Why Mormons love Genealogy or What We Mean by ‘Temple Work’

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Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! 2018 has certainly come in with a bang for me and my family. Between being sick and taking care of family, I haven’t had the time to write up as many posts as I normally do. And I have a feeling that real life busyness will continue into the next few months. So while I won’t be posting as much as I would like, I hope to post at least one or two posts a week during this upcoming year.

That said, today I’d like to talk about a subject that I’ve often gotten a lot of questions about when doing genealogy:

What do Mormons mean by ‘temple work’?

Disclaimer: This blog post (like most of my posts) is not supposed to be authoritative. I do not speak for the LDS Church.

Instead, this post is mostly a response to the many questions I’ve gotten over the years, as well as an explanation of the way I see temple work (and its connection to genealogy). If you want to know more, check out lds.org. (Or click on the link in the next paragraph.)

First and foremost, I am a Mormon (AKA: Latter Day Saint AKA: LDS). I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the official name for the LDS church) my entire life, which is probably one of the reasons genealogy is such a big deal for me. So I’ve been doing this for a while. Growing up, I would help my mom do research on ancestors (this was well before FamilySearch and Ancestry came online) by searching microfilm for names that she was looking for or fact checking family trees.

When I was 12 (the age at which Mormons can begin doing ‘temple work’) I got to start going on trips to the temple to do baptisms for the dead. And in doing so, I ended up learning a lot about the ‘why‘. I also got a lot of questions from my non-Mormon friends (and I still do) about what exactly ‘temple work’ is and what it means for a person’s ancestors.

What Do Mormons Mean By ‘Temple Work’ And What Does This Have To Do With Genealogy?

Mormons believe that families can be together forever, regardless of any kind of separation here on earth (such as physical separation or death). We also believe that in order to obtain this in the next life, there are certain ordinances that people must do or have done for them. Since not everyone has had a chance to receive these ordinances, Mormons do proxy temple work (or temple work on behalf of another person) for those who have died. Mormon.org has more information here on the subject.

But the biggest thing that I want to convey is that temple work is all about the opportunity of bringing families together forever. While Mormons understand that there are families where the members don’t want to spend all of eternity with people they are related to, temple work is about giving people the opportunity to connect themselves and their ancestors and in the end, that is what ‘doing temple work’ is about.

It means husbands and wives who loved each other in this life having the opportunity to be together for all eternity. It means parents who have lost children have the opportunity of being with those children again. It means having the opportunity of being part of a great big huge family who loves you. Period.

Questions about Temple Work for the Dead

Some of the questions I’ve had over the years include:
  1. Are we digging up bodies to baptize? (The answer is no. Baptisms for the dead are done ‘by proxy’, meaning the work involves someone else being the ‘body’ so to speak,)
  2. Does doing the work automatically makes the dead person a ‘Mormon’? (The answer is also no.)
  3. Why is it so important for Mormons to do ‘temple work’? (That’s a very detailed answer, but the short answer is this – family.)
  4. What if I don’t want my ancestor’s work to be done? (It depends is probably the best answer at this point, but generally speaking, if a person is talking about their immediate family – parents, siblings, spouse, or child, their wishes are usually respected.)
  5. What if my ancestor was killed/died because of their religious beliefs, are they going to have their work done? (Once again, it depends, but in this case, there are actual rules in place that only allow direct line descendants to do work if they choose – a niece or great grand nephew could not do their work.)
  6. If you work on my genealogy, are you going to try to do temple work for my ancestors? (Nope. Not unless you want me to. Doing genealogy research and doing temple work are separate for me unless I’m working on my own family tree.)
  7. If someone is alive and another person does temple work for them, what happens then? (Nothing. Proxy temple work, like baptisms for the dead, is specifically for people who are dead. If someone is living and proxy temple work is done for them, it’s invalid.)

 

The Meal Hall Analogy

In my head at least, I see doing temple work as serving food at a giant potluck or holiday feast (because everything is better with food). In my mind, it’s cold outside and inside this giant, warm building, there is a hot meal for whoever wants it. There are people in the kitchen or serving the meal (people doing temple work) to those in the dining hall (their ancestors or other people’s ancestors). The meal being offered is the temple work being done. Those in the dining hall are offered the plate of food, but they have the choice to accept it or decline it. Just because the food is plated up, doesn’t mean they have to eat it. (Just because a person’s temple work is done, doesn’t mean they have to accept the work done for them.) Along with those in the kitchen or dining hall, there are also those welcoming more people in (by doing genealogy) and there are people waiting outside, some of whom are hoping to get in (those whose genealogy hasn’t been found yet). And while right now, it seems like there is no way all the people inside and outside could possibly all be fed, the food is unlimited and people are working hard to make sure everyone at one point or another has an opportunity to eat.

And while this is just my basic interpretation of what temple work is about (and why Mormons are passionate about genealogy), I hope it brings some understanding of the subject.

Rules about doing Proxy Temple Work

As I mentioned earlier, there are rules governing proxy temple work. While we believe that people who have died can and will choose whether or not to accept the work done for them, we also try to respect other people’s beliefs.

So when a member of the LDS church goes into their FamilySearch account (that has been connected to their LDS account) and selects an ancestor to do temple work for – there is a screen that pops up with the Church Policy that the person is supposed to abide by. The screenshots below are of the screen that pops whenever I go to reserve names for the temple. It specifically outlines who a person is responsible for, whose work they are allowed to do (or share – more on that later), and who they are not allowed to do, except in specific situations. It also outlines the 110-year rule. (Basically, if someone was born 110 years ago or less, there are extra rules you have to follow before doing their work.)

Screenshot taken from my FamilySearch account when reserving the temple work for a relative of mine.

 

Screenshot taken from my FamilySearch account when reserving the temple work for a relative of mine.

 

These policies are in place, both to allow people to focus on temple work for their ancestors and to make sure that everything is done appropriately. For example, the section on people that you cannot do is specific so that overzealous members won’t do work that they aren’t supposed to. For example, famous people. Many famous people have already had their work done – over and over. (This was especially true in the 1800s when the records of who had temple work done for them were spottier than it is today.) So unless you are related to a famous person and for some reason, their work hasn’t been done yet, don’t do it.

Same with Jewish Holocaust victims. Because of the sensitivity surrounding the whole situation and because of incidents where members were doing proxy temple work for Jewish Holocaust victims, back in the mid-1990s the church specifically put out policies for that situation.

Now, even with these rules, you do still have people who, for whatever reason, try to skirt around them. However, they are few and far between, and if someone is caught breaking these rules (especially the stricter ones), there is generally some kind of punishment. (What I’ve seen and heard is that usually the person’s FamilySearch account and ability to reserve names for temple work is revoked.)

Reserving Names for the Temple

This is a fairly straightforward process. If you are LDS (and have an LDS account on FamilySearch), you can go to the record of your ancestor whom you want to do temple work for. If they have temple work that you can reserve, there will be a little green temple icon on the ordinances tab. On this screen, you’ll see a button to request permission to do the work. If the person was born 110 years ago or less (or falls into one of the other ‘do not submit’ groups) you will see an alert like the one below pop up.

Screenshot taken from my FamilySearch account when reserving the temple work for a relative of mine.

 

This 110-year rule actually trumps some of the other policies (such as being responsible for doing your own direct ancestor’s names). For example, I have a few relatives who were born less than 110 years ago. If I were to try to reserve their work, I would have to note my relation to them, as well as the close relative (spouse, parent, child, sibling) who gave me permission (permission can be given verbally). This includes contact information so someone at FamilySearch could potentially contact the individual giving permission to verify if needed.

In cases where you are an individual’s closest living relative (but not directly related) – like, say a niece or nephew of the individual you are requesting, you also have to submit what your relation is to the person and note that you are the closest living relative and how. (For example, all of the individual’s parents, siblings, spouse, children, etc, have already passed on.)

Once you get past all of that (or you are reserving temple work for an individual who was born more than 110 years ago), the person is in your ‘Temple’ tab. If you click on that tab, you’ll see the list of names of people who you’ve reserved their temple work. Here you can do multiple things including printing out the slip(s) of paper that you take to the temple with the person’s name on it.

You can also share and unreserve names here. As for sharing, you have two options: share with a family or friend (such as I have done with my mother and mother-in-law) or share with the temple system. In the former situation, this allows your family or friend to reserve the name and then go do it themselves.

If you share it with the temple system, it means it will be printed out somewhere, at some point, and the work will be done. However, this usually takes a long time, so while it is an option (especially if you aren’t able to go to the temple often), it isn’t the best option for getting temple work done quickly.

Lastly, you can unreserve names. Usually, this option is used if a) a person knows they won’t be able to do an individual’s work in a timely manner and they want other people to have a chance to do the work, or b) someone else (usually a close relative) requests to do the individual’s work and you want to let them reserve it.

Comments? Questions?

Have any comments or questions on this topic? Let me know down in the comments below. As I mentioned above, this post is not meant to be authoritative, but rather to answer some of the questions I’ve received over the years about genealogy and LDS temple work. And if you like what you’ve been seeing here on Tenacious Genealogy – please subscribe to our email list. Not only will you stay up to date with the latest blog posts, but you’ll also get access to freebies such as ’10 Tips for Starting Your Genealogy’ and other fun ‘subscriber only’ items!

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5 thoughts on “Why Mormons love Genealogy or What We Mean by ‘Temple Work’

  1. Paula Somers says:

    I have been doing research on my husband’s family and have come across some ancestors who are listed as “golden” and there is a picture of a gold box. Is this an LDS term and what does it mean? I am not LDS so don’t understand all the lingo. Thanks for the information you provide to all of us!

    • Laura Nelson says:

      I’m not familiar with the terminology of ‘golden’ within LDS lingo. (At least in regards to genealogy) Is this on FamilySearch? If so, there is a gold colored icon that denotes more information is needed for the individual (such as a standardized date or location).

      • Paula Somers says:

        I found “golden” on Ancestry. When I click on it there is no info. It just has the picture of a gold box with writing on it which I can’t read. The person who posted it is LDS because there are documents for temple baptism by proxy copies for this branch of the family tree.

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