Why is genealogy important to Mormons

Three billion names for genealogy

The Mormon Name Bunker in Salt Lake City

From Michael Marek

Mormon founder John Smith (daguerreotype from circa 1843-1844) (AP Archives)

In 1894 the Mormon Church established a genealogy archive. Today this data collection of the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", as the Mormon Church is officially called, is the largest of its kind - worldwide. The archive is open to everyone - regardless of religion, nationality or gender.

Little Cottonwood Canyon, 40 kilometers southeast of Salt Lake City: The mountains around the center of the Mormons are a popular destination for skiers and hikers. But hardly anyone knows that there is a globally unique storage facility for genealogical research here.

Locked by a 14-ton steel door, the names of over three billion people are stored here in a mountain tunnel. Secured on microfilm, protected from acid rain and radioactive radiation, this world's largest collection of names helps scientists and amateur genealogists from all over the world with their family history research:

Thompson: If you have a strong family, you have a strong community.

Tab Thompson, Salt Lake City Family Search Center Associate:

"If you have a strong community, then you have a strong nation. And if we have a strong nation, then we have a strong world with more peace, because everyone realizes that we are all similar after all Researching ancestors, then you find a hold and you know that you are part of this world. "

A yellowish painted, earthquake-proof tunnel over 200 meters long leads into the granite mountain. Thousands of archive boxes are here in which the film material is stored. At 16 degrees Celsius and 30 percent humidity. Summer and winter. Protected in six underground vaulted rooms.

"The project started in 1894. Today there are different areas: There are the data collections and the library. And there is the storage area in the Granite Mountain tunnel, where the microfilms are stored."

The microfilms contain the data of the deceased who lived before 1930. Three billion names of all nationalities have been compiled - children, women and men of all ages and religions. Since 1938, the Mormons have been collecting genealogical sources in more than 110 countries, copying, evaluating and microfilming the data: including birth, marriage and death certificates, census results, court records, property registers, confirmations of inheritance, lists of immigrants and emigrants, as well as family and city chronicles. In Germany, too, this has been very successful, says Thompson:

"We negotiate with the relevant authorities - be they archivists or government agencies. We go out, review the material and decide what is of genealogical value. Then we make proposals for a contract so that we can take this data. If that's accepted." , we send our people with microfilm cameras and take pictures of the information. "

The Mormon genealogical archive contains tens of billions of stored data. Their destruction - be it through earthquakes, ink damage, paper disintegration or armed conflict - would mean irretrievable loss. To ensure that this information is retained in the event of a disaster, the underground tunnel was driven into the mountain in the early 1960s - to store the backup films. The complex construction work lasted six years. Funded by the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose followers donate ten percent of their salaries to the Church:

"Our job is to give people access to genealogical information. That doesn't mean you can watch the microfilms or digital images. But with our help you can understand the content and we can also explain what it means to them. if your great-, great-, great-grandfather was a chimney sweep or something similar. With our help, the ancestors come to life, even if they have been dead for generations or centuries. "

Tab Thompson explains with conviction. Like all other Mormons, the genealogist and orphan believes that he will meet his ancestors again after death:

Family relationships are sacred to Mormons. According to their teaching, a family, women and men, parents and children can be united without death parting them. In order to make these "blessings" possible for their deceased ancestors as well, the members of the Church collect information about them so that they can perform marriages on their behalf, for example. The ancestors can then decide whether to accept these ordinances. But this alone is not the main reason why the Mormons have set up such an extensive name register: with dates of birth and death and often a complete family tree, spanning many generations. According to their belief, it is also possible to have long-dead ancestors baptized by a representative and to have them accepted into the Mormon community so that at least in the hereafter they can - retrospectively - come on the right path of faith.

"Most of the visitors come from Germany and the Netherlands and France and then the Scandinavian countries."

Bärbel Bell was born in Kiel and now works in the Salt Lake City Family Search Center. What was only known to professional genealogists until 20 years ago is now also accessible to laypeople. The archives and documents of the Mormons are open to anyone looking for the genealogical roots of their family, regardless of whether they are Mormons, Christian, Muslim or Hindi:

"We as genealogists are of course interested in not just a small bunch of people receiving our knowledge, but as much as possible. We are thinking about whether we should not create something similar to Wikipedia, yes."

Today the supposedly secretive organization of the Mormons still arouses suspicion among many people. The consecrated Mormon temples remain closed to non-Mormons. Critics regard her genealogy research as suspicious, because family members who have already died can be baptized retrospectively, provided their dates are known. The religious community is conservative and performance-oriented. Polygamy has been a criminal offense in the Church since 1890, but it is still unofficially practiced by some Mormons. The Church of the Latter-Day Saints rejects homosexual partnerships, rubbings, premarital and extramarital sexuality. Today the Mormons are not accused of polygamy, racism and sexism, but of their persistent solicitation of new members and the influence of the church on the lives of believers. Many Americans fear that Mormons - regardless of party affiliation - will influence politics. According to the independent Salt Lake Tribune, the number of Mormons in the US secret service CIA is disproportionately high - not least because the Mormons speak a particularly large number of foreign languages ​​because of their obligatory missionary work abroad. Mormons hold important positions in the Foreign Ministry and the Treasury; they lead the legal department in the White House and they advise Congress on international affairs, on the issue of freedom of worship, and on educational reform.

The Mormon name archive is unique worldwide and at the same time it is a prestige object of the religious community. The data search in the Mormon name archive is free of charge. It is not about material gain, said the late 97-year-old church president Gordon Hinckley, but about helping Mormons and other people find their family roots.