Genealogy, I am not doing it

Because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to look up my ancestors on the new Family Search and see if I had any Irish in me. Apparently, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was Irish. I mean, it appears to be reasonably well-documented that he was born there. So there it is, proof that I am, what, one one-hundred-twenty-eighth Irish? I still don’t feel very connected to Ireland. But at least now I know.

Here’s a thing about me that isn’t very Mormon: I’m really not interested in genealogy. Just so we’re clear, I am NOT saying that I feel guilty for not doing my genealogy, so you don’t need to tell me that there are seasons in life and when my children are a little older, I will have more time to devote to researching my ancestors. Theoretically, I have plenty of time now to devote to researching my ancestors, if I were inclined toward such an activity, but my point is that I’m not, because I’m just not interested. That’s what I mean by “not interested.” It isn’t that I don’t care about people who lived a long time ago; I just don’t specifically care about people who lived a long time ago who begat or birthed people who begat or birthed people who begat or birthed people who begat or birthed me. One random person who lived a long time ago is as interesting to me as the next random person who lived a long time ago. When somebody posts something on a blog about one of their ancestors, I find it just as interesting as if it were one of my own ancestors–which is to say that it is interesting for whatever it is and not for how it is related to me.

Actually, the other day on this blog, Kevin Barney posted The Memoir of Elizabeth Lee. That was interesting. As it happens, there are Lees in my family tree–and apparently they were Irish at one point–but I don’t think this Elizabeth Lee is related to me. Well, I don’t know. She might be. Kevin mentioned that this Lee family was related to Harold B. Lee in some way, and as I recall one of my own Lee family is supposedly related to Harold B. Lee in some way, so maybe by extension our Lee families are related to each other, but I wouldn’t know and I don’t care because in case you haven’t gotten the flavor of this post yet, I’m not interested in that sort of thing. I suppose if I were a direct descendant of Harold B. Lee, that would mean something to me, because then he’d be my grandpa. I would sure know a lot more about him then, wouldn’t I? And I’d probably want to know more, since he would have died before I was really old enough to have any memory of him.

I am interested in my mother’s personal history because I knew my mother. Similarly, I am interested in my mother’s mother’s personal history because I knew my mother’s mother. I didn’t know my mother’s father, but my mother knew her father and spoke of him often, so I’m reasonably interested in him. I’m even a little bit interested in my great-grandmother on my father’s side because I knew her a little before she died, but beyond that, the people of the past who are deceased are about all the same to me. Because I’m also interested in the personal history of some people I know who aren’t related to me. So I see no reason to be more interested in deceased persons who are related to me than I am in deceased persons who are not related to me if I don’t/didn’t know any of them.

Another thing that is even less Mormon about me is that I don’t really understand why we need to do ordinance work for the dead. I mean, I’m not against it. I’m not trying to contrive some argument for not doing it because I feel guilty about not doing it. It’s just one of those things about my religion that makes less sense to me the more I think about it. Don’t worry or anything–I’m still going to go to the temple and do it because I’m working on the assumption that I must be doing it for some reason; I just can’t imagine what that reason is. I understand that we all are supposed to need these ordinances, but I don’t even understand why I need them, let alone someone who lived a thousand years ago needs them. The fact that I don’t understand is not an argument against needing the ordinances; I’m just saying that I don’t get it, and that’s probably why the Spirit of Elijah has never bitten me. (Or whatever the Spirit of Elijah does to people who become obsessed with their ancestors. I guess one would only be bitten by the bug of Elijah, but I’ve never heard of that, and the appropriate word seems to be escaping me this morning.)

I have been told that as I learn more about my ancestors, I will feel closer to them. Well, I guess so. I felt to closer to Abraham Lincoln after I read a book about him. But it didn’t make me feel like doing his temple work. (Or, rather, encouraging my husband to do his temple work…I guess.) This bug of Elijah, it just doesn’t seem to affect me one way or the other.

It makes me wonder, do I care how my great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren remember me, or if they remember me? I guess I don’t. To be fair, part of that is because I’m a child of the Cold War and Saturday’s Warrior, and I never expected to live this long without an apocalypse or Second Coming, so I’m still wrapping my head around the idea of having descendants in the first place. I imagine I’m a long way away from caring about their level of interest in me. I think I would be flattered if anyone was interested in me 300 years from now. But I won’t be surprised if no one is–nor could I blame them, all things considered.

I suppose I do feel a responsibility to tell my kids stories about my mother and my grandparents, whom they never got to meet. But it’s also kind of natural for me to do this because these people were important to me personally, so it’s part of my life, and so I tell my kids about them. However, just yesterday I found myself telling my daughter all about Jim Varney, who is also now deceased, whose “Hey Vern!” commercials she has never had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand, and who is also not, as far as I know, related to me. So I don’t know what that means. But that’s the status of me and the Spirit of Elijah on this St. Patrick’s Day, 2011. Mark it, for posterity.


  1. This is why genealogy is important.

  2. Well, the important aspect I see of it for myself is not so much the name collecting and gathering. That is a necessary function of how we do the ordinances.

    But rather the fact that you heart is turned toward those who came before you. And your heart is filled with a love of those who came before you and made your life possible, but are lacking in the possibility of eternal progression.

    Just as God has prepared a way for you to lay hold of the blessings of the atonement, as you exercise faith in Jesus Christ, he has prepared a way for you to become a savior in your own sense for those who have gone before you.

    When you have a testimony that is filled with a love of God and you can look at yourself and see the lowly state you’d be in without that actually-experienced-and lived-knowledge (not just a list of stated “facts”) then you recognize how utterly dependent you are on the Lord. And you want to help others to come to that eye-opening moment. Then your heart is truly opened to your brothers and sisters as you look around and desire for them to come to their own understanding in a way the Lord has prepared for them.

    That’s why we do missionary work. And temple work/genealogy is a big component of that. I would say you don’t see the reasons for doing XYZ that you listed is because you actually don’t have a lived-experienced testimony of it. And I don’t say that in a negative way, because I think I don’t have the type of testimony the Lord wants me to have of a few things in the church based on my own life. In that sense a “testimony” can be used as too much of a weapon to accuse what you do or don’t have.

    To me this post seems to be a public acknowledgment of what you realize you lack (specifically as I read it, an understanding of the importance of ordinance work and the role it plays in your lived-every-day life).

    That’s a great realization. So I’ll plead with you to consider and ponder that and seek for further light and knowledge to come to you. That’s at least what I do, and I can apply myself to every instance of “you” in this comment as well, so I’m as much “preaching” to myself as you (errrr me)

  3. B Russ: LOL. Love C&H.

    Rebecca, different folks have different gifts. The bug of Elijah bites some of us harder than others.


  4. My uncle paid a expert over $10,000 to do the geneology and then he had to pay him $20,000 to keep his mouth shut.

    Personally, I’m trying to find evidence of a connection between any one of several ancestral women who lived in Kirtland or Nauvoo and the Prophet Joseph Smith, as a secret plural wife. This might make me a direct descendant with all of the rights of the Priesthood that goes with it. And provide an explanation for the craziness running rampant in the family. (See above). No such luck so far.

  5. Well, if you’re Mormon and — er — white and related to the Lees, you could be related to Harold B., or you could be related to this guy. Wouldn’t it be nice to know which? : )

  6. My uncle paid a expert over $10,000 to do the geneology and then he had to pay him $20,000 to keep his mouth shut.

    Apparently, $20,000 wasn’t enough (?)

  7. There are tons and tons of perfectly acceptable and understandable reasons for not being interested in genealogy. There is, for instance … um … well … and don’t forget … er … um … uh …

    *crickets chirp* *stars wheel in their courses*

  8. This reminds me of when I was called to be the YSA wards Family History specialist, or whatever the title happens to be. I remember setting up an account on familysearch. That was about as far as I got.

    My step-father is “related to John D Lee through marriage”, as he puts it. I’m still not sure why he sounds so proud when he says that.

  9. Researcher (5) – Actually, it doesn’t make any difference to me. (Have I not made myself clear on this point?) :)

  10. pbc (2) – I understand having my heart opened and all of that–not that it’s been opened yet, but I can imagine it. What I don’t envision myself ever doing is having special feelings about people who are far removed from me in time specifically because they are related to me by blood. I don’t envision having warmer fuzzies about bringing my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother through the temple than I already have about bringing the unrelated-to-me soul through the temple. I mean, either way, one more person has had their work done for them. (I mean, I hope I’m not stepping on somebody’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter’s toes or anything.) But of course, I’ve never done any work specifically for my ancestors, so I don’t have any lived-experience to base this assumption on. Just my own thoughts and predispositions.

  11. Rebecca, you just articulated 87% or so of my feelings about genealogy. Unfortunately, I am my ward’s family history consultant. And I know nothing about how to do genealogy. You can imagine the magnifying that’s taking place.

  12. What is the deal with using “lived” as a modifyer for “every day life” or “experience.” Is it redundancy day and I missed it or what?

    If not, can you please knock it off? It’s freaking me out.

  13. Rebecca,
    I pretty much aline with you__ but I must say I have my and wife’s lines back to the 1500s. But we didn’t do it. It was done by many other church family members.
    My interest has always been on the 30 or so ancestors above me, and the same on my wife’s side. (That’s 2Ps, 4GPs, 8GGPs, 16 GGGPs). That gets me through Utah, Idaho, and back to Nauvoo. I have been to all but one gravesite, I have photos of each, even books on some. I add a few aunts and uncles, etc., I have a room full of stuff and stories!

  14. Just trying to add some more meaning to the word… I don’t know about you but I’ve found that often we toss words that don’t mean anything. So I was trying to add emphasis to the word experience. I think we all know in the sense that we can parrot the reasons why genealogy or temple work is important.

    I was trying to refer to the other king of knowing that comes from the experience of living what we say we know. If that makes sense.

    In both senses, we are all experiencing (that’s a big part of this life is it not) but once is living up to the bits of knowledge we’ve been taught. I find that when I get to these deep (to me) feelings as a result of my own experiences it’s very difficult to try to explain it using words. I assume that’s why strange redundancies creep in, and even more importantly that’s why the Holy Spirit is so necessary to convey those messages unto our hearts.

  15. I think it was John Taylor who said that having a special needs child excuses a parent from paperwork commandments.

    There are some interesting family history stories in my family, but they tend to be the kind that only get told around 12:30 AM and well after the children have been sent to bed. One ancestor had a plot of land in downtown SLC. Brother Brigham heard he was putting it up for sale to cover some gambling debts, told him to hold onto it because someday it would be worth more than the dollar bills it would take to cover it. When the guy insisted on selling, Brigham bought it himself.

    And, John D. Lee was a fascinating guy. I’ve read his journals. If I were related, I wouldn’t hesitate to claim him.

  16. Ardis, you just made my afternoon.

  17. Mostimportantly says:

    As a former employee of, I can assure you that interest in genealogy is not uniquely LDS at all.

  18. You’re not alone in this one. Just in case you were wondering.
    I can identify with most of the OP, with the exception that we should probably honor the people who helped make our lives what they are today. At some point, however, my neighbor will have had a bigger influence on my life than my ggggf. So things get a little hazy, at which point, each ancestor is as important to me as anyone elses. I wouldn’t be offended if some person in my posterity forty generations from now didn’t know who I was; It would be nice if they wanted to meet me, but being an ancestor just doesn’t carry that much weight to me. I would imagine other parts of the world view this very differently.

  19. Oh, and whats the deal with people claiming that they are related to so-and-so up the line? Isn’t it just a fun fact? Why would some feel prouder because of said person, when our own lives are utterly independent of (William the Conqueror)?

  20. Huh. Well, if figuring out whether you’re related to a mass murderer — or Kevin Barney — is not incentive enough to poke around in your family tree, I would suggest filing your disinterest under the category of “all have not every gift given unto them,” and not spend much time worrying about it.

    Of course, if you are worrying about it, that could be a spiritual prompting to do something… (as they say in the business…)

  21. StillConfused says:

    I like family history just because I am from the south and there are some pretty wild stories in my family’s past.

    I personally don’t think ordinance work is required by God at all. It all seems quite silly if you really think about it.

  22. The more I think about the ordinances the more profound they become for me. So I would hesitate to use the word “silly” when discussing whether God requires them or not.

  23. Her moniker says it all, Jacob.

  24. Rebecca, I feel the same way as you, except I do feel guilty about it. “I’m-a-bad-person” sort of guilty. So in a sense, I’m jealous.

    Fortunately, feeling guilty must somehow make me more righteous and let me feel superior, right?

  25. 12/19 –

  26. Rebecca J,

    I’ve felt for years somewhat the same about genealogy. I define “genealogy” as the act of figuring out who the ancestors were and filling out the pedigree charts, family group sheets, etc. Still not too enamored of it.

    However, I define “Family History” as getting to know something about these people other than just dates on an ordinance card. And that is a whole different ballgame.

    What changed it for me was the realization that I never knew my Dad’s father, who died before I was born. Turns out he went through the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 as a missionary. Or his wife’s parents, who moved from Utah to Arizona but turned around and came back after a few months (along with about 100 others in 1873), and yet never breathed a bad word about it that I know of, even though Brigham Young publicly ridiculed them. Or finding out some 20 years after he died that my mother’s Dad, before he became the hard working farmer that I knew, was a pretty good baseball player, something even he never told me.

    I’m interested in getting to know them as people, because I firmly believe that when I die, they will be waiting there with my parents, and lots of others who went before, and I want to actually be able to say “Hey, aren’t you the one that…?”, rather than “Who are you again?”

    I realize that’s rather personal, but it is what works for me. I’m certainly not going to say you are wrong, just that it is different for each person. You asked some good questions, not all of which I can answer, but this is what works for me. And I am thoroughly disgusted with the new Family Search Wiki site. Anybody with less than half a brain can throw up something and make an excuse to redo ordinances that have been done before on the pretext that perhaps the name wasn’t spelled right, or some other selfish whim.

    And now I’m sounding whiny and petulant, so I’ll stop.

  27. Josh B, I want you to know that I am very proud to be descended from Willem the Conquered and all of his other peasant friends and relatives.

  28. Rebecca,
    Has is occurred to you that temple work is for the living and that the dead and the living are one in the same?

  29. Rebecca,
    Has is occurred to you that if you were as righteous as me that you would appreciate the importance of genealogy?

  30. I’ll admit, I really enjoy doing family history, but most of my family isn’t. I get that.
    I recently put together a book on shutterfly with family photos and some stories about the people in the photos. I was astounded at the reaction I got from my family. People who weren’t interested in the genealogy or anything were calling me about getting temple work done. Somehow the act of seeing a face and learning more about the people was profoundly moving to them. I don’t know if others have that same reaction, but seeing faces had a rather potent effect upon my family.

  31. IMO, built into Rebecca’s OP is__ has all the billions of hours, and maybe billions of dollars been needed in doing LDS
    Genealogy? For me, the question is unanswered.
    I am open to correction on this, but I believe the CoC (RLSD), has an easier way. Early on, one guy was baptized for all that died before him without a baptism. Then, every year one of their GAs is baptized for anyone who died that year without a baptism.

  32. “The fact that I don’t understand is not an argument against needing the ordinances”–it is in the blogernacle.

  33. Todd (26) – I already assume that temple work is for the living. However, I had not considered that the dead and the living are one in the same, because I don’t know what that means.

    kevinf (24) – I understand the difference between family history and genealogy, as you described it. One is certainly more interesting to me than the other. However, I noticed that you gave an example of some family history that is not very far removed from yourself time-wise. Have you uncovered any family history about your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent that was meaningful to you? I’m curious because history in general interests me, so the personal histories of random individuals from 300 years ago or whatever would be interesting to me insofar as they were interesting, but I don’t believe they would become more interesting if I learned that they were related to me somehow.

    Mostimportantly (17) – I also understand that lots of people are interested in genealogy, not just Mormons. It is another thing about people in general that I do not relate to personally.

    I certainly don’t want anyone to get the impression that I look down on anyone who is fascinated by their genealogy. Some people collect stamps; other people collect ancestors. It’s all good. For Mormons there is also a religious component to it, which–as I’ve already said–does not resonate with me. I wish it did. I mean, I guess I do. It would mean I had so much to look forward to when I enter that season of life where I’m supposed to go around looking for my ancestors.

    I also don’t want to leave the impression that I find no personal meaning in the temple ordinances. Not understanding the reason for the necessity of the ordinances is not the same as not seeing any meaning in them.

    And really, for the absolute last time, I do not feel guilty about not doing genealogy. Or rather, the list of things I feel guilty about is so long that my guilt over not doing genealogy is not apt to register with me in this lifetime.

  34. Lamplighter says:

    Having been a family history consultant for 14 years, I can tell you that you are not unique as a Mormon who is not interested in doing your genealogy, the only thing that makes you different is you don’t feel guilty. I once made a member of a stake presidency, who had never met me, feel guilty just by telling him my calling. Then I had to listen to all his excuses for why he wan’t working on his genealogy. Thank goodness for non LDS genealogists, they are the ones who keep our Family History Centers going.

  35. I’m curious because history in general interests me, so the personal histories of random individuals from 300 years ago or whatever would be interesting to me insofar as they were interesting, but I don’t believe they would become more interesting if I learned that they were related to me somehow.

    I think they do sometimes become more interesting when you know your relationship to those long-ago people in history. In my case, I think of those great-to-the-umpteenth grandparents as being proxies for me; knowing that that woman who delivered a wagon load of vegetables to Washington’s army, or that man who was aboard the New Haven’s Ghost Ship of 1638, are my grandparents kind of gives me a special claim to that history, if only in my own mind.

    I understand if you don’t react the same way. There comes a point even for me — usually the point of immigration from Europe to the New World — where I don’t really feel a connection to my ancestors, despite my fanaticism about nearer generations. I think that’s because I don’t especially know and don’t particularly care about the history of very long ago and very far away. It may be that my love of history came first, so I want to know where I (or my proxy ancestors) fit in. When I don’t care about the history, I’m less likely to care about the ancestors.

  36. Swisster says:

    I have enjoyed genealogy on and off. When I’m “on,” I enjoy it mostly because it’s something I can work on with brother who is thousands of miles away. And it helps us feel closer to our dad, who passed away recently. He was full Danish, so every time we read a Danish census record (or do or eat anything remotely Danish), we feel the love. Sometimes though, I wonder why we can’t just do ordinances over and over for and on behalf of “person x.” We know we’ll miss tons of people and make mistakes, so why not shoot for a certain NUMBER of ordinances in the name of “Adam” or “everyman,” but wait to attach to them in the next life???

  37. Swisster says:

    *wait to attach NAMES to them in the next life

  38. I think one catches the spirit of Elijah and is bitten by the genealogy bug, just to clarify.

    And it may take a certain ancestor at some point to really resonate with you, so don’t discount it for the future. But in my genealogy work, I’ve found that there seems to be someone in each family branch who feels a particular affinity for the work. And everyone knows it’s Aunt Ruth or whoever. So if that’s not your calling in the family or the ward, leave it to those with the passion.

  39. observer (fka eric s) says:

    I learned that I’m related to my wife from about 5 generations ago. Her dad calls me one afternoon about two years ago. He asked if I had some female relative named whatever and my dad confirmed its the same person in my line. I was on the couch for a little while after I finally got up the confidence to disclose this info to my wife. And she can’t say stuff like, “you get that [insert perceived defect] from your dad,” because I reminder her that she is related to him.

  40. Observer, sounds like the best rationale I’ve heard in a long time for genealogy. Awesome story.

  41. Rebecca, # 33,

    Well, I’m working back towards that. I’ve got some stories from about 150 years back, but the connection I am trying to make might interest you.

    My father’s folks are from Bornholm, which has a checkered history. Even though Denmark has claimed the island of Bornholm for centuries, it’s position in the Baltic has made it a bit of a swinging door. It’s been claimed and occupied by Sweden on a couple of occasions, and after WWII was occupied by Russian troops for about a year.

    But the story I am trying to find involves a 50 or 100 year lease the King of Denmark granted the Hanseatic League, kind of a bunch of merchant/warriors from Northern Germany who dominated the Baltic from about the 14th century for a couple of hundred years. The first Folkman we can find in Denmark, on the oldest extant parish records (spelled Folkmann at the time) was born in Germany and settled permanently in Bornholm about 1600. The German spelling is Volkmann, and we have always suspected that he might have fled Germany as a result of anti-Jewish pogroms. We don’t know for sure that he was Jewish, but some of the Volkmann surnamed folks in Germany were, and Dr. Judah Folkman of cancer research fame was Jewish.

    However, now we wonder if our family originally had some connection to Bornholm due to the Hanseatic occupation. We’ve found a Volkmannstrasse in present day Lubeck, and are wondering if the Hansa may have kept better records for their occupation that might lead us to a connection. However, we haven’t been to Germany to do research, and my german language skills have languished since high school, so there is a lot to figure out still. However, that is one of my goals, is to try and tie the Danish Folkmann’s to the German Volkmann’s via the Hanseatic connection, if possible.

    No story yet, but I’m definitely interested.

  42. Rebecca,

    The temple brings out the monist in me. Sorry I can’t be more explicit than to say that I feel a connection to my ancestors not because I think I will shake their hands again someday but rather in some other way that I can’t articulate. So I accept the anthropomorphic story line of preexistence through eternity but I don’t accept it literally.

    Researching one’s genealogy in my opinion is an act of discovery which should lead to appreciation and further questions. What I cannot accept (though I’ve tried) is the idea that “salvific” (funny word to me) ordinances act as a kind of ticket for advancement. I believe that the underlying development that the ordinances symbolize is the real “ticket.”

  43. “The world pays lip service to the venerable traditions of our civilization, but who seriously concerns himself with such? The professor who is paid to do so; the hobbyist, who in this field is very rare—that is all! The rest of us bestow an occasional well-meaning nod to the past or feel a passing twinge of nostalgia for the long ago—that is about all. But this is not the case with the Latter-day Saints. Thousands of them are engaged day and night in attempting, at their own expense, to reconstruct the records of the past—family histories consisting not only of the names and vital statistics of all their ancestors, but also as far as possible preserving every detail of their past in letter and spirit. All Mormons are urged constantly to engage in this work. Each one searches out as far as the records will allow, the life stories of his own progenitors—those whose blood actually runs in his veins—in the firm belief that their salvation is indissolubly linked with his own. We have been taught that this generation cannot be saved unless the hearts of the children turn to the fathers…”
    -Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets: Prophecy and Tradition

    (Ending clipped out because you will not like what comes next.)

  44. Dear, honest Rebecca,

    I was recruited to help my mother finish assembling several book of remembrances for the family my senior year of high school (she was the “Aunt ____” of the family).

    It. was. boring! And SO tedious!!

    And yet, despite the brain-frying tedium, I remember on at least one occasion feeling my grandfather’s presense (a man who I barely knew) as I sifted through his boring old papers. It sounds strange, but I could feel his love for me, and his approval of what I was doing for him. On one occasion it was so strong I turned around to see if he was really there, and would have not been at all surprised if he had been. Yes, it sounds creepy…only it wasn’t.

    And so began my love for family history/temple work.

    Rebecca dear, don’t feel guilty. Just do it! We haven’t been commanded to love or understand it (although we have been commanded to do it…but you are obviously very smart and thus already know that, so I don’t mean to preach.)

    So beyond the whole obedience thing, why do we do it?

    As for me and my limited mortal exprience, I can say that I look forward to meeting the many people I’ve been privileged to do work for. Because of the work I’ve done and the many experiences that have accompanied the tedious work over the years, I know them and I KNOW they know me.

    And so our meeting in the next life will be sweet, something I’m looking forward to. And thus, death holds no terror for me anymore.

    Not a bad perk, wot. *wink*

    p.s. having said all that, be careful when you shake the family tree. You never know what will fall out.

    Sincerely, Liz
    likely GGGGGgrandniece of Vlad the Impaler
    (I know, right!?)

%d bloggers like this: