent it may be harder to find stuff…

That’s about right. The living have a responsibility to do the best they can. In the end God will make sure it all works out. In particular here are the rules about what to do if you find out the name is wrong:

As part of the eschatology there is supposed to be 1000 years of direct divine rule after the return of Christ but before the final judgement. During this millennium all the various errors will be corrected. And perfect heavenly records will be made available so that everyone, including people from stone age preliterate societies will have an opportunity to get the ordinances done for them.

And you are right the work can be done on behalf of someone who is not a direct ancestor. But the work of researching and submitting an individual should only be done by a descendant, with a handful of exceptions.

Error checking for this is not very good, so a lot of work does happen for non-relatives by over-zealous church members. But the policy is pretty clear. Members are supposed to work on their own families.

All quotes from here.

Yeah; I have to say that despite their religious beliefs for doing it, the Mormons’ research has been a boon for genealogy in general, and is commendable.

To quote Almaric during the Albignesian Crusade. “God will know his own.” (I belive the full quote was over how to know which occupants of a town were Catholics rather than heretics and should be spared during the sacking; “Kill them all…God will know his own”)

Right, so the prevailing thinking is “baptize 'em all, let god sort 'em out.”

Which brings up the question, then what’s the point in baptizing for the dead in the first place, if it doesn’t really matter? Why doesn’t the prophet just have himself baptized once as a proxy for ALL people who died before XYZ date? He could do it once a year. I mean, what’s the difference if you name each and every single individual (and maybe got the name exactly right, or maybe not) specifically, or just say “Yeah, god? Prophet checking in. Could you please save all these people? I’ll give you a new list next year. kthxbai”

The practice also makes me wonder, why get baptized at all? Why bother committing yourself to following the rules if your descendants can be baptized for you posthumously?

Furthermore, if Jesus died for our sins, then we are forgiven if we accept Jesus as our savior. Again, what’s the point of baptism if Jesus has already redeemed us for our sins? (Assuming belief in the Jesus story, of course.) And, if we still are required to be baptized in order to attain salvation, then what was the point of the atonement?

Making sense of mormon doctrine is like nailing green jello to a wall. And now you know why I’m out.

To be fair, making sense of any religious doctrine is like nailing jello to the wall. Reason flies out the window when religion walks in the door. The faithful seem to relish the irrationality of their creeds. As old Tertullian thundered fifteen or sixteen centuries ago, “Credo quia impossibile est!” - “I believe it because it is impossible!”

There has to be a ton of errors made in doing these ceremonies.

While most of the LDS stuff is really great (census transcriptions, copies of church records, etc.), on FamilySearch you’ll also find search results for stuff done by random church members. Some are good, some are terrible. E.g., people listed as the child of a person who died 10 years before they were born. The listings of whether the first or second (or third) wife was the mother of a given child is all too often wrong. (And people went thru wives in succession a lot 200 years ago.) Which means there could be a lot of baptisms of the wrong great…great grandmas.

So regular LDS folk seem to get quite aggressive in finding quasi-ancestors and not really caring about the particulars.

Which leads to the OP. There’s “brownie points” to be earned in who gets to stand-in and all that. (Not official points, just personal stuff.) And if someone else is provably closer, there may be an incentive in keeping information from them so they don’t step in to take over, or if non-LDS, blocking it.

Not all members of a church behave ethically. (Like that needs to be said.)

Interesting, I did not know that. I always thought that you could take any name out of a hat, e.g. I could go there and submit the name of Louis XVI of France or Archimedes (if I were an LDS member). Ignorance fought!

I’m curious: has the Mormon church baptised famous historical people like Stalin, Hitler, Louis XVI, Mao Tse Tung? What doe the church elders have to say about this? Are these folks happy with becomomg LDS members?

I’ll have to look up their phone numbers in my criss cross directory. If I get an answer, I’ll be sure to post it.


Thanks for all the answers, much appreciated. VERY eye-opening.

During my lifetime the focus was always on ancestors. But I believe that a lot of members still did submit various famous names. At the end of the day the members are just people and are very likely to want to “save” important or famous people. Famously the Prophet Wilford Woodruff had a vision where he was visited by the founding fathers of the USA and promptly went and had them baptized.
Before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, “You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.” These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights…

I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men. [Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946), pp. 160-61]
Oddly enough he was also baptized for all expired former US presidents at that time “except three.” I don’t recall that I ever heard who the three were. I do know other figures like Horatio Nelson was among the list of other eminent men.

Since then just about anyone famous or infamous is likely to have been submitted and had work performed by them. Just following the famous example. No one seems to be too good nor too bad for submission. I know enough people who watch the genealogical records of the church to know that Charles Schulz, Ted Bundy, Douglas Adams, Carl Sagan, Stanley Ann Dunham (Obama’s mom), Saint Damien of Molokai, Josef Mengele, Sherlock Holmes, Steve Irwin, Aleister Crowley, Jesus Christ, and his “spouse” “Mary Magdelena have all been posthumously baptized in recent years. Some many multiples of times. The church still has a lot of work to do to get the members to follow the policy, and stop exceptions when the members go ahead against the policy.

Or too fictional, apparently:

Er… Sherlock Holmes?!!

Quite. But to be fair, due to the Great Game he has had official records created and inserted into local registries for him for his various supposed birth dates and birth places. Those Great Game folks are nuts. After that, all it takes is one credulous individual to see it in a registry and enter the proper information into a form and off it goes. I can imagine that someone might think that it was either a different Sherlock Holmes, or the basis for the fictional Holmes, or something.

Jesus Christ is the one that slays me. He was after all rather famously baptized by the guy who supposedly returned to give the authority to baptize to the modern church. If John the Baptist’s original baptism of Christ didn’t take, it is hard to believe that any subsequent ones would. And unlike Holmes it is impossible to imagine that the putative member wouldn’t know who Jesus was. His name is on the wardhouse (and the temple) after all.