'Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse' (Malachi 4:5-6).
This is the promise of the Lord in order to prepare for the second coming of Christ and to spark interest in family history work.
To fulfill the promises made by Jesus Christ, the Prophet Elijah conferred the keys of this vicarious work upon Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple. Today, these keys are conferred upon worthy priesthood holders who preside in the temple. Latter-day prophets urge every one of us to participate in this work to obtain all the promised blessings.
President Boyd K. Packer taught: 'Family history work has the power to do something for the dead. It has an equal power to do something to the living. Family history work of Church members has a refining, spiritualizing, tempering influence on those who are engaged in it'(2).
Everything has to start within the family. If we tell our children the stories and experiences of our ancestors, they will develop love for them; the spirit of Elijah will dwell in them and motivate them to turn their hearts to their ancestors. Their testimonies will grow, and they will be committed to work for their salvation.
Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy said, 'Family history includes not only genealogy, but also the past, present and the future. It includes the past stories in history, the present history that has been made as we live our lives, and the future as we shape the lives of our children, just as the lives of our ancestors have shaped our lives' (3). We and our ancestors make up the extended family. 'The family is ordained of God. Each of us is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and destiny' (4).
When we come to earth, we automatically have an earthly family, relatives and ancestors, just as Jesus Christ had His genealogy declared in the scriptures: 'So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17).
Our ancestors are the roots, we are the tree, and our children and grandchildren are the branches. Our central position on this tree allows us to play the most important role, that of bringing together, preparing, and accomplishing what our ancestors cannot do for themselves and what our grandchildren can do to bless their ancestors’ lives.
The fundamental purpose of preaching the gospel is to invite everyone to come unto Christ (see Alma 5: 12-14) and to provide the ordinances of salvation for those who, in mortality, did not have the opportunity to receive them. That is why we need to open our hearts to Christ, accept His gospel, obey His laws, and perform these saving ordinances.
One brother told of his great-grandfather, who lived around 1870, as a servant in the king's court. One day, while he was going to fetch game in the forest, he met an old woman and her little girl. They had been lost in the bush for several days. He brought them to the king, and they became his slaves and stayed in his court for several years. When the little girl grew up, the king gave her to this member’s great-grandfather to be his wife.
Nine children were born to this woman, one of whom was the member’s grandfather. Today, after five generations, the family contains a hundred wonderful people. The member filled three My Family booklets with photos, testimonies, and short stories. Those stories are often told to current generations at their family gatherings, such as marriages, bereavement, and other family events.
With heart-felt humility, this family values the relationships that bind them to each other; they glory in the Lord's goodness towards them, and they acknowledge that they are descendants of a little girl, who was a slave to the king. To show the member’s love for his ancestors, he has already submitted some of their names to the temple so that sacred ordinances can be performed on their behalf.
May we, as soon as possible, qualify to go to the House of the Lord to perform saving ordinances for ourselves and for our deceased relatives. 'For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also'(D&C 128:18). It is by performing all the ordinances of the priesthood that we can achieve our real growth. After that, we endure every day to keep our covenants until we obtain exaltation.
(1) Bible Dictionary, 'Elijah'
(2) 'Your Family History: Getting Started,' by President Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, August 2003
(3) Video 'Igniting Interest in Family History,' by Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy
(4) Family: 'Proclamation to the World,' Ensign, January 1995, 102