by Nathan W. Murphy, MA, AG®
Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have instructed members of the LDS Church to trace their family histories for nearly 175 years, ever since the Prophet Joseph Smith received revelations from the Lord about the eternal nature of families. Thousands of pedigrees were generated by nineteenth-century LDS pioneers in order to complete temple ordinances in obedience to these commandments. For living members of the LDS Church who wish to keep the ball rolling and continue tracing their pioneer ancestors’ lineages back in time, it is important that this material is consulted prior to beginning research anew. In many families, such as those of Welsh descent, they offer clues that cannot be replicated through traditional genealogical research, and in all families, they will help current researchers get off on the right foot. Unfortunately, because this information is not easily accessible, many people today overlook this invaluable resource.
LDS Temple Books
The Prophet Joseph Smith received revelations from the Lord that registers of vicarious temple ordinances for the dead should be kept. All of these registers have survived and are principally deposited at the LDS Church Archives in Salt Lake City. Microfilm copies are also available at the Family History Library and its satellite network of Family History Centers located throughout the world.
The registers list the names of persons for whom baptisms, endowments, and sealings were performed. They also provide biographical details about the deceased individuals, such as birthplaces and birthdates. Most significantly, genealogically-speaking, they often identify the exact relationships between the deceased individuals and those who requested to have the temple work performed. These relationships are crucial to correctly tracing pioneer pedigrees.
Only pieces of this information are currently available on the International Genealogical Index v5.0. Items, such as relationships, have been omitted from this digitized version, and can only be learned through an examination of the original registers.
The quickest way to locate (1) the correct temples, and (2) the correct temple books that list your ancestors’ relationships to pioneer members of the LDS Church is to locate pioneers’ parents and grandparents on the online International Genealogical Index v5.0. You will need to log-on as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in order to view the temple ordinance dates. It is likely that ordinance work will have been completed multiple times on these individuals. You will need to sift through repetitive ordinances in order to locate the earliest dates. For example, a search for Joseph Young (1729-1769), paternal grandfather of President Brigham Young, returns 19 matches. The earliest baptism found performed for him by relatives is dated 21 May 1895 and identifies Willard G. Richards Young as a “Relative/Proxy.” In the “Source Information,” at the bottom of the screen, we read “Film Number: 183414, Page Number: 308, Reference Number: 11077.” As we click on the link for the Film Number, we are redirected to the microfilm listed in the Family History Library Catalog titled Baptisms for the Dead, 1893-1943; Heir Indexes, 1893-1960. The author is identified as the Salt Lake Temple. Using the “Source Information,” you can now locate the entry in the original register that may list William G. Richards Young’s relationship to Joseph Young, which is omitted in the online version. Many times the pioneers performed ordinances on multiple relatives in the temple on the same day. Their names appear next to one another on the same pages of the original registers. A cross-referenced indexed to “heirs,” i.e., those who requested that the ordinances be performed, is also useful in locating other previously unknown relatives.
Susan Easton Black has published and annotated the material listed the Nauvoo, Illinois Temple Register in the six-volume Annotated Records of Baptisms for the Dead 1840-1845 Nauvoo Hancock County, Illinois. The complete set is available to purchase for $150.00 from the Center for Family History and Genealogy at Brigham Young University.
Helpful guides are also available at references desks in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. They help researchers pinpoint microfilm numbers for each temple and its books; however, Price & Associates’ researchers have found the International Genealogical Index v5.0 to be a quicker finding aid.
Personal Temple Books
Nineteenth-century LDS pioneers also kept personal registers of temple ordinances performed for their kin. They often contain more detailed biographical information than official temple books. Many of these books have been deposited at the Church Archives in Salt Lake City and other places such as Brigham Young University’s Special Collections; however, some are still in private collections and owned by descendants. It may be necessary to contact relatives from several branches of your pioneer ancestors’ descendants in order to locate surviving books.
At Price & Associates, we are dedicated to correctly tracing your ancestors’ families, in order to have them properly sealed for eternity. When clients request searches for the ancestors of LDS pioneers, we always begin our research by checking these oft-overlooked books. They have helped us solve many perplexing family trees in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.