“Family history—I am doing it, my family history. And the love I feel, when I am doing it, is very sweet to me. I learn stories of my progenitors; I write their history. I keep records of my loved ones on my own family tree.”
I know, I know. Those are beautiful words. I can’t take credit for them though, they come from a children’s song in the children’s songbook of the Church.
I’m also pretty sure that I can’t name a single time in my life when I’ve used the word “progenitor” in a sentence. Oh, there we go. Now I have one under my belt. Many more to come . . . maybe.
Up until just a couple of years ago, my family history work has always been everyone else’s responsibility. I had no idea where to start, and it just became one of those things that I would “eventually learn, someday.” Yes, I fell for the common procrastination trap that Amulek taught us about.
Then I took to heart a challenge put out in one of my student wards in regards to bringing our own names to the temple. I was determined to help find at least one. The flood gates opened. I found over 30. For me, that was a big deal.
While I am still far from perfect, I have learned for myself the importance of this sacred work. Truly, as the prophets have declared, the spirit of Elijah is filling the earth. As we heed this spirit, we are blessed in more ways than we can imagine.
One of these blessings is usually lost in the discussion, but it may very well be the most important blessing we can receive from doing our own family history work.
It has more to do with our salvation and exaltation than almost any other blessing we receive.
The presence of angels
One of the greatest stories in the Old Testament has got to be when Elisha showed his servant the legions that were protecting him.
Elisha had been telling the king of Israel what places to avoid so the Syrians could not overtake them. The king of Syria learned about Elisha, learned about his whereabouts, and was determined to destroy him. At night, they came to a small city where Elisha was staying, and encircled the entire city with horses and chariots.
The servant woke up, shocked. “Elisha, how on earth are we going to get out of this?!” They were surrounded, nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.
Elisha wasn’t worried. “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16).
I don’t know about you, but I completely understand the fear of the servant. They were surrounded by an army, in a small town, and what sounds like almost nobody with them to help defend themselves. Then the prophet says “Don’t worry. We have more on our side then they do.” Um . . . have you looked around? We have a few men and some sheep. Those must be some pretty killer sheep.
“Lord I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).
All of a sudden, the servant knew. God does not, and will not leave his servants alone.
Elder Holland put it this way:
“In the gospel of Jesus Christ you have help from both sides of the veil, and you must never forget that. When disappointment and discouragement strike—and they will—you remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed to come to our protection. They will always be there, these armies of heaven, in defense of Abraham’s seed.”
Angels are surrounding us, helping us fight our battles, and leading us to the pleasing judgment bar of God.
Our relation to these angels
One of the most significant things about these angels isn’t that they probably don’t have wings, though that may be important to learn, it’s that we have some significant ties to them.
What kind of ties?
Great question. The Lord gave Joseph Smith some insight into who ministering angels are. They are those who do belong or have belonged to this earth. (see D&C 130:5).
That makes sense. There wouldn’t be much of a point in sending angels from Kolob . . . I’m sure life is much different there. The angels sent to fight for us, and to help us would have to know what life is like on earth. They would know how best to direct through the specific trials and tests that we will face in this world.
In his book, Gospel Doctrine, Joseph F. Smith takes this even a step further.
“When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from the ranks of our kindred, friends, and fellow-beings and fellow-servants. The ancient prophets who died were those who came to visit their fellow creatures upon the earth…. In like manner our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh” (p. 435-436).
The ties that we have to our ministering angels are not limited to the fact that they have been or will be on the earth at one point. WE ARE RELATED TO MANY OF THEM.
The gospel was created for the salvation of the human family. No wonder our ancestors, excuse me, our progenitors would want us to succeed! They will fight for us. They will direct us. Our own family members have our back.
Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost
I know what a lot of you are thinking . . . “this is all really cool and all, but what does it have to do with family history work?” Well, unfortunately, nothing! I just needed a title to captivate your attention.
Just kidding! It actually has everything to do with family history.
Think about our spiritual progression while we are here on earth. We are given a path to follow, which we often refer to as the covenant path because of the covenants and ordinances of the Gospel which we must make and keep.
Now think about these individual ordinances. What are the blessings promised by the covenants that we keep in conjunction with the ordinance?
For baptism, we can receive a remission of our sins, which qualifies us for the Holy Ghost.
For confirmation, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost which is a promise that He can be our constant companion as long as we are worthy.
For the endowment, Elder Robert D. Hales called it “the eternal curriculum,” (Return: Four Phases of Our Mortal Journey Home, p. 243) where we not only learn “how to become like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ so that we can live in Their presence,” but we are endowed with the power to do so.
For the temple sealing, we enter into a partnership that allows us to create a family and qualify for exaltation.
When we perform these ordinances for our ancestors in the temple, they have the opportunity to receive those same blessings. A remission of sins. The companionship of the Holy Ghost. Knowledge and power to become like our Heavenly Father and His Perfect Son. An eternal family and exaltation.
But how does that bless us?
Didn’t Nephi tell us how the angels minister to us? How do they speak?
Angels speak BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY GHOST. How can they speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, if they are not given the gift of the Holy Ghost? How can they receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, if they have not received a remission of sins? When they do speak to us, what do they speak to us? How can angels lead and guide us towards exaltation, without having received the power and knowledge of how to do so? Why would they want to help their own family members if there was no eternal connection made?
Sorry. I know it’s a lot of questions, but they’re important ones.
The blessing of salvation and exaltation
I will admit, that the title is actually a little deceiving. The most important blessing we can receive from family history work isn’t really forgotten. It’s what we work towards every day. It is, however, almost never directly linked to this sacred work.
In D&C 128, the prophet Joseph Smith makes a bold claim about our salvation and perfection. In this letter, he writes to the Church about baptism for the dead, and he declares that “their (dead ancestors) salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation . . . that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (v. 15).
What? We can’t be made perfect without our dead? Really?
Well, yes. As we labor diligently to find ancestors that need ordinances done on our behalf, we are not only ensuring their salvation. We are also ensuring ours.
By performing these ordinances, we are enabling the very angels that will come to our aid when we need them most. Many of the whisperings and promptings that we receive from the Spirit come from the ancestors that have already moved on, and have been awaiting their opportunity to help us.
So yes, Family History work will help us have the Spirit more abundantly in our lives. It will allow us to learn and grow from the stories and accounts we read. It will even help us have more patience, charity, and hope through Christ.
But most importantly, as we commit to doing our work for the dead, we are giving those who have gone before us the very knowledge and power that they will need to guide us to exaltation.
No wonder modern prophets have called this work the most important work in which we will participate while here on earth.
Our progenitors are our guides to exaltation, so let’s make sure they have the tools they need to lead us there.
See, I told you I could use that word more often now. Maybe I should retitle this article “The Power of our Progenitors.” That seems fitting.