Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often called Mormons by those of other faiths, believe strongly in the importance of family history and genealogy. The past few decades have seen an explosion if interest among people of all faiths across the world in their personal heritage. In the past, records have been difficult to obtain. People have had to travel to remote places to search for important family records in cemeteries and parish records. An enormous effort by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, frequently misnamed the “Mormon Church” by the media has allowed millions of people to access these records from the Internet without having to travel extensively.
A great indexing movement is still taking place in the LDS Church. Teams have travelled the globe scanning in countless documents. Volunteer members then work to digitize the important information from these documents, providing them to any who wish to search them. Unlike certain businesses who charge a good deal for the use of their records, those records which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has digitized are available free of charge to anyone who wishes to access them. In addition, there are many family history centers across the globes, mostly located in LDS meetinghouses, which are run by volunteers. Anyone may use these facilities, free of charge, and may also obtain help from those who are trained in using the programs and equipment.
One may ask why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has spent so much time and so many resources providing a service which they don’t even charge for. The answer is quite simple and is based in a basic belief of Mormonism, that families can, and should, be together forever. Latter-day Saints believe that there are certain earthly ordinances which each individual must receive in order to be exalted and live in the presence of God for eternity. These ordinances cannot be performed on the other side of the veil. On earth, most of these ordinances are received in Mormon temples. However, once a person has received these ordinances for himself, he may return to the temple and perform the same ordinances vicariously for someone who died without the chance to receive those ordinances. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to do their own family history (or genealogy) so that they can personally perform these ordinances for their own ancestors by proxy. One of these ordinances is Baptism for the Dead.
Another fundamental belief which Latter-day Saints hold is that we all have the eternal right of free agency, or free will. We each choose for ourselves good or evil. No one else can force choices upon us. When a person who is deceased has ordinances performed for him by proxy, that does not mean he has lost the right to choose whether or not he wants to accept those ordinances. When temple work is done for an individual, he still has the right to choose if he wants the blessings and commitments that come with those ordinances. It is necessary the temple work is done, though, because if it is not, the choice is not given to the individual at all. He simply cannot partake of those blessings.
There are many other blessings which come from Mormon genealogy and family history. The knowledge of the experiences of one’s ancestors brings a tremendous power. To feel the influence of others’ choices in your life can be very moving. It is important to remember that these are people, beloved sons and daughters of God, just as we each are.