This conversation caused me to ponder a bit. What IS the point of family history for a Latter-day Saint? Why does God want us to do it?
The primary response from the average Church member would be that we do it in order to identify ancestors who have died without the saving ordinances of the gospel so that we can provide them the opportunity to accept or reject those ordinances. We certainly do that. But it does seem to be a terribly inefficient way to assure that all the human family eventually gets the opportunity to accept or reject the Savior. If that is what God wants to happen, I can't help but think He'd find a better way of going about it. After all, we mess it up pretty freely. I'm sure many a person has been linked to the wrong spouse and/or parents. And many a person has had no written records of his or her life created and therefore the chances that we'd even discover the existence of a huge portion of the human family are near zero.
So, I turned to scripture to see what I might discover. The most often quoted scripture regarding this topic comes from the Old Testament book of Malachi, chapter 4, verses 5-6:
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.So, Elijah the prophet must return and do something or other that will cause fathers and children to turn their hearts to one another. Otherwise, the earth is cursed.
When the angel Moroni appeared to the prophet Joseph Smith in 1823, he quoted these verses differently:
Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.So, Elijah was to restore the priesthood. And the turning of hearts is a result of having promises made to those who went before planted in our hearts. And all this must happen or the earth will be wasted when Christ returns.
I could make a VERY long post on this and have given several talks on the topic, but I'll spare you. I'll assume the reader is LDS and has some basic understanding of our doctrines. (If not, and you are interested, post a comment to this and I'll be happy to answer your questions).
Cutting to the chase:
We know that the wasting of the earth if hearts do not turn to family isn't that God is going to blast it out of existence. Rather, the earth was created for the purpose of giving our Heavenly Father's children a place to learn and grow and progress and be united as families. Family is key to our eternal existence. We lived in a family before we came to earth and our life after this mortal sojourn is meant to be a family life. Families are the ideal place to learn to be more like God. Our hearts need to turn to family--and to the promises God has made to families. The most important of those promises is the promise of the Atonement--of forgiveness of sin and the opportunity to return to God and to be eternally united as families.
We are to be involved in family history for what it does for us as much as for what we are offering to others. As we learn more about those who gave us life, we learn to love them and look forward to meeting them in the next life. We come to feel connected and that changes us in ways that are hard to express. It fills a need in the human soul that you just can't fill any other way. As Alex Haley expressed it, that yearning for connection is "bone-marrow deep."
Everyone who gets involved in this work becomes a better person at a fundamental level. It doesn't matter what sort of involvement it is as long as it turns our hearts to family. It can be showing photos of ancestors to children and teaching them what we know about those who went before. It can be cross-stitching a family tree, scanning and preserving old photographs, interviewing older relatives to learn about their lives, compiling stories of your ancestors for future generations to read, researching records to grow your family tree, going to the temple to perform saving ordinances. The list is as long as your imagination.
As our hearts turn to family, not only do we become better, but our families become stronger. And, ultimately, I think our hearts turn to our entire human family and our eternal Father in Heaven. That is why everyone should be involved in this work. It's not just a nice hobby. It is a bedrock principle of the gospel.