Writing for Australian newspaper The Age last week, journalist Liam Mannix missed an opportunity to tell the whole story of dedicated FamilySearch volunteers who digitise records in Melbourne’s Public Record Office Victoria (PROV).
These volunteers are retired seniors with varied backgrounds including business and professional careers. They dedicate 18 months or more to volunteer as FamilySearch missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at their own expense and for no pay.
FamilySearch is one of the world’s largest genealogical services, offering its family history resources and support for free online and at over 4,900 family history centres globally.
Thousands of other FamilySearch volunteers—like the senior retirees in Melbourne mentioned in Mr Mannix’s article—volunteer in libraries, archives and other settings around the world, partnering with governments, churches and other organisations to preserve vital records for the benefit of current and future generations.
These generous and dedicated volunteers are to be respected and thanked, not mischaracterised.
Mr Mannix’s article also suggests that the Church is using this records preservation work to then enable the performance of secret baptisms for deceased persons in order “to swell the ranks of the Mormon faith, and to offer salvation to the dead.”
More context and clarity will help readers to understand this more fully.
First, nothing is secretive about what FamilySearch volunteers are doing in the PROV. The officials at the PROV welcome help in preserving Australia's past for the benefit of future generations, whether for professional historians and researchers or amateur genealogists and family historians.
Second, nothing the Church volunteers do at the PROV is ecclesiastical. It mirrors exactly what the professional workers at the PROV perform for records preservation. There is no proselytising or other religious activity at the PROV.
Third, Mr Mannix calls this volunteer work “mind-numbing,” amongst other things. This is obviously his own opinion. The volunteers and professionals at the PROV find the historical work full of fascinating tales of real people, and there is a strong spirit of comradery at the PROV that many in other work-places would admire.
Fourth, as more genealogical records become publicly available due to the tireless work of volunteers and others in Melbourne and elsewhere, millions of family history enthusiasts with internet access anywhere in the world can then find out more about their own ancestors.
Among those who are interested in tracing their family trees, there are many Latter-day Saints who choose to participate in sacraments in the faith’s temples on behalf of their ancestors. These sacraments, mentioned by St. Paul in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15:29), are called “baptisms for the dead.”
For Latter-day Saints, these vicarious baptisms offer their ancestors the option to accept or reject the ordinance as they choose. These baptisms are not “counted” as part of the Church’s worldwide membership which is approaching 16 million.
To more fully understand why Latter-day Saints place such a strong emphasis on records preservation and family history research, click here. To learn more about the New Testament and Latter-day Saint practice of baptism for the dead, click here.