"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
March 18, 2015
How Did All Those Names Get into Family Tree?
by Kathryn Grant

When you look around in Family Tree, it’s easy to see that it contains a lot of names. Really a lot, in fact — somewhere around 1 billion (as of this writing).

Did you ever wonder where all those names came from? The answer to this question matters for temple work. There are myths and misconceptions floating around. Let’s find out the facts.

Come with me back in time and meet Harry Russell, who worked in the Salt Lake temple in the early 1900s. Harry had a treasured book of family genealogy, and for some 360 days he’d been doing temple work for the family members listed in this book. Then he discovered, to his dismay, that some relatives had a copy of the same book and had been repeating the same ordinances in the St. George Temple (Hearts Turned to the Fathers, p. 97).

I can only imagine how Harry felt when he realized that he and his family had missed the opportunity to do ordinances for those who really needed them because they had been unnecessarily repeating work that was already done.

Not surprisingly, from this point on Harry began to push for some kind of central “clearinghouse,” a master record of ordinances done in all temples, so that members could check the clearinghouse before doing ordinances to avoid duplication.

Harry soon discovered that his concern was shared by others, including all temple presidents at the time (ibid, p. 98). They and others worked diligently to find a way to gather records of completed ordinances into a central repository.

And thus was born the record-keeping system that ultimately became Family Tree. The years of dedication, effort, obstacles, and miracles could fill volumes. Records evolved from handwritten to typewritten to digital, and the system we now know as Family Tree went through a series of changes and enhancements to become the powerful tool it is today.

So we see that many names in Family Tree came from records of completed temple ordinances. But that’s not all. Data from LDS Church membership records was included and continues to be fed into Family Tree.

Another major source of names in Family Tree was LDS member submissions made to Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File. (To clarify, members can still submit names to the Pedigree Resource File, but these names are not currently being added to Family Tree.)

So, to summarize, the names in Family Tree came from three main sources:

  1. Records of completed temple work

  2. LDS Church membership records

  3. Member/user submissions (Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, etc.)

Looking at this list, you can see that there’s a tremendous potential for duplicate names, particularly among those submitted in the 1900s and earlier. And many of these duplicates have temple work completed, but the temple work is not attached to them in Family Tree.

For example, suppose that my ancestor John Bescoby was included in Family Tree as part of temple records (#1 above). Then suppose that 10 duplicate records for John were included as part of Ancestral File or Pedigree Resource File (#3 above). Those duplicate records would also appear in Family Tree, but they would not have temple work attached. So if someone found them, they might assume incorrectly that John’s work had not been done.

And that, in fact, is has been happening. A rather serious misconception has arisen and has been passed around among Church members that Family Tree is an “official” genealogical record verified by the Church.

As a result, some people mistakenly believe that the way to find names for temple work is simply to go into Family Tree and look for names with a green arrow, or more recently, a green temple icon. In fact, some even misunderstand that the Church has relieved them of responsibility for doing their own family history by providing names ready for temple work in Family Tree.

Of course, when you understand where the names in Family Tree came from, you can see that providing names for temple work was never its major purpose — and, in fact, that many of the names originally populated into Family Tree were not only duplicates, but most already had temple work completed.

You can also see how gathering these duplicate records was a necessary and important step in moving temple work forward and reducing further duplication. Now we have the blessing of using technology to find and resolve these duplicates.

There’s something else to consider: even if you find a name added recently that has a green arrow or green temple icon, and which isn’t a duplicate, the person who added it may be planning on doing the temple work.

I remember how disappointing it was when I carefully researched and added a group of names for ward temple night. Then, a few days later when I tried to reserve them, I discovered someone else already had. I doubt they had done any research — they just saw names with green arrows. (And then the work remained undone for a lengthy period of time.)

So if Family Tree is not supposed to be an ongoing source of temple names, how do we find the names of family who need temple work? Apart from avoiding duplication, it’s much more rewarding to find and add your own family names to Family Tree and do temple work for them. We’ll learn how to do that in upcoming columns. Stay tuned!

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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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