Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

Temples And Genealogy
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

Jews are not the only group threatened. Peter Love, a Maori who manages the affairs of Maori tribes and a Mormon himself, opposed the microfilming of 100 years of New Zealand vital records, which would lead to the baptism of his deceased ancestral people into the Church. The Russian Inter-Religious Council described as "deliberate abuse" the Mormon practice of enrolling deceased people in their church. Leader Roman Silantyev called the practice "abuse of the memory of the deceased." Incidents such as these may foreshadow more difficulty in gathering records and performing posthumous ordinances.

Despite the objections, the Mormon desire to link family members has resulted in the large Salt Lake City repositories, which benefit everyone interested in genealogy. The genealogical library, founded in 1894, gathers data for members performing temple work for their ancestors and everyone else wishing to reconstruct their family trees. The current Family History Library, built in 1985, the world's largest genealogical library staffed by 230 paid workers and hundreds of volunteers, is open free to the public. Each year some 750,000 people visit the library, where more than two billion names are recorded on 2.2 million rolls of microfilm, 740,000 microfiche, 300,000 books, and 4,500 periodicals. Each month, about 5,000 rolls of microfilm and 700 books are added. Two hundred cameras in forty-four countries busily snap millions of images a year. To protect the filmed records from nuclear disaster, the originals are housed in a massive stone vault drilled out of a canyon near Salt Lake. The financial and psychic devotion to this operation underscores its importance to the Church. Besides this central library in Salt Lake City, the Church maintains 5,000 family history centers operating in seventy-five countries and territories. Staffed by volunteers and visited by more than five million patrons annually, these satellite libraries are set up in Church meeting houses around the world to make the Salt Lake collection accessible. In eastern U.S. locations more than 90 percent of the visitors who order copies of more than 100,000 rolls of microfilm monthly are not Mormons. Small fees for postage and copying are charged. The site at www.familysearch.org, launched in 1999, has had billions of hits. Continuing uploads have brought the online names to more than a billion.

The family history department uses its resources, records, and volunteers to turn out specialty CDs of specific records. This work builds better relations with the public than baptizing their ancestors unaware. In 2001, the department released the records of the Freedman's Bank, a Washington, D.C.- based bank chartered in 1865 to help recently freed slaves. An estimated 70,000 customers opened and closed accounts with deposits totaling more than $57 million during the bank's nine years of operation. Seeing the potential for the genealogy of black families, Marie Taylor, a Church employee, organized the material into usable shape and enlisted volunteers to extract the 480,000 names, link them as families, and index them. The project took eleven years. Among the volunteers were 550 prisoners at the Utah State Prison. This invaluable resource for the genealogical work of African Americans was issued as a user-friendly database on a CD for $6.50. Within a month of release, 30,000 copies of the CD had been requested, mostly by African Americans. One recipient said, "The black community has an insatiable thirst for family history, and [the Church] has given us the well to satisfy that thirst." Prison inmates who worked on the project felt a special empathy for the freed slaves and were surprised by their emotions while extracting information of fathers sold away from their families, mothers who were traded, and others who were shot. At an introductory luncheon, members of the black community applauded spontaneously and at great length for the prison inmates who assisted.

In a third project, Church members have digitized the 1880 United States Census, the first published, and put it online. This database covers thirty-eight states and eight territories and represents seventeen years and eleven and a half million hours of work by LDS extractors. Fifty-five million records are included, searchable by name, date, state, occupation, race, gender, household or neighborhood. "Wild card" searches find people despite handwriting and spelling variations. The Census, a valuable tool for historical and genealogical researchers, is rendered usable. Soon after the site database opened, visitors pored over the material at about three million hits an hour. As Richard and Joan Ostling noted in their book, Mormon America, "Never in the history of organized religion has a doctrinal tenet produced such an elaborate and expensive archival effort."

The building of temples illustrates the way Latter-day Saints couple spiritual, abstract concepts with practical, bricks-and-mortar solutions. The concrete aspects of construction contrast with the heavily symbolic purposes of temples: to create holy ground where humans meet God and link all generations for the eternities. Temples bring together the modern church with the Hebraic church of the Old Testament. Because temples have been important since the earliest days, temple ceremonies preserve and promote the church's own past as well. Mystical spaces, cloistered rituals, and cosmic thinking linked to a grand program to bind everyone who ever lived into families bring out the transcendent and practical sides of Mormon culture. Others wonder, doubt, and criticize, but the Mormons show no signs of slackening their temple programs.