When people press you to begin your long-neglected genealogy work, they typically remind you that you have hundreds of ancestors just waiting for their temple work to be done. However, my experience with what I believe to be one of the Church’s most brilliant initiatives, New Family Search, has lead me to a different conclusion, which I had not previously entertained since I am the child of a parent who is the only member in her family: maybe I have no ancestors whose work has not yet been done.
For people unfamiliar, the New Family Search works like a wiki in which members can enter their family records online, collaborating easily with other online users and incorporating their information into your family tree, essentially piggybacking off of their work. The site allows you to see what other members have linked to your ancestors and what temple work has been done for them, and it eliminates duplicate records, partly in an effort to avoid redundant temple ordinances being performed. It’s an extremely fun and functional system.
But although my mother is to the best of my knowledge the only member of her family to join the Church, I have made a surprising discovery as I have begun searching for her ancestors: after three or four generations, the vast majority of her ancestors have already been entered into New Family Church by other members who I don’t know, and their ordinances have already been done multiple times (except for sealings).
These findings, of course, make sense upon reflection, and are even somewhat exciting. Clearly, there are far more people alive today than in the past, and our ancestors have had many descendants, some of which are likely to have found their ways to the Mormon church. But they also cast doubt on the idea that there is tons of work left to be done, if work consists only of finding names (obviously, there is still a lot of personal information that we can learn about our ancestors).
So long as Mormons can only do temple work for their direct ancestors (something I consider a prudent policy) and the Church will not accept records past a certain date (again a wise policy given how shaky the geneological record becomes), then it seems plausible that we might well find that there is less work to do than we imagined. And, if so, how would that change how we approach genealogy and, if we run out of names, how would that change what we do in the temple?