Un-redeeming the dead

Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Belief, Family | 25 comments

I have a complex family history question that I am hoping to find an expert to help me with.  I am wondering if there are any family history gurus that might be able to help me.

I recently logged onto family search and discovered that my grandfather’s work – baptism, confirmation, and initiatory, has been done – generically by the temple system in Guatemala (where I have no family connections).

The real kicker is that in 2007 (pre-family search), I submitted his and other family names to temple ready.  I had the names reserved to be done by myself or other family members.  We did a lot of the work of other ancestors but have held off doing my grandfather’s – because when we asked my living grandmother, she was very much against doing his work.  We want to respect her wishes as well as general church policy to have permission of living relatives.

The original reservation notation is noted on the endowment and sealing ordinances but for whatever reason the temple system was allowed to do the baptism, confirmation, and initiatory ordinances.  I have emailed family search asking for ordinances to be removed to no avail.  While I have been able to resolve some other technical concerns (including how to link my new account to my original submissions), after seven frustrating emails, I am at a loss of how to proceed.

I explained that I did not consider the work valid as it did not follow church protocol.  I emphasized that discovery of the completed work would cause contention in my family.  I don’t really know what else I can say.

Truthfully, it has surprised me how much I care.  I haven’t done any temple work myself since 2008 (after my faith radically changed).  I gave the printed cards to my sister, per her request in 2009, and she has slowly been finishing the other names. But I am exceptionally annoyed that my concerns are going unrecognized.  It makes me think of controversies surrounding doing the temple work of Obama’s mother’s and Holocaust survivor’s (the latter of which Jewish organizations successfully petitioned to have removed).

I value genealogy.  I logged in after hearing about “relative finder” to see if any of my relatives were related to famous people in church history.  My interest has been renewed and I have been working on finding more ancestors and cleaning up records further back (merging them with others, as you can see the work has been done 20 times).  But I really think the current system is too focused on having ordinances done and I want to find a way to find the ordinances removed from my grandfather’s record.

I look forward to hearing any insight anybody might have.  Because apparently, I know only enough to get myself into trouble …

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25 Comments

  1. I sent the bat signal over to my mom, who might know the answer to this.

    I had a similar experience, though we hadn’t reserved the name. My great grandmother had her work done by random strangers thanks to the miracle of extraction. I find this very frustrating. The church is so strict about not baptizing strangers (rightly so, the controversies you named are real problems) and yet we have an extraction program that does precisely that. So it would be wrong for me to baptize, say, my great-great-grandfather’s comrades in the Civil War if I did that research, but totally fine if I showed up at the temple and got a random name and that happened to be the name.

    Personally I think the extraction is fine if we’re talking about names from 200 years ago. At that point I don’t think you can really dibs ancestors, because you dont’ remember them and they have many many descendants. But what you describe is a problem and you’re right to be a bit miffed in my opinion. Either family history research matters or it doesn’t. I don’t think the ordinance is the only point. I think having your heart knit to your mothers through research and care is what true eternal families are about.

  2. How frustrating, Kelly Ann. I wish I had answers, but I have no expertise in this.

    Em, I love this: “I think having your heart knit to your mothers through research and care is what true eternal families are about.”

  3. Thanks Caroline. Yes, Em, I also think that “having your heart knit to your mothers through research and care is what true eternal families are about”

    The thing that is frustrating is that the church does have a policy that if the death has been within a 110 years, it is suppose to require permission of the nearest living relative. So your 200 year though is actually church policy. But my grandfather’s ordinances obviously did not meet this criteria. I am going to be persistent and I will see if I’m successful in having the record removed.

    Random extraction is definitely a mixed blessing. It is also interesting to note it has contributed to some records, particularly from the 1700 and 1800s, being done 20+ times. That is a lot of useless sitting through endowment sessions….

  4. I consider myself to be pretty tech-savvy when it comes to genealogy… and I have no idea how you could get the ordinances removed. You could ask that the record become restricted so that nobody else is able to merge it or do work on it, but other than that… I’ve never heard of anybody successfully having the completed ordinances removed.

    I’m sorry! I wish I could be more help!

    • Thanks Liz. I did successfully add a double restriction to the remaining ordinances. And I hope to eventually be the one who succeeds in having completed ordinances removed.

  5. The policy is that extraction names are screened for dates and not submitted to temples if they are less than 110 years from date of birth.

    It might have been a member, what in our stake we call a “fisher” who did this. One of my friends, a local family history library worker had many names that she had in the system and was doing work for. One day she found that a dozen or so had been baptized by proxy. At first she was delighted that she might have a distant relative that was also a member, so she used the contact information that the lady who had printed the temple ordinance request sheets had entered into the system and emailed her.

    Turns out that a member in Utah had a group of young people going to the temple and she wanted to send some names with them. So she had browsed around newfamilysearch and found these and about a dozen more and printed out cards. Gah!

    My friend was not happy. She expressed her dismay and requested fiercely that the woman not do any more of the relatives whose ordinances requests she had printed out. She didn’t.

    So it may not be extraction. It may well have been someone who was fishing and only wanted to do endowments. Many patrons ask that the baptism and initiatory work for their ancestors be assigned to a random temple first and then, when it’s been done, do the endowment work themselves and the baptism and initiatory work gets done in a temple far away in places like Manila or Guatemala City.

    You may get a positive response to your request that the ordinances be removed and I can understand why you would and I hope you do, but if you don’t, just as in the past it was completely possible for work for one person to be done multiple times, it still is possible to do that when you believe that it has not been validly done. I can give you details if you are interested.

    • Miriam, Thanks for sharing your experience. Technology to clean up records is certainly a mixed blessing. Interesting your stake has coined the name “fisher.” On some levels it is good that people are doing that, when I go through records, I see that many sealings haven’t been done. However, I really do think one should limit their work to their family lines. We still have the printed cards for my grandfather – and if we showed up to do his work – I’m not sure what would happen. However, the thing that makes this different is that we don’t want his work to be done, so redoing it isn’t my end goal.

  6. 3 years after my Jack Mormon father passed away (my mom is still alive and well, by the way), his very active aunt called me and said that a cousin I had never met had done his endowment. I contacted her personally and told her in no uncertain terms that this was NOT OK with me. My mom has left the church entirely and any way, I’m not sure that’s what my dad would have wanted. Maybe. But maybe not. She managed to put it on hold, or something, so she said, but I haven’t had the guts to go to family search and see what exactly is there.

    I absolutely felt like IF his work was going to be done, it would be by either my husband or my son. I haven’t even told my mom about it, though I realize now I’ve done enough work in therapy to be able to muster up some compassion for the fact that this woman was doing the very best she could with what she knew.

    Still, I’m angry that she hadn’t followed protocol by not asking me or my mom (my dad’s closest living relative). As the member’s guide says, “acting in conflict with the wishes of the closest living relative can result in bad feelings toward you and the Church.” Yes!

    I’m appalled that she knew so little. Hmmm. . . I guess I have more work to do!

    • Kari, I am sorry you had a similar experience. Yes, I also try to remember to have some compassion in that whoever did my grandfather’s work thought they were doing the Lord’s work … But yes, there is a reason church policy reminds people that “acting in conflict with the wishes of the closest living relative can result in bad feelings toward you and the Church.”

  7. I understand how frustrating this is, Kelly Ann. We have had a similar incident occur in our extended family. On the one hand, I understand that the person (or church volunteer) who had the work done meant well, but on the other hand, I wish there were a way to express to them just how offensive this is. In one case, I know first hand that a particular relative had made it clear to everyone that she never wanted temple work done for her. Everyone close to her knew this. Yet it was done by a distant relative (not the closest relative by any means), who thought she was doing what was best. So I sympathize with you Kelly Ann, but I am at a loss as to how to deal with the problem.

  8. Wow, Kelly Ann, this is such a frustrating situation, and your requests are not unreasonable! I’m sorry you’re running into dead-ends w/ this. UGH.

    My mom’s dad passed away a couple of years ago, and right at the anniversary of his death, his work was done by someone my mom barely knew from years earlier, but to whom there is NO familial connection whatsoever. It’s appalling, b/c my mom has 4 other living siblings (all in their 60′s, so it’s not like they’re that old…) and this person knew that they were alive. I don’t understand how he got authorization to do my grandfather’s work. My mom was very upset by this.

    Then, about 6-8 months after his work had been done, she went back into Family Search and saw that my grandpa’s records had been locked or something (not sure the correct status exactly). She found out that his work had to be redone, b/c the church had realized that he had asked his records to be removed from the church decades earlier when he was alive (and this needs special approval for work to be done for someone who had their records removed). Anyway, long story short, my mom had to write a special letter explaining his relationship to the church (i.e. he was supportive of his children’s involvement, helped pay for missions, etc, just didn’t want his name on church records–he had been a convert). W/ her special letter she was able to get his records unlocked and then re-do his temple work (she felt like he wouldn’t be mad that she did it for him).

    So it worked out in her case, but I was very shocked that someone not even related to us nor that we hardly knew was able to do his work initially.

    • Corrina, I am also very sorry to hear about your similar experience. But I am definitely glad to hear that the church required redoing it in your case. It gives me some hope.

  9. You should know that while you said:

    I did not consider the work valid as it did not follow church protocol

    “the church” doesn’t quite care about that fact — one way or another. As long as the ordinance is on record, that’s all [in their opinion] that God “cares” about.

    In my experience, they just need the ordinance on record. And once it’s on record, the person has entered the celestial kingdom, etc. So — the leadership may talk about the importance of having only direct family members being the only ones who do the ordinance work — when it gets down to the rubber meeting the road [in cases such as you have written about], having the ordinance completed will trump the feelings of the still-living family.

    • Justin, I realize the institutions perspective will be different than my own – but I still hold out hope that they do care. And that their policy’s aren’t just lip service. Although it does make me think about why I care so much when I don’t believe the ordinances are absolutely necessary anyhow.

      • This is a very good question. . . maybe a nice follow-up post for later. These are the kinds of questions that most interest me.

        Well-expressed post, Kelly Ann. Good luck and godspeed with this project.

  10. Hi Kelly Ann. I’m sorry you have felt that you’ve had a negative experience. Most of us have had, and not always related to family history. Some of us remember the times of pulling huge, heavy records off library shelves, usually to find nothing in the book. So I am indeed grateful for the work the LDS church has accomplished in the last few years allowing access into materials that were not previously available.

    The system is not perfect, but then we are not either. It is very disappointing to find a close relative that we had hoped to do the work for, has already been completed by someone we don’t know. My brother in law many years ago submitted my mothers name as mrs… I did feel irritated as I had done her work one year after she died. But in retrospect, I know that he meant well, and that for the person duplicating the work, didn’t know that my mother already had the work done. I hope they were blessed for their service and hopefully learnt something for themselves from the endowment, and that their time was not wasted. So this sounds very charitable, but it has taken a lot of frustration and time for me to reach this point.

    If you want, you have the option to resubmit the name and do it for yourself and have family names sealed into your family. To correct the premise above, we believe that our performing the ordinance work is not going to force someone into the Celestial Kingdom. Our ancestors still have a lot of work to do, and choosing for themselves, but the baptism does allow our relative to join their family in the spirit world. There’s still so much that we don’t know and that’s OK because we are a people of continual revelation.

    In your case, if you don’t want to see his work having been done, You may delete him from your family and resubmit him as a new grandfather without the connections. This will take a little bit of time as you try to resubmit other family members. 1 866 406 1830 should be able to help. Ask for the person higher above if they can’t help.

    Something that has helped me deal with the above problem, (and they will continue to happen) is to learn all about the relative that has died. I try to write a mini bio for each one. The researching on the individual for me is fun. Last week I found out that my family relative was in the workhouse and was indolent. Since then I’ve been able to find out more about her. When I meet this ancestor on the other side I will know her and she will not be a complete stranger and that their life mattered. I presume that whoever completed the ordinance will be insignificant as long as it is done. It is the relative individual that matters.

    I

    • Sue, thanks for the phone number. I also plan on going to the family history center at the Oakland temple and see if they might be more helpful. I do recognize that the system is better than it use to be – even if not perfect. But part of my hope is that by being the squeaky wheel, they can do things to prevent similar cases from happening in the future. I realize that ultimately the theology is that the individual members will accept or reject the ordinances on their own in the afterlife, and that who does the ordinances doesn’t matter, but I do believe that there should be order in the process.

  11. This happened recently in our family as well; my greatgrandmother’s work was done by a stranger, oddly enough, 17 years before her actual death. Upon discovering this, my mother sent a rather impassioned email through the FamilySearch “contact us” email address and received a very prompt response to the effect that the record would be corrected and that my mother could restrict the names of her family from further work. Try the email address available in FamilySearch; maybe they can help you to. Good luck!

    • Erin, I am glad to hear that your situation was resolved. I should look and see if there are other emails I can send a message to. Perhaps the unresponsiveness of the one won’t be the response of the next.

      • The tone of my mother’s email may have been what ultimately prompted the response. She was not, to put it mildly, polite. The word “idiot” may have been thrown in there once or twice…maybe throwing down the gauntlet at bit would be more effective?

  12. So sorry! These frustrations are more evident now that we can see what’s going on, instead of in the olden days when people happily and unknowingly duplicated all kinds of work. There must be a way to cancel ordinances as has been done with the Holocaust situation.
    From the flip perspective, this kind of mistake can be done with good intentions. My grandfather was a convert and the only member in his family, and I’ve been working away at his line for years without running into any others. I had reserved his cousin’s name to do the ordinance work (and we’re beyond the 110 year rule at this point), and got a nasty email from someone saying that this was their mother in law and to not do the work etc. I immediately unreserved it and turned it over to them, and was both embarrassed and grateful I hadn’t proceeded further. So I can understand both sides a little bit, because often there is stake pressure to find a name, or one’s own desire to complete the missing work, and no idea that anyone else is interested.

  13. A couple of things to keep in mind:

    1. In the “closest living relative” hierarchy, grandchildren have no standing. If a complaint were registered by your grandmother or parent, it might carry more weight. But of course if those are the people you are trying to hide this from, that wouldn’t be an option.

    2. The successful challenges that have been related here all involve different sorts of errors. In one case, the person had had their name removed from Church records during their lifetime. In another, the person had had work done for them while they were still alive. Your complaint is that the reservation system failed. Such errors apparently haven’t risen to the level of requiring a correction.

    3. The permission system can only work if there are consequences for violating it. In your case, that is hard to do because it was most likely the result of data falling through the cracks during the transition to NewFamilySearch. But in other cases related here, “well-intentioned” perpetrators have been identified and let off the hook. I’m not suggesting they be exed or anything like that, but anybody who submits names without getting the required permission should be ratted out to FamilySearch so their privileges can be revoked for a period. Maybe that will wake some people up.

  14. Joined the church at 18, but between school and marriage and kids, didn’t really get around to doing family history work until age 35. When I did, I discovered that my grandparents’ (who died when I was 23 and with whom I was very close) work had been done about 6 years earlier. My initial knee jerk was to be aggravated, but then, as I thought about it, I realized I was being selfish. I could have done their work within a year or two of joining the church, but I didn’t. In reality, all that really mattered was that their work was done, putting them in the position of accepting or rejecting those ordinances in the spirit world. Now, many years later, I have hundreds of names to do. They all represent family. Yet, I know there is no way of doing them all by myself. So, I’ve given them to the temple to be done. And, on occasion when I find myself doing work for “temple file” names, I do think about the fact that these are real people who led lives, that they are someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, child, and so forth. I disagree that it appears the church doesn’t care about feelings or policies. I think if we really feel like being a savior on Mount Zion, then our only real concern should be that the work gets done. I don’t mean we should cut corners or break stated policies, but I would rather know the work is done than think it hasn’t been done.

  15. I came back to read the rest of the comments on this post, and I am really disturbed by the attitude of some that seems to say that doing temple ordinance work is so important that it is worth violating the wishes of the person for whom the work is being done and/or offending living family members who either want to do the work themselves or don’t want to have it done at all. I have been a member of the Church all of my life (a very long time), most of that time as an active temple-goer. Even in my most active days, I found it offensive that Church members thought they were so “right,” that the performance of temple ordinances should take precidence over the personal wishes and directives of individuals. The case of the Holocaust victims got national publicity, and the Church apologized and took the names off the records. Yet, it appears that the same thing happens regularly in individual cases with little or no attention to the matter. Kelly Ann’s post is just one example. I wonder what it will take to change this injustice.

    • I wonder what it will take to change this injustice.

      I would imagine that it would take the LDS people no longer submitting ancestral names that do not pertain to their family.

      As I said above — the preeminence of “getting the ordinances done” has been typically beating out the sensitivities of the family in the long-run [in my experience].

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