Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Koelliker Says, Think of Family History More Broadly #BYUFHGC

Elder Paul E. Koelliker of the SeventyWe need to think about family history more broadly than just ancestral research, said Elder Paul E. Koelliker. Elder Koelliker gave the keynote address Tuesday morning to open the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Elder Koelliker is an emeritus member of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has previously served as an assistant executive director in the Church’s Family History Department, which I think made him a board member of FamilySearch International.

Note: Elder Koelliker addressed members of the Church. His remarks, and this article, express the doctrines of the Church and may not be of interest to those who are not members.

Love is the deep driving force in our relationship with others, said Elder Koelliker. He quoted from the Bible: “As I have loved you,…love one another.” Church president, Thomas S. Monson, said: “May we begin now, this very day, to express love to all of God’s children, whether they be our family members, our friends, mere acquaintances, or total strangers. As we arise each morning, let us determine to respond with love and kindness to whatever might come our way.” Our love for others should include both the living and the dead.

Think of family history in a forward direction. Think about the rising generations. We have been asked to learn the stories that will foster a feeling of love. It is important to write them down and share them with your children. Think beyond the charts and gather the stories for turning the hearts.

Recognize that counsel given by Church leaders will increase your temple experience. Elder Koelliker said he had a concern today. At RootsTech Elder Allan Packer put it in a positive manner, but Elder Koelliker was shocked. Said Elder Packer:

I am happy to report we are making progress. In the last year the number of members submitting names for temple ordinances is up 17% over last year. It has gone from 2.4 to 2.7 percent of the members. While normally a 17% improvement is thought of as impressive it also says that there are over 97% of members who are not regularly submitting names for temple ordinances.

In the kindest of ways, Elder Packer is inviting us to repent, said Elder Koelliker. What will it take to move a majority of the members of the Church to bring our names to the temple? At the heart of our desire to change is our love for our family.

Families are an essential organization on Earth and in heaven. In 1995, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” This proclamation defines the position of the Church regarding marriage and family. Elder Koelliker quoted former Church president, Gordon B. Hinckley:

God is the designer of the family. He intended that the greatest of happiness, the most satisfying aspects of life, the deepest joys should come in our associations together and our concerns one for another as fathers and mothers and children. (“What God Hath Joined Together,” Ensign, May 1991, 74.)

Elder Koelliker quoted from Chapter 1 of the Members Guide to Temple and Family History (which he recommended we study):

Temple and family history work unites families. Husbands and wives, parents and children can be sealed through sacred temple ordinances. The goal of this process is that “the whole chain of God’s family shall be welded together into one chain, and they shall all become the family of God and His Christ” (Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star, Oct. 4, 1906, 629).

This image is a mockup of what Elder Koelliker's book might have looked likeElder Koelliker told a couple of stories about his extended family. One was a story of serendipity that I told here in my column back in February 2012. (See “Serendipitous Doppelgänger.”) He provided a little more detail than I related. The story began in 1973 in Salt Lake City. He received a phone call from a Paul Koelliker from Switzerland who said he would like to meet him. Elder Koelliker picked up his father and the three went to lunch. Paul of Switzerland gave him a list of names and some dates and then returned to Switzerland. The list went into a drawer, along with an intent to get back to it. In 1996 Elder Koelliker went to pick up his son from a mission. In Glarus, Switzerland they were disappointed that their hotel had lost their reservation. The hotel owner felt bad and helped them find another hotel. The owner of the second hotel said he knew another fellow in Glarus named Paul Koelliker. The next thing he knew, the owner was on the phone. The man on the other end asked if he was from Salt Lake City. It was the same Paul who had met Elder Koelliker years before. They agreed to meet the next morning. It just so happened that he was the director of archives for the canton of Glarus. He showed a book with the names of Elder Koelliker’s ancestors. However, Elder Koelliker was not allowed to photocopy them, so for the next seven hours he and members of his family wrote as fast as they could, capturing 350 names of his ancestors. He figured there were probably 1,800 more.

The sequel to this story of serendipity came in 2004. Elder Koelliker’s son (whose name I didn’t jot down) was on his way to Spain when he stopped in Glarus to visit the other Paul Koelliker. During the visit he learned that there were two copies of the Koelliker book. The younger Koelliker asked if he could have one of them, but Paul declined. The younger Koelliker’s wife went into negotiation mode. “You have two copies. My sons have no copies.” She was successful. That copy is now available in the Family History Library where many can benefit from its treasures.

Telling and retelling the stories of our families bears fruit in generation after generation. What written testimony and experiences have you written down for your posterity? Write down your stories under the inspiration of the Spirit and let the Holy Ghost teach generations to come.

Image Source: The book image is a mockup I created of what Elder Koelliker’s book might have looked like. I combined two images. The text is from J. P. Zwicky, Genealogie der Familien Kölliger (Thalwil-Zürich: Familiengeschichtlicher Verlag, 1933), 7; images, FamilySearch Family History Books ( : accessed 29 July 2014). The page image is from Utah Semi-Centennial Commission, “The Book of the Pioneers,” 2 vols. (bound certificates, 1897, Utah State Archives and Records Service, Salt Lake City, Utah), 1: end paper verso; images, Utah Department of Administrative Services, Division of Archives & Records Service ( : accessed 29 July 2014).


  1. As a non-Mormon with somewhat distant Mormon cousins--distant enough so that I had no idea I had Mormon cousins until I began doing genealogy--I have become painfully aware of the many really terrible LDS trees which credulously repeat bad information from tree to tree, so it spreads like wildfire. My great-great-great grandmother was reported dead at age 8 on many trees, which was self-evidently false, though I waged many battles over that, with people indignantly insisting she HAD died and cutting off communication with me. She was also supposed to have had some 20 siblings because variations of the same name got reported as three separate children. I think, and hope, many of us have become more skilled and savvy over the years, but I still see a lot of ridiculous trees on Ancestry where even basic questions were clearly not considered--all is simply grist for the mill.

    So while I realize this is seen as a religious duty, to have a flood of have people who do not readily challenge received "authority" and who are unskilled and credulous newbies is not remotely helpful in serving the enterprise. If under 4% of LDS families are doing this work, I can only reply, "Thank heaven!'

  2. Regarding the 2.7% of members submitting names for temple ordinances: I was also shocked at how low this number is, and, being the skeptic that I am, I found it hard to believe it was so low. Given how this number was reported, I, and I suspect most others, assumed this meant only 2.7% of members ever in their life submitted names. Turns out this assumption is incorrect. The 2.7% number is the percentage that turned in names in one month, or maybe it is one quarter, I can't remember for sure. So a person who is quite active in submitting names but didn't submit anything in a particular month would not be counted as a submitter in the statistic for that particular month. So I am sure there are a great many more than 2.7% of members who submit names for temple work or have submitted names for temple work. It's probably still smaller than it should be, but not the shockingly low 2.7% reported by Elder Packer.

    To JudyBG: Your observation about inaccurate information propagated through family trees on Ancestry (and, unfortunately on FamilySearch Family Tree as well) is so true. So far I've had pretty good cooperation with my family members who had bad information. They have been happy to learn of the error and were happy to correct it. I sympathize with your experience with someone who is unwilling to listen to reason. Some people are just weird.

    1. Thanks for the affirmation! Yes, some people are very, very, VERY weird. She is still listed as dead in childhood on many LDS trees because in 1939 someone sealed her to her parents, which made her death at age 8 "official", I guess. Which may well be why some get so angry when I point out--and PROVE--that she did not die.(At about that age she was separated from her mother and older siblings after her father died when she was a child. Her widowed mother could not keep the younger girl children, but the boys were old enough to work. She and the sons became Mormons as adults, but my ggggrandmother did not. I suspect she had had little contact with them growing up, and she had married by the time they had converted. They all moved to Utah while she stayed in Ontario and remained a Scotch Presbyterian. So I do get why later family members eventually believed she had died. But you would think that they would still want their records to be as accurate as possible, even if the Temple record is not correct. But that Temple record sticks in their throats like a bone. They so much want it to be true.)

    2. Judy,

      I too suffer from this problem. There are the helpful cases where immediate family members--in the know--provided vital information recorded as part of old temple records. But there are also the imaginary people created by FamilySearch via machine-combines. This occurred when they created Ancestral File. Those imaginary people resurface over and over. How do you disprove the existence of an extra imaginary child? Perhaps the original submitter had a source that you haven't found or is no longer extant.

      ---The Ancestry Insider


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