LDS Theological Support for
Ancestral Family Organizations (AFOs)
“Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple…a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.”
(D&C 128: 24.)
(See also: 1 Nephi 3:12; 1 Nephi 12: 14,16; Jarom 1:1; and Omni 1:1)
Some text has been bolded below for emphasis and easy reference.
Organizing a family association or organization is a great way to bring people together to accumulate, coordinate, learn, preserve and publicize genealogical and historical information among related family members. Family associations can be organized on different levels, such as immediate families–which include a husband and wife and their children; grandparent families–which include the descendants of siblings; and ancestral families–which include the descendants of an earlier common ancestral couple.
At ever-increasing rates, people seem drawn to their ancestry with more than just casual curiosity. Genealogical libraries, associations, and technologies have emerged around the world to support this interest. The internet’s power to enhance communications has enabled families to work together to do family history research with a speed and thoroughness never before possible. Why is all of this happening? For lack of a better term, we call it the “spirit of Elijah.”
In 1978 the church asked all families to organize themselves at three levels: as “immediate” families, “grandparent,” and “ancestral.” Individual or immediate families are regularly encouraged to hold weekly Family Home Evening and participate in family councils. More formal family organizations consist of the descendants of a common ancestor. The purposes of such family organizations may include coordinating family efforts in promoting welfare, education, conducting family history research, holding reunions, compiling family newsletters and publications, and other family-related LDS practices. Commemorating family heritage and legacy is another typical purpose and activity for family organizations.Formally constituted family organizations figure prominently among descendants of some Mormon pioneers and other early converts to the LDS Church. The longevity of and degree of organization found among many Mormon ancestral family organizations is noteworthy. For example, the Jared Pratt Family Organization was founded in 1881, making it one of the oldest family organizations in the United States in continuous existence.
I had been overwhelmed with the thought of the huge task ahead of me to gather all my ancestors’ research records from family organizations to get them all in the computer for the first computerized distribution of the Ancestral File. And there they all were, beautiful, organized and laser printed and sitting there on the desk before me.
A family organization is a good way to coordinate family history research. These groups may hold reunions, publish newsletters, host Internet sites, and sponsor research. Your family organization can coordinate submissions to Pedigree Resource File to share family information. Some descendants of early LDS ancestors have excellent family organizations, while others do not. If no organization exists, you might want to contact other relatives about creating one. If you have one, pay your dues and offer to help.
We are to organize our families and hold meetings and reunions.
The Church has established two special times for families to be together. The first is centered around the proper observance of the Sabbath day. This is the time we are to attend our regular meetings together, study the life and teachings of the Savior and of the prophets. “Other appropriate Sunday activities include (1) writing personal and family journals, (2) holding family councils, (3) establishing and maintaining family organizations for the immediate and extended family, (4) personal interviews between parents and children, (5) writing to relatives and missionaries, (6) genealogy, (7) visiting relatives and those who are ill or lonely, (8) missionary work, (9) reading stories to children, and (10) singing Church hymns.” The second time is Monday night. We are to teach our children in a well-organized, regular family home evening. No other activities should involve our family members on Monday night. This designated time is to be with our families.
Over 100 years ago, my great-great-grandfather Ezra Thompson Clark organized a family association to help his descendants plan family reunions and preserve the family’s history. Today the association continues to unite our extended family, as evidenced by the 400-plus attendance at a recent reunion. Focusing on four key areas, the association’s simple outline has withstood the test of time and can serve as an effective model for organizing family associations today. …For generations, many family members, including my immediate family, have been involved in the association. I now serve as president, and my involvement in the association has deepened my appreciation for the blessing of eternal families. Because of the unity my family feels with extended family, we have a heightened gratitude for our forebears—a kinship we share largely because of my great-great-grandfather’s foresight over a century ago.
The Holy Ghost will guide us as we prayerfully seek to participate in family history. Contributions include receiving our temple endowments, being sealed as couples and as families, researching family history data and stories of previous generations, submitting names for temple work, attending the temple as regularly as possible, teaching children and other family members about temple and family history work, participating in family organizations, and compiling personal and family histories.
If temple ordinances are an essential part of the restored gospel, and I testify that they are, then we must provide the means by which they can be accomplished. All of our vast family history endeavor is directed to temple work. There is no other purpose for it. The temple ordinances become the crowning blessings the Church has to offer.
We have a treasurer, and everyone contributes to the family organization to cover the minimal costs of research and printing. …We also provide our family members with updated or new family group sheets and pedigree charts. And we have been fortunate enough to have a genealogist do on-the-spot research in England, partly supported by family funds. One of his most exciting finds has been an ancestral tombstone in the overgrown parish churchyard of Humbleton, Yorkshire.
Nothing any of us can do removes from us the obligation to be individually involved in finding our own ancestors. But there are wonderful, meaningful service opportunities that can be done in addition to that work. Many of those opportunities are described in A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work, including: serving in family record extraction; serving in the temple, a family history center, or as a family history worker; participating in family organizations; keeping a personal journal; and preparing family histories.
Several years ago, prior to my call as a General Authority, it was my good fortune to respond to a call to serve as a member of the Priesthood Genealogy Committee and to have the privilege of visiting stakes and missions, speaking to the membership of the Church relative to this sacred subject… Out of the series of conferences we held then, one of the great measures of good was the development of family organizations.
This is a genealogy book, not with names and dates on family group sheets, but with pages revealing the lives of real people—our people. It testifies of the individuality of each family within the larger family organization, a book whose value is sure to extend beyond the lives of those who wrote it. It has helped bind us together. Hopefully, the ties formed by this brief history project will continue into the coming generations.
Latter-day Saints think of families with respect to both this life and the next. They strive to organize family groups at the individual family level and in extended family relationships and organizations. Family organizations provide social and familial support, historical awareness, instruction, and genealogical information necessary to bind generations together by temple ordinances (see Genealogy, Family History; Temple Ordinances).
From the early days of the Church, LDS families have regularly established family organizations, held reunions, and worked to make strong family identity. In 1978 the Church asked all families to organize themselves at three levels: immediate families, grandparent families, and ancestral families.
The immediate family consists of husband and wife, and begins when they are married. Later, if a couple is blessed with children, the size and concerns of this unit grow. When the children marry and have children of their own, the grandparent organization is initiated. Beyond that, each family is ideally involved in an ancestral organization, which consists of all the descendants of an earlier common progenitors couple.
The immediate family holds family home evenings and family councils, encourages and assists in missionary work, family preparedness, family history, temple work, and teaching the gospel, and provides cultural and social activities for its members. The grandparent organization is involved in similar activities, but is also concerned with family reunions, which include the grandparents’ children and grandchildren. The purpose of the ancestral organization is to coordinate genealogical activity on common lines. Such organizations frequently raise money for family history research, publish family histories, and generally direct the activities of the larger family.
Many families use the ancestral organization as a repository of photographs, journals, family histories, and other materials that might be used by family members or general researchers as they prepare their own histories. Some families occasionally have an ancestral family reunion, but more usually they have representatives who meet to coordinate family history and genealogical activities. Some may be organized as nonprofit corporations or trusts that may be recognized as charitable organizations if their purposes are limited to religious activities.
The benefits of a family organization can be significant. One benefit is that involvement with family organizations increases one’s sense of identity and heritage. For example, in a recent survey of university students who were LDS, Catholic, Protestant, or of no particular religion, the number of ancestors’ names and origins known by the LDS students was significantly higher than for the other groups.
Ancestral File comprises the “four generation” submittals from members and friends. These data have been carefully matched and coupled one with another, providing a powerfully rich source of family-linked information that simplifies research and reduces duplication. It contains names and addresses, enabling coordination of research with other submitters. Means now exist that permit you or family organizations to enter all of your family-linked information for permanent preservation and use by others.
Regarding families and the Sabbath, the following counsel was given when the consolidated meeting schedule was introduced: “Because the new schedule will give families time together on Sundays, parents should plan activities for the Sabbath that will spiritually strengthen the family.” Suggestions included were gospel discussion and instruction, writing personal and family journals, holding family councils, family organization efforts, personal interviews between parents and children, writing to relatives and missionaries, family history work, visiting relatives and those who may be ill or lonely, missionary work, reading stories to children, and singing Church hymns together. Leaders should avoid scheduling too many extra meetings on Sunday which will keep families from having time together on the Sabbath.
As you get together with relatives, you will discover that some family members will be better at genealogical research than others. …Before or after an ancestral family meeting, you could talk or write to your brothers and sisters and your parents, if they are living, and tell them of the genealogical plan. …By now you may be sufficiently enthused that you want to organize or join several ancestral family organizations. Don’t do it. You will be biting off more than you can chew. Your active involvement in one or two will be enough to keep your gospel life balanced. To expand the family effort, encourage your brother to become involved in an ancestral family organization on another of your family lines. Your sister could work with yet another line.
In addition to increasing the involvement of your immediate family, a newsletter will be an excellent means of helping distant cousins get acquainted. If you have no family organization yet, the newsletter can begin recording an ongoing family genealogy—births, deaths, and marriages. As time passes, arrangements can be made through the newsletter for extended family members to share in research and to become part of an official organization.
On 8 March 1898, five months before his death, Christopher Layton formed an organization that is still functioning today—the Christopher Layton Family Organization. His posterity has grown to more than 15,000 family members.
What were the purposes for organizing and for continuing the family organization? At that first meeting in Thatcher, Arizona, committees were formed to write Christopher Layton’s life story and to research his genealogy. Since then, the family has worked together to complete those assignments. His autobiography was printed in 1911, and from the 1920s to the 1950s the family did genealogical and temple work for Layton names, although most of them weren’t on his direct lines. In 1958 a committee was also formed to search out his posterity.
On 4 April 1965, a historic family reorganization meeting took place in Salt Lake City. Several goals were set: to hold reunions more consistently, to edit and reprint the autobiography, to bring the posterity lists up to date, and to earnestly seek out the direct ancestors of Christopher Layton. I was appointed family genealogist, and research began. After several research trips to England, we completed the genealogical work on Christopher Layton’s direct lines as far back as we could go—into the 1600s. We printed pedigree charts and family group records and made them available to the family at reunions.
Then when members of the Church were asked in 1980 to verify and resubmit four-generation records, the family organization submitted the records in behalf of the whole family—even records extending beyond four generations. Over the years since our initial research, we have uncovered new facts, dates, and sources of information and are making this material available to the family. And although we went back as far on Christopher Layton’s lines as we could at the time, we’ve now found some more possibilities for further research.
As a large ancestral family organization, we’ve encouraged family members to form their own smaller family organizations. We’ve told them that we’ll take care of genealogical research as a larger family group, but that each smaller organization is to keep the posterity lists up to date and to have frequent reunions to encourage family fellowship and togetherness. Those kinds of activities are more successful on the smaller, more personal organizational levels.
All members are encouraged to expand their genealogical research beyond four generations. To avoid duplication, it would be helpful if records were submitted through family organizations. A family organization might consist of a couple and their children. It may be expanded to include grandchildren.Ancestral family organizations may also be developed from descendants of any common ancestral couple. They can coordinate genealogical activity on common ancestral lines and provide resource material from which families can draw to complete family histories.
Cooperating with your family, even if it is with distant relatives as the Munos did, establishes a foundation for continuing research through a family organization. A family can be organized at any level—immediate family, grandparent family, or ancestral family, taking in any number of generations. The organization can be formal or informal, depending on the size and the needs of the family. The only requirement is a common interest in a common ancestry.
Other appropriate Sunday activities include (1) writing personal and family journals, (2) holding family councils, (3) establishing and maintaining family organizations for the immediate and extended family, (4) personal interviews between parents and children, (5) writing to relatives and missionaries, (6) genealogy, (7) visiting relatives and those who are ill or lonely, (8) missionary work, (9) reading stories to children, and (10) singing Church hymns.
Before his death in 1881, Orson [Pratt] was sustained in 1874 as Church Historian; in 1877 he published the Book of Mormon in England in Pitman phonetic characters, returning to England the next year to publish the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants with verses, references, and footnotes. His collected pamphlets, The Orson Pratt Works, had been published in 1851, and his Key to the Universe was published in 1878. Diabetes plagued his last years even though he continued to serve as Speaker of the House for the Utah Legislature and helped organize the first Pratt Family Organization’s reunion on 21 July 1881; the family still meets as close as possible to this date annually in Salt Lake City. He died on 3 October 1881, on his deathbed asking Joseph F. Smith to place these words on his tombstone: “My body sleeps but a moment; but my testimony lives and shall endure forever.”
First, I mention some things which have not changed:
1. The Lord’s mandate given in section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants has not changed: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? …“Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple … a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.” (D&C 128:22, 24.)
2. Our responsibility to keep a journal and to write our own personal histories and those of our ancestors, particularly those who belong to the first four generations of our pedigree, has not changed.
3. Our responsibility to make certain that all living family members have the opportunity to receive the ordinances of the temple has not changed.
4. Our responsibility to compile our books of remembrance, including the submission of the names of our ancestors for at least the first four generations, and to have the temple ordinances performed in their behalf has not changed.
5. Our responsibility to organize our families at the immediate family level begins when a couple is married. The grandparent family organization develops as children from the immediate family marry and have children. Through such family organizations, every family in the Church should become actively involved in missionary work, family preparedness, genealogy and temple work, teaching the gospel, and cultural and social activities. These vital responsibilities certainly have not changed.
Next, consider some things which have changed:
1. The four-generation program has changed in a very significant way. In the past each individual was responsible for the submission of his or her four-generation family group record forms. December 1978 marks the end of the old (current) four-generation program. Beginning July 1979, the Church will accept newly prepared pedigree charts and family group record forms from family organizations, rather than from individuals. In the interim between now and July 1979, members of the Church are encouraged to organize as families—each individual with his brothers, sisters, and parents—to compare the information on the family group sheets which they have in common, check the accuracy of the information, verify the dates, and formulate one record to be submitted on behalf of all family members appearing on the group sheet. This process repeats itself next with the parents (if still living), and so on until all generations are completed, verified, and corrected as necessary. You can readily see the importance of the family organization.
2. A second major change is that original research beyond the four-generation level will be accepted but will no longer be required of individual members or individual families in the Church. Instead, the Church has assumed the responsibility to begin a massive record-gathering and extraction program in order to prepare names for temple work.
Those who are acquainted with Latter-day Saint scriptures and the process of genealogical research will recognize that the extraction program is but a first step in the overall program of preparing a Church book of remembrance “worthy of … acceptation.” The extraction program is primarily aimed at more efficient identification and processing of names for individual temple ordinance work. It solves the immediate need to provide many more names for the operation of the temples.
In the past it was not uncommon for family organizations to spend an inordinate amount of time, money, and effort in search of a given ancestor. Now it would seem that once a reasonable, conventional effort has been made to locate a given ancestor, if he or she cannot be found, the family organization can assume its responsibility completed and move on to the next line or ancestor in question, leaving the processing of the unidentifiable ancestor to the extraction/indexing program.
Now may I say a word about ancestral-type family organizations. Ancestral family organizations are comprised of descendants of a common ancestral couple. The major purpose for organizing or perpetuating an ancestral family organization is to coordinate genealogical activity on common ancestral lines. When ancestral family organizations deviate from this major objective and seek primarily to provide social, cultural, or other types of activities, they take over the legitimate domain of the immediate and grandparent organizations. With the change announced by President Kimball, a gradual but definite transition should occur so that the genealogical work in progress is completed. The immediate and grandparent family organizations should then be assigned the responsibility of reunions and soliciting of funds.
Another legitimate function of the ancestral organization is to provide resource material from which the immediate and grandparent family organizations can draw to complete family histories—especially on their first four generations. Thus the ancestral organizations may accumulate, properly file, catalog, and preserve histories, photographs, letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, and published books.
Again, I emphasize that every family in the Church should belong to an immediate and, insofar as possible, a grandparent family organization. Ancestral organizations exist only for the coordination of genealogical activity, which includes family histories. Once this function has been accomplished the ancestral family organization might well be dissolved, or at least reduced in importance, in favor of the immediate and grandparent organizations.
There are three natural levels of family organizations, and an individual might belong to more than one. Immediate families, with the father as president or natural patriarch and the mother as partner and counselor to her husband, meet in weekly family home evenings and frequent family councils, creating an organization to meet the family’s particular needs. (The mother is head of the family if the father is not present.) Grandparent families, including the parents, their single and married children, and grandchildren, meet frequently for family reunions. Ancestral families, consisting of many descendants of a common direct ancestor, meet for occasional reunions.
Family organizations exist to serve as a resource for family responsibilities in genealogy, welfare, and missionary work: They help us compile our four-generation genealogy sheets, verify the accuracy of the information, promote the writing of personal and family histories, and encourage temple attendance. They help us keep track of each other so we can lend spiritual and temporal assistance when necessary. And they strengthen family ties and increase our love for living and deceased relatives.
One of the most remarkable spinoffs of the Church’s genealogy program may be its unique contribution to medical research. Using the four-generation file in the Genealogical Library, researchers at the University of Utah Medical Center, the Utah Cancer Registry, and the Bureau of Chronic Disease Control of the Utah State Division of Health are identifying and tracking down high-risk families in which diseases are genetically linked. …What kinds of problems have they run into? Dr. Williams Smiles: “What you’d expect—inaccurate pedigree charts. But the advantages are tremendous. Because of the large families that Mormons typically have, we can more accurately find the expression of genes predisposing to a disease. Another advantage is something that some of my non-Mormon colleagues particularly noticed—family organizations. Latter-day Saint families can work in prevention programs because they know who their relatives are and they are concerned about the health of the whole family. The high level of education among Latter-day Saints and the kind of cooperation that the researchers have received are other pluses. In short, those of us involved with this project are truly proud of Church members because of the unique contribution that they can make to this area of health research.
The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve recently gave careful consideration as to how we can lengthen our stride in this tremendously important responsibility [of performing temple work for the dead]. We announce a twofold emphasis.
First, all members should write a personal history and participate in a family organization.Also, we want to emphasize again and place squarely upon the shoulders of these individuals and their families the obligation to complete the four-generation program. Families may extend their pedigree beyond the four generations if desired.
Secondly, we are introducing a Church-wide program of extracting names from genealogical records. Church members may now render second-mile service through participating in this regard in extracting these names in this program supervised by the priesthood leaders at the local level, where you will receive further details.
Another “important development contemplated” is for genealogical and temple work “to be recorded in family files,” and for “a family organization registry” so that the Saints may “know whether other branches of the family” are doing work, and “thus eliminate wasteful duplication.”
Genealogical activity begins with training the children to appreciate family ties and heritage. Developing a family book of remembrance which is used, along with the scriptures, in teaching children;emphasizing membership in larger family organizations; participating in genealogical research, temple work, and subsequent activities—these are all means to that end.
An essential step to successful reunions is organizing the family. A family organization is not complete until a chairman has been chosen to direct and supervise reunions for the family. The chairman may keep this position for many years.
Analysts of our modern time point out that in a fast-changing world, people suffer a kind of shock from losing a sense of continuity. The very mobility of our society means that our children are often moved from place to place and lose close contact with the extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and longtime neighbors. It is important for us also to cultivate in our own family a sense that we belong together eternally, that whatever changes outside our home, there are fundamental aspects of our relationship which will never change. We ought to encourage our children to know their relatives. We need to talk of them, make effort to correspond with them, visit them, join family organizations, etc.
It should be clearly understood that Satan will do all in his power to ruin any plan which calls for organizing families. He fully realizes that the success of the Church lies in family organizations. If he can destroy the spirit of a family home evening, upset the harmony between families members, foil plans for reunions, projects, etc., he honestly believes he can still win. Families which are well organized are the most efficient organization on earth to destroy his [Satan's] efforts.
Relative to the article [in the Ensign on August 1972 by W. Dean Belnap] on family organization,many readers living in the United States who have founded or desire to found a family organization may be interested in the following recent ruling of the Internal Revenue Service:
“A non-profit organization formed to compile genealogical research data on its family members in order to perform religious ordinances in accordance with the precept of the religious denomination to which family members belong is exempt under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Code.” (R.R. 71-580. Internal Revenue Bulletin 1971-51, 1271, pages 11–13.)
A family organization (usually a corporation) created as a nonprofit venture to sponsor genealogical research so that temple work may be accomplished may qualify under the above ruling by satisfying the requirements itemized in chapters 1 and 2 of the U.S. Treasury publication entitled How to Apply for Recognition for Exemption of an Organization (IRS publication 557). In addition to these general requirements, the organization must qualify as specifically provided in the revenue ruling referred to above. It is important to note that such genealogical research must be for a religious purpose.
Contributions to an organization that has been recognized under the above ruling may be deducted from income tax as a charitable donation pursuant to Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code. An affirmative approval of application for each specific organization is required. Application should be made in the IRS office serving the area where the principal office of the family organization is located. Strict compliance with the terms of the code and of the ruling are required.
Most people need the affectionate, loyal support and the sense of oneness that come with family ties. For this reason, family organizations are always springing up. But a worthwhile family organization won’t last without planning and work. Here are some helpful suggestions for creating, improving, and perpetuating your family organization.
To begin with, most family organizations consist of the descendants of a common ancestor—one who lived, let’s say, three or four generations back. Obviously, the farther back the common ancestor, the larger will be the family group. It is best for each family to adapt the size of its organization to the number of relatives whom they know and with whom they can easily communicate. But whatever the size, the organization should be more than just an instrument for social contact; it should also be a living service agency for its members.
…Fourth, the family organization can aid members in doing their genealogy work. Saving the dead is a family responsibility. Archives and libraries perform an important role, but they are auxiliary to the family. A family organization, by pooling its resources, can do work quickly and cheaply that might otherwise be tedious, difficult, and expensive.
Families that do genealogical work together may also plan excursions to the temple to perform ordinance work for their ancestors. Moreover, family reunions can be places to exchange family news, gather material for biographies and histories, and do genealogical research. At such gatherings each member may enrich his book of remembrance and gain a greater appreciation for its importance.
There is a problem in being concerned only about eternal family sealings for deceased family members. We must also become involved while on this earth in building family relationships that will make us want to spend our eternal lives in association with each other.
Formal family organizations or associations may be the answer to this and other needs that we share in common with our relatives. The first step to take in this direction is to learn what types of family organizations may exist so we can evaluate the situation.
The single family organization is one covering only the two generations of a single family unit—the parents and the children in the family. Example: The David Martin Kimball family organization is comprised of David Martin Kimball, his wife, and their eight children. David, the father, functions as the president; his wife serves as vice-president and social chairman; a son is the genealogist; a daughter is the historian; and another daughter is secretary-treasurer. The family strives to extend the pedigrees of the father and mother in the family. This small unit belongs to two larger family organizations, actively supporting their research projects to avoid any duplication of research effort. This single family organization will automatically expand into a multi-generation family organization as David Martin Kimball’s grandchildren come of age and join in the activities of the organization.
The multi-generation family organization is an organization covering three generations or more of family members. Example: The Edward Smallwood and Hannah Cox family organization is an organization of the descendants of this couple who died in the late 1880s. The organization is dedicated to compiling records of the ancestors of both Edward Smallwood and Hannah Cox. In addition, a complete record of the descendants of the couple is being compiled.
Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have established early LDS convert family organizations. This type of organization is usually centered around a particular couple who were early converts to the Church. Or a family organization may center around a certain patriotic ancestor, or an immigrant ancestor, or a particular surname with all its spelling variations within a specific locality. Or the organization may be a limited-purpose organization, usually a group of officers each year to plan the next family reunion.
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