"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
August 19, 2015
Why Your Family History isn't Really "All Done" — And Why That's a Good Thing
by Kathryn Grant

From time to time, I hear people say that their family history is “all done” (except for maybe a few brick walls). And the statement may come with a sigh of relief, as if to say, “Whew, I’ve checked that requirement off my list.”

But you know what? I’ve never met anyone whose family history actually was all done and I don’t expect to in this life. Why would that be?

  1. Many “finished” genealogies were compiled years ago, some even before the advent of online records. Today many more records are available, and the number grows daily. It’s very likely those records contain additional names that could be added to these genealogies. And many of those names likely need temple work.

  2. Closely related to the point above, people are constantly being born and dying. Unless someone is monitoring every possible branch of their family tree, it’s impossible for the tree to be complete. And that means temple work may be needed for people who are missing or who died after the research was done.

  3. “Finished” genealogies may not include descendancy research.

    According to Elder Allan F. Packer, “One study calculated that if we went back 10 generations and did the work for their cousins and the cousin’s descendants, there is the potential for about 8 million people if there were only 4 children per family. Many had much larger families.”1

    That means that unless someone has found around 8 million descendants, there’s a good chance more people are waiting to be found.

As you can see, it’s virtually impossible for someone’s family history to be “all done.”

At this point, you might be tempted to panic: “Eight million names? Are you kidding me? Now I'm overwhelmed and I really don’t feel like doing family history.”

Or you may want to go the opposite direction: “I had better get busy and find as many names as quickly as possible and get my family history all done.” (Unfortunately, this approach usually leads to misuse of finding tools, errors, and invalid ordinances.)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave an inspired response to both these concerns when he said,

In the work of redeeming the dead there are many tasks to be performed…. All members should participate by prayerfully selecting those ways that fit their personal circumstances at a particular time. This should be done under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord and with the guidance of priesthood leaders who issue calls and direct the Church-administered portions of this work.

Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something.2

There is always something you can do for family history. With only few exceptions, everyone can participate and is encouraged to do so. Regular, consistent effort is the key, guided by the Spirit.

Ponder and pray about what the Lord wants you to do for your family history and start there. In other words, find that little part of the vineyard that the Lord wants you to tend and go to work there.

Don’t worry about finishing your family history. That puts your focus in the wrong place. Instead, make an ongoing, consistent effort. You’ll see rich and abundant blessings flow into your life,3 and you’ll be grateful you realized that your family history wasn’t “all done” after all.

1 Elder Allan F. Packer, “Spiritual Passport.” Talk given at Family Discovery Day at the RootsTech family history conference in 2014.

2 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Family History: ‘In Wisdom and in Order,’” Ensign, June 1989. (Emphasis added.)

3 See, for example, Elder David A. Bednar, “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign, Nov. 2011, and Elder Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” Ensign, Nov 2012.

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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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