Genealogical Society of Utah
From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Durrant, George D.
The Genealogical Society of Utah, organized in 1894, became The Genealogical Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1944. In 1976 it became The Genealogical Department, and in 1987 the name was changed to The Family History Department. Each name change brought renewed emphasis and expanded resources to further the search for ancestors. The name Genealogical Society still continues as the microfilm section of the Family History Department of the Church.
The central purpose of the organization is expressed in a statement by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith: "Salvation for the dead is the system whereunder those who would have accepted the gospel in this life, had they been permitted to hear it, will have the chance to accept it in the spirit world, and will then be entitled to all the blessings which passed them by in mortality" (DS 2:100-196). Provisions have been made, therefore, for the living to provide, vicariously, ordinances of salvation for their deceased family forebears and friends. This cannot be done without information about the dead.
In April 1894, President Wilford Woodruff said, "We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers and run this chain as far as you can get it" (Durham, p. 157). On November 13, 1894, the First Presidency of the Church authorized the organization of the Genealogical Society of Utah as an aid to genealogical research, and appointed Franklin D. Richards president. Of this beginning Archibald F. Bennett, a later executive secretary, gave the following historical summary: "It was to be benevolent, educational, and religious in purpose-benevolent in gathering together into a library books that would help the people trace their ancestry; educational in teaching the people how to trace their ancestry ; religious in that they would do all in their power to encourage the people to perform in the temples all the necessary ordinances" (Genealogical Society of Utah, minutes, Nov. 13, 1894, Genealogical Department of the Church).
Some of the widely known facilities and resources that have been established over the past century to facilitate these purposes are: (1) the Family History Library at Salt Lake City; (2) the extensive collection of microfilmed and microfiche records of family history; and (3) the International Genealogical Index (IGI). 1. The Family History Library is the largest of its kind in the world. Patrons come from all over the globe to search for information about past generations. More than 1,000 branches of this library have been established in forty-three countries to make these records available to all who are interested.
2. The microfilm and microfiche collection is continually expanding. From 1938 to the present, irreplaceable records have been preserved on microfilms. Some 1.5 million rolls of microfilm and approximately 200,000 microfiche containing the names of an estimated 1.5 billion deceased people are now available to researchers.
3. The IGI includes names and vital statistics of millions of people who lived between the early 1500s and 1875 in some ninety countries, alphabetized by surname and arranged geographically. Millions of names are added each year. This index is accessible on microfiche and is computerized.
These and other resources have aided millions of researchers in finding their "roots," and have made possible the performance of temple ordinances for millions who lived and died without that opportunity.
The continued commitment to identify ancestors and provide temple ordinances for them which began in this dispensation with divine revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and was furthered by the organization of the Genealogical Society of Utah, and has enabled millions of genealogists throughout the world to develop a strong association between family history and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Durham, G. Homer, ed. Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 157. Salt Lake City, 1946.
GEORGE D. DURRANT