Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Case for the FamilySearch Family Tree


I frequently get some blowback comments in response to my posts talking about the Family Tree. Sometimes those comments are merely expressions of frustration but occasionally they are angry tirades basically against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am used to being attacked for my beliefs. As an experienced trial attorney, I spent the greater part of my life involved in bitter conflict as I handled thousands of court cases over the years. It turns out that my personal beliefs seem to annoy both liberals and conservatives as well as a goodly number of people from other religious denominations. 

The Family Tree is a work that has essentially been in progress since about 1894. Active, participating members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe the following taken from the Church's General Handbook

Member and Leader Participation in Temple and Family History Work

Church members have the privilege and responsibility to help unite their families for eternity. They prepare themselves to make covenants as they receive temple ordinances, and they strive to keep those covenants. They also help family members understand, receive, and strive to keep temple covenants. Parents have the primary responsibility to help their children experience the blessings of temple and family history service for deceased family members.

Church members are encouraged to identify their deceased relatives who have not received temple ordinances. Members then perform the ordinances on behalf of those relatives (see Doctrine and Covenants 128:18). In the spirit world, deceased individuals can choose to accept or reject the ordinances that have been performed for them.

Members also invite family and friends to learn about their ancestors and discover their stories. (Emphasis added)

Most of the religiously based anger expressed in blog comments centers around the idea that members of the Church "baptize other people's ancestors into the Church." Like many common beliefs today, this is a false conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact.

It is amazing to me how many otherwise seemingly rational people believe the huge reservoir of pure drivel in the form of conspiracy theories today. No matter how thoroughly the real "facts" are presented some people refuse to change their beliefs and what is more serious, they act on their pet conspiracy theories. 

Now, what do members of The Church of Jesus Christ believe and why is that belief offensive to those who are not members (or who are former members) that causes some people to send me derogatory comments?

If I were addressing that issue in the setting of a court of law, my case would look something like this:

#1 Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in an afterlife. This is not just a general sort-of vague belief, this is a concrete and fundamental belief that people who die are still, as spirits, rational, active, individuals who can learn, make decisions, and are part of a complex spirit world. See Doctrine and Covenants 128:18. See also, Doctrine and Covenants 138.

#2 Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also believe that what we do here during our lives in this physical world will have a direct impact on our status and opportunities we will have once we die and move to the Spirit World. See Doctrine and Covenants 138: 6 -19

#3 Now, let's suppose that you are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Can you presently make a choice as to whether to listen to the missionaries of the Church and either accept or reject what they teach? Granted, there are those who, because of their own conspiracy beliefs would persecute and even kill the Church's missionaries simply because of their beliefs. My own ancestors were so persecuted. If the Church's missionaries contact you, you can rail against them, spit on them, curse them, slam doors in their faces, and in many ways refuse to listen to them. I received this kind of treatment on my mission for the church and members of my own family have been physically assaulted and injured during their missionary service. 

#4 Now, we believe that the agency you have during this life continues to exist in what we call the Spirit World. Your relatives and ancestors are still alive in the spirit. They can still make their own decisions. They still have their own agency. You may not believe this but we do. 

#5 If we are correct and you are wrong, you really can't do anything about whether your ancestors and relatives accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ and if we are wrong, then there is no problem. Your ancestors and relatives have their agency and can make their own decisions. If we are wrong and the Spirit World and all we say does not exist then what we do here makes no difference. 

#6 We use the information in the Family Tree and anywhere else we can find information about our families to pursue the work we do for our kindred dead. We are only supposed to do the work for our own ancestors. The fact that some of my ancestors and some of your ancestors happen to be the same people is a fact of genealogy so you should not be at all surprised that I may be baptizing some of "your" ancestors because they are also "my" ancestors. 

#7 Keeping your own private "family tree" and not sharing it with me or anyone else will have absolutely no effect on whether or not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do baptisms for the dead or other Temple ordinances. See Temple and Family History Work in the Ward and Stake,

#8 You may hate the Church. You may persecute me or any other member of the Church. You may refuse to share your genealogical research with anyone you think might possibly be a member of the Church. You may write, preach against, and physically assault members of the Church but here is the response:

33 How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints. Doctrine and Covenants 121: 33

#9 I rest my case. It is your loss. Your failure to take advantage of the Family Tree and all its free benefits will not prevent me from doing my own genealogical research. As has already happened, your complaints and comments have made Facebook block my posts in my other blog. A fact, given the present controversy, is unbelievable. But I will still do my genealogical research and if I happen to be related to you, I will be doing research into your family as well as my own. I am grateful for the Family Tree and all of the other wonderful genealogical resources we have today. My motivation may be different than yours but I am sincere in my beliefs and well-founded in logic and my own personal experience and I appreciate and defend your right to believe and you wish to believe. See the following:

11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them dworship how, where, or what they may. Articles of Faith Number 11

Additional note. If you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and refuse to do your own genealogy and/or refuse to participate in the Family Tree for whatever reason. You have many of the same issues as if you were not a member at all. You might want to consider what you actually believe. No one said the work was going to be easy.  


  1. Your whole argument seems to be that non-LDS who do not support the FSFT are somehow morally in the wrong. I, a Catholic, do not have to support the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint's doctrines on the afterlife and supply information to the FSFT that aid and abet ordinances for the dead. Similarly, you are free to disagree with my church's doctrines on purgatory and our belief that righteousness non-Catholics and non-Christians have a very good chance of salvation in the afterlife. And my ancestors certainly faced persecution as well. In Ireland, there was discrimination against non-Anglicans until 1828 and until 1870 everyone was subject to tithes (i.e. a 10% tax) that lined the pockets of Anglican clergy. And in the Netherlands freedom of worship for Catholics was not guaranteed until 1848. Let us now agree to disagree and use the genealogical websites and programs of our own choice.

  2. Thank you for a very fine outline. I do not understand why anyone would take the time to find fault with what you do. I would just skip your post.

  3. I am not LDS. I don’t care if an LDS believer finds an ancestor of theirs that happens to be an ancestor of mine and goes through the ordinance process. I have my beliefs and they have theirs. It seems silly to me to argue about something like an after death baptism or whatever. It certainly does not affect, in my beliefs, what happens to my already deceased ancestors’ souls, spirit, whatever. I follow a divine being who called us to be kind to one another, compassionate, loving, taking care of one another in THIS life. The after is the reward and to me, it doesn’t really matter which religion is right about the after: as long as we are taking care of one another now, how can the afterlife be anything but better for having bettered one another? Who knows? We may ALL be wrong.

    I for one am very thankful for the FSFT, to which I refer as the World Tree in my occasional genealogy blog posts. I wouldn’t have found out nearly as much about where I came from if not for the World Tree. Ancestry and others make it so difficult to find out ANY information unless you pay exorbitant fees. I, as a non-LDS person, have even helped transcribe some of these records on the site as my way of contributing towards people accessing information about their roots. LDS allows me free access to so many resources and information that everyone else locks up tighter than the Federal Reserve! Why should I not repay them in some way, particularly when I cannot afford to do that monetarily?

    I’m sorry for the hate that still spews out of narrow minded people. You will not find that from my corner. I’ll tell you one other thing: through the World Tree, I connected with a second cousin I would never have met otherwise. Her grandfather and my grandmother were half siblings. She and I both experienced horrible things in childhood and because of LDS and our shared interest in genealogy, we connected and were able to fill in gaps that is the mystery of our grandparents’ stories. Oh! And she IS LDS. She’s my blood and she found joy and acceptance and safety in the Church. I will not judge her for beliefs I do not understand. That is not what the Christ I follow taught.

    Stay true to your heart, James.

  4. I've two ancestors who died on the Mormon Trail in the 1866 Andrew Hunter Scott Pioneer Company. I've used familysearch and the local Family Center. I've given their library source materials and have published two books with SLFHL.

    I find familyseach to be fine for about three of four generations and then, unless the surname is unique, there is too much conflation of individuals/families, with the same names.

    Since the ancestors are Sealed by Religious Rites there is no correction when obvious errors have been made. was founded on the same information and continues to name ancestors who've no sources, in too many cases, invented and/or fraudulent.

    I've read a great many 19th & 20th Century books that posit ancestry that has since been disproven. I've Douglas Richardson and Gary Boyd Roberts books that have been published in the past decade that now have several disproven lines. Source, source, source. Religious Rites are not within the bounds of scrutiny. Thank you, Cousin.

  5. Hi Brother Tanner,

    I'm just writing to thank you for your courage and boldness in posting this. It's very unfortunate the way some people act toward the Church and its members and I think that if someone behaves so vehemently against something that's not only harmless, but beneficial, they have some deeper problems they aren't dealing with properly.

    Anyway, thanks for putting this out there. I hope it will help even one person to come to their senses and stop antagonizing you (and the Church).

    I really appreciate everything you're doing for family history work!

    Take care.

    1. I hope so also. Thanks for another kind comment.