My English friend and fellow family history researcher (or genealogist if you will), Laird of Glencairn, wrote an insightful blog on that subject entitled “In Search of the Facts.” I whole heartedly agree with most of what he wrote. He wisely looks at genealogical data bases with suspicion, only really trusting what he can later document with original source proof. However, in referring to the Family Search data base, which is provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (of which I am a member), Laird is critical of “our purpose” in doing this family research in the first place.
Laird wrote, “I stand to be corrected but the only reason the data is collected is to fulfill the premise that family relationships can last forever – not just for this life. I do not question that, what I do question is the fact that once a ‘family’ is part of the database they are usually baptized into the Mormon churches doctrine… I have NO RIGHT to change that (person’s) conviction for another. Neither does the Mormon Church.”
Laird raises an honest and reasonable question. I am no church authority, but I think that I do understand the doctrine. So I’d like a chance to express how I see it… “My Spin On It” if you will. I’d like to tell a story first. This is a true family story about my great great grandpa, Jock Smith.
Jock grew up in Scotland, in the region of the Firth of Forth. For family survival, he worked the soggy Scottish coal mines “under the sea” from the time he could carry a corf of coal up the mine’s ladders. So he never had a chance for any education. He couldn’t read or write. Hard work and determination is what carried him through life. In order to immigrate to the United States and out west as a Mormon pioneer, Jock worked along the way including three years spent in Saint Louis, Missouri as a blacksmith. Even with all of this scrimping and saving there wasn’t enough for him to buy a traditional team for his wagon. He “made do” with a mule and an ox hitched together to pull his wagon over a thousand miles to his new home in the Utah territory.
In Utah, Jock took advantage of the federal government’s “Homestead Act”, which allowed a family to make a claim on a certain acreage, build a house, and live there and work the land for a period of time. If he stayed there and proved the farm was viable for a certain amount of time, then the government would give title to that property to him.
All was well. Jock the Scottish coal miner became an American farmer. But it all fell apart one day, when he learned that because he hadn’t properly filed some papers with the federal government, they were taking back the farm, which he had built up from bare ground. Someone else (who could read and write and understand all the government regulations) had jumped his claim. Jock had to pick up his family and walk away and start over again.
Now, I’m like my friend, Laird. I have many wonderful ancestors who were faithful in their faith. I have tried to gain an understanding of the Lutheran and Presbyterian religions because it helps me understand my Lutheran and Presbyterian ancestors. I am sure there are others in my family who were just as devout in other religions as well. If I go far enough back, I know that my Norwegian ancestors weren’t Christian because Christianity wasn’t introduced there until about half way through the Viking era. So I would think that my pre-Christian ancestors from Norway were good devout pagans. I choose to believe that they were likely living the best lives they could… just like I am trying to do today.
Now, for most who believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and as our Redeemer and our God, along with that belief comes an understanding that they must do something to be a Christian. Some believe that a verbal invitation to Jesus is what is required. Some believe the ordinance of baptism is required.
Most Christian Churches believe that baptism is an important part of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible. Some have interpreted this teaching to mean that if someone isn’t baptized a Christian, that person is dammed in hell. Others say if so, then God is not a just God. So they interpret the baptism requirement differently.
The belief of my faith is that Jesus Christ does in fact require baptism requisite to making his atonement for sin effective in our lives. I believe it is requisite to living with him, and my family, in the eternities.
So identifying my ancestors, and offering to fulfill this requirement for them is like if a neighbor had come up to my 2 greats grandpa, Jock, and said, “Jock, I was in at the land office and I saw that you were about to loose your farm, cause you haven’t filled out and signed all their papers and now your dead line for doing so is already past.”
Jock might have panicked and said, “I didn’t know there was something more I was supposed to do.” In this little parable, the neighbor would then say, “You don’t need to worry about it. I filled out those papers for you. All you have to do is go on into the land office and let them know that you do want to keep your farm. You just need to go in and put your X on the dotted line.”
In this comparison, the neighbor hasn’t reduced Jock’s choices or options, but conversely, he’s increased them. He could still take his family and walk away and start over somewhere else. But now he also has the choice of going into the land office and putting his X on the paperwork after his deadline had passed. I love my ancestors. I love learning of their love and devotion to their beliefs. I wouldn’t undermine their convictions. I wouldn’t be a neighbor trying to force them to “keep the farm.” They could say “No thanks” and walk away. But if I believe that Baptism is requisite to “entering into the Kingdom of Heaven”, which I do, then I wouldn’t be a good neighbor to not fill out the forms in the land office so the option is available.