Tracking Our Ancestors

By now, most everyone has at least heard of the various internet sites that can help you track your genealogy. Ancestry.com and 23andMe are two of the best. Ancestry.com joined forces in 2013 with the extensive genealogical records compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, to obtain their initial databases, which they called FamilySearch. I first learned about the reason the Latter-day Saints were so actively involved in genealogy during a television interview with Marie Osmond. To the Mormons, genealogy is more than a hobby. And, in honor of the anniversary of the Latter-day Saints movement to Salt Lake City, it’s appropriate that we take note of their efforts in genealogy and understand why they are so connected to it.

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On June 9, 1856, five hundred members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints left Iowa City, Iowa heading westward toward Salt Lake City, Utah, where the church is still centered today. Under the guidance of religious leader Brigham Young, the city was established as a sanctuary in 1847, and his flock began following. The five hundred who migrated in 1856 did not travel by wagon, however. Instead, all their earthly goods were loaded onto two-wheeled handcarts, which were then pushed across the arduous terrain as people walked in front of the carts while their children pushed from behind for more than a thousand miles.

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Map of the route of the handcarts from Iowa City to Salt Lake City.

About a hundred carts were piled high with goods, increasing the weight of each cart to between four and five hundred pounds. Poorly made carts made the going difficult, and there was death and desertion along the way. But the people who did survive the journey inspired others, and over the subsequent four years, more than 3,000 hardy souls made a similar trek. Each person who made the journey took over a million steps to reach Salt Lake City, while pushing a heavy cart. It is little wonder that, from these humble beginnings, the members of the LDS community have become prosperous members of society. One of their major contributions is their vast genealogical records.

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Genealogy Records on Microfilm. Photo courtesy of Intellectual Reserve.

One of the church’s central beliefs since 1840 is that there is the possibility of family members to be reunited in heaven, but only those who have been baptized are allowed admittance into the Kingdom, as is stated by Jesus in the Bible: “Except that a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” It became essential that the current families acquaint themselves with their ancestors for the day when they were to meet up again.

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Photo courtesy of Intellectual Reserve.

Any member of the LDS Church who is above the age of twelve and who holds a current temple recommend (currently baptized themselves) is then expected to research his or her family tree and be involved in a baptism by proxy on behalf of his dead family members of the same sex, who have died without accepting or knowing Jesus Christ or his teachings during their mortal lives. Baptism by proxy is the accepted method by which all mortal beings will have the opportunity to receive baptism and be able to enter heaven. This belief is based on the principal that Jesus acted as proxy for every human when he atoned for the sins of the world.

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Baptismal font in the Salt Lake Temple, circa 1912, where baptisms for the dead are performed by proxy. The font rests on the backs of twelve oxen representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel

The child is expected to perform a thorough research of his family members by tapping into the FamilySearch database and adding to it as they perform their own search. The research is then used as the basis for performing as many baptisms by proxy, or temple ordinances, as possible. Regardless of how you view the process of baptism by proxy, there is no denying the wealth of genealogical information that is available, thanks to the members of the LDS community.

Starting in 1894, the Church began compiling a centralized data base for research on one’s family tree. It currently has information on over three billion deceased people. Today, its scope is compiled from over a hundred countries, and includes data compiled from birth, marriage and death records, censuses, probates and wills, land records, military records, and more. You can access this information free of charge on the website, FamilySearch.org and begin searching your own family tree.

When I was actively involved in genealogy, I discovered a distant connection to the likes of Richard Nixon, Daniel Boone, and some of the men who fought with George Washington during the Revolutionary War. For generations afterwards, boys in my family tree were named in his honor. There were several George Washington Myers namesakes, or simply Washington Myers. Perhaps that research was what inspired me to write about the Revolutionary War in my new series, Revolutionary Women. The first book, A British Heiress in America, releases June 25.

Who might you be related to? The answers may amuse, astound, or confound you. It doesn’t take much to get started in your quest to uncover your roots.

Here are some books available to help get you started in researching your own family tree:

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Resources

https://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/central/provo/ancestry-com-joins-forces-with-lds-owned-familysearch/article_4ce0e3fc-067a-5546-8f00-a0d0e111033a.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptism_for_the_dead

https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/topic/genealogy

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mormon-handcart-pioneers-depart-for-salt-lake-city?cmpid=email-hist-tdih-2020-0609-06092020&om_rid=4cb888877d46e4b757897f9b2282a6af5ad082a22bca6ac35390977e4be05ca2

https://www.legendsofamerica.com/mormon-handcart-tragedy/

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Book One in Becky Lower’s Revolutionary War Series, releases June 25. Entitled A British Heiress in America, it traces the route of a proper English debutante whose desire to escape an arranged marriage by her father forces her to stow away on a ship bound for America at the start of the Revolutionary War. You can read Pippa’s story here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B089RNSY3P