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Prince’s Research Excerpts: Temples & Mormonism – 1990

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1990:  5 May:  Changes in endowment ceremony.

“Mormons Revise Ritual, Vow of Obedience To Husbands Deleted – Salt Lake City–In a rare revision of Mormon ritual, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has dropped wording that required women to pledge to obey their husbands and portrayed the clergy of other religions as agents of Satan.

Mormon women must now vow to obey God rather than their husbands in the “endowment” ceremony, a ritual that the church says is necessary to enable members to live with God after death.  The ceremony is performed only once for each person, but a member may go through it countless times as a proxy for those who have died.

The revised ritual, which took effect last month in ceremonies performed in the 43 temples of the Mormon Church, is being greeted with enthusiasm by church members who say it reflects greater sensitivity toward women and other religions.

“The temple is an important part of my spiritual life and the changes have allowed me to go to the temple with renewed joy,” said Lavina Fielding Anderson, editor-elect of the Journal of Mormon History.

Mormons attending temple were read a statement from the governing First Presidency informing them of the changes.  The statement said the revisions were unanimously approved by the three-member body and the advisory Council of the Twelve Apostles.  Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of the church’s communications office, said church leaders would not comment on the revisions because temple ceremonies are considered too sacred for public discussion.

But some church members praised the changes.

“I think we’re gradually moving away from the subjugation of women,” said Ross Peterson, co-editor of Dialogue, an independent Mormon journal.

“I think [church leaders] are developing a recognition that there are many highly intelligent, independent, capable and educated women in our ranks today who have a great deal to offer.”

Among other changes, a theatrical portion of the ceremony that included a non-Mormon “preacher” paid by Satan to spread false doctrine has ben excised.

“The general consensus is that it’s a breath of fresh air,” Peterson said.  “You don’t put down other churches or imply that they are Satan’s children.”

Rebecca England, a member of the planning committee of the independent Mormon Women’s Forum, said the changes may boost temple attendance.

“I know quite a number of Mormons who stopped going to the temple  because they found it demeaning,” she said. “And I think this revised ceremony addresses many of the concerns that they and I, as a feminist Mormon, have had.”

Mormon women cannot become priests. Nor can they serve in the local lay clergy or the church hierarchy.

The Mormon Church, based on revelations that Joseph Smith said were brought to him in the 1820s by heavenly messengers, claims to have 7.3 million members, with the largest concentration of church members in Utah, California and Idaho.

The framework of the endowment ritual, apart from editing to its current length of about 90 minutes and adoption of film to portray part of the ceremony, has remained mostly intact since Smith’s day.” (The Washington Post, Associated Press, 5 May 1990)

“Quoted Mormons Get Church Summons, Members Interviewed About Comments on Revisions in Ceremony

Most Mormon Church members quoted last month in news stories about revisions in the church’s confidential temple ceremony have been summoned for interviews by church officials, it was learned this week.

News of the revisions was made public after the Los Angeles Times and other news media learned through various sources that three elements in the secret rites had been eliminated–the woman’s vow to obey her husband, a scenario suggesting that non-Mormon clergy succumb to Satan’s wiles and oath-taking gestures with violent overtones.  It was believed that none of the church members quoted broke vows to keep the contents secret.

One man said he was reprimanded for talking to the news media, and another was asked to surrender his “temple recommend,” the annually renewed permission for members in good standing to participate in temple ceremonies.

But Robert Rees, a Mormon bishop in Los Angeles, said he had an “amicable conversation” with a regional church authority about his comments to the Times.  “There was nothing heavy or ominous about it,” Rees said.

Lavina Fielding Anderson of Salt Lake City, editor-elect of the Journal of Mormon History, said she talked twice last month to her regional authority, the second time as a part of the interview to renew her temple recommend.  Both talks were “positive,” without qualification, she said in a prepared statement.

“It seems to me that the temple modifications have been received among members with almost universal rejoicing as a manifestation of inspiration,” Anderson said.  “The press, with a few exceptions, has reported them positively and respectfully.”

As a faithful church member, she said, “I appreciated the opportunity of affirming these changes…rather than having reporters collect commentary exclusively from known detractors.” Former Mormons had alerted the media to the changes.

The public communications office of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement Thursday, defending questioning of members and reemphasizing the sacred confidentiality of the temples.  “When they leave the house of the Lord, they are under obligation to be true to a sacred trust not to speak of that which is holy and sanctified,” the statement said.

“Therefore, it is appropriate that church leaders visit with members when comments about the temple or other sacred matters are made public and are attributed to them in the news media.” (Dart, John, Staff Reporter, The Washington Post, 2 Jun 1990)

“The Mormon gender gap

Since its founding in 1830, Mormonism has remained a religion dominated by males steeped in missionary zeal and protective of the secrets of its sacred temples.  Last week, the secrecy was breached by reports of a rare change in temple rituals to eliminate parts deemed offensive to women and to members of other faiths.

Leaders of the 7.3-million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quietly dropped a vow in which women pledge to obey their husbands.  The husbands, in turn, vow obedience to God.  Also cut was a portrayal, in a re-enactment of the story of creation and live on earth, of a non-Mormon preacher as Satan’s agent.  Both were part of the “endowment” ritual a Mormon must go through to be assured of eternal life.  It is performed not in ordinary churches but in 43 temples open only to the most devout.

The changes, announced to church members in April without explanation, leaked to the press last week.  Rapid membership growth worldwide is forcing the church to adapt some of its 19th-century practices to modern sensibilities, some prominent Mormons say.  In 1978, the church ended its ban on blacks in the priesthood.  Many women have stayed away from the temple because they felt “discomfort and alienation,” says Lavina Fielding Anderson, editor-elect of the Journal of Mormon History.  While women’s-rights advocates applaud the reforms, they say the church has a long way to go.  Women are still barred from the priesthood and from top leadership posts and are excluded from participating in child-christening ceremonies.” (U.S. News & World Report, Religion, 14 May 1990)

“Feminists, Others Welcome Changes, LDS Leaders Revise Temple Endowment

Sacred ceremonies for the living and dead, performed by faithful Mormons within the walls of the church’s temples, have undergone what some view as their most significant changes this century.

The revisions, effective April 10 in the faith’s 43 temples, are being greeted with enthusiasm by church members who say they reflect a greater sensitivity toward women and other religions.

“The temple is an important part of my spiritual life and the changes have allowed me to go to the temple with renewed joy,” said Lavina Fielding Anderson, editor-elect of the Journal of Mormon History.

The revisions are contained in the “endowment” ceremony, seen by Mormons as necessary for eventually dwelling with God.  Among the changes, women no longer must vow to obey their husbands.  And a portion of the ceremony with an actor portraying a non-Mormon “preacher” paid by Satan to spread false doctrine has been eliminated.

“The general consensus is that it’s a breath of fresh air,” said Ross Peterson, co-editor of Dialogue, an independent Mormon journal.  “You don’t put down other churches, or imply that they are Satan’s children.”

Peterson said many Mormons who never had expressed a negative word about the endowment ceremony are thrilled with the changes, indicating there had been elements that “were silently upsetting to them.”

“I think we’re gradually moving away form the subjugation of women,” Peterson said.  ” I think [church leaders] are developing a recognition that there are many highly intelligent, independent, capable and educated women in our ranks today who have a great deal to offer.”

Rebecca England, a member of the planning committee of the independent Mormon Women’s Forum, which circulates a newsletter to 1,400, said the changes may boost temple attendance.

“I know quite a number of Mormons who stopped going to the temple because they found it demeaning.  And I think this revised ceremony addresses many of the concerns that they and I, as a feminist Mormon, have had,” she said.

Mormon women cannot hold the priesthood, which is open to worthy males 12 and older.

Mormons attending the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perform several rituals, including baptisms, marriages for eternity and endowments for themselves and, by proxy, for individuals who have died.

They believe that all mankind, in this life or the next, will have an opportunity to accept or reject the true gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to church founder Joseph Smith and successive church presidents.  If they accept it, holy ordinances considered necessary for their “exaltation” with God already will have been performed for them.

Only adult Mormons in good standing are permitted to participate in all temple ordinance.s  Among the prerequisites for attendance are honesty, payment of tithing (10 percent of gross income) to the church and adherence to a health code that forbids use of tobacco, alcohol, tea, coffee and illegal drugs.

Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of the church’s Public Communications-special Affairs office, said church leaders would have no comment on the revisions because temple ceremonies are considered too sacred for public discussion.

The changes were not announced to the membership at large, but temple attendees are being read a statement form the governing First Presidency which says the revisions, following long a prayerful review, were unanimously approved by that three-member body and the advisory Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

England and others see the changes as evidence that Mormon leaders listen to “faithful members with real concerns.”

“I still have concerns that haven’t been addressed, but I personally find the temple endowment ceremony empowering of me as a woman, more so than demeaning.  I think it also shows that the leaders have responded to concerns and acted on those concerns,” she said.

The endowment ceremony, wrote the late Mormon theologian James E. Talmadge, includes instruction–within a theatrical setting–on the creation of the world, Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, God’s plan of redemption and description of a widespread apostasy preceding restoration of the true gospel.

It also includes sacred covenants, among them virtue and devotion to truth, Talmadge wrote.  Graphic depictions of penalties for breaking them, considered gruesome by some, were among the recent deletions.

“It’s not as harsh,” Peterson said of the new version. “It’s more uplifting.  It’s softer and gentler.”

The character of the preacher represented religions that existed when Smith, acting on what he said were divine instructions, founded the church in 1830.

The framework of the endowment, apart from editing to its current length of about 90 minutes and adoption of film to portray part of the ceremony, has remained mostly intact since Smith’s day, although the practice of “sealing” people to high church officials was ended in the 1890s.  Temple marriages seal families together for eternity, according to Mormon belief.

A new endowment film, the fifth since the 1950s, incorporates the most recent revisions.” (The Salt Lake Tribune, 29 Apr 1990)

“Mormons Drop Rites Opposed by Women

The Mormon Church has changed some of its most sacred rituals, eliminating parts of the largely secret ceremonies that have been viewed as offensive to women and to members of some other faiths.

Last month the church, with 7.3 million members one of the world’s fastest-growing religious groups, quietly dropped from its temple rituals a vow in which women pledged obedience to their husbands, the wearing of face veils by women, and a portrayal of non-Mormon clergy as hirelings of Satan.

Church officials have confirmed that changes went into effect in mid-April, but the ceremonies are considered to be too sacred, they say, for them to comment further.

`Pretty Factual’ Reports

More specific information on the changes has been provided to the news media by Mormons participating in the rituals at the church’s 43 temples around the world and by former Mormons who are critical of the rituals.  A number of Mormons who would not discuss details of the rituals verified that these reports were “pretty factual” or “not inaccurate.”

“Because the temple ceremony is sacred to us, we don’t speak about it in the most general terms,” said Beverly Campbell, the East Coast director for public communications for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Changes Greeted With Joy

While Mrs. Campbell described the church’s basic beliefs and obligations as “timeless and binding,” she said “the ceremony itself needs to meet the needs of the people.” The revised ritual is “more in keeping with the sensitivities we have as a society,” she added.

Lavina Fielding Anderson, who will soon become an editor of the Journal of Mormon History, said she “greeted the changes with a great deal of joy,” and added, “the temple ceremony in the past has given me a message that could be interpreted as subservient and exclusionary.”

In the place of an oath of obedience that men took to God and the church, the previous ceremony required women to vow obedience to their husbands.  The previous ceremony also required women to veil their faces at one point.  Mormon feminists have criticized these elements of the ceremony, as well as the church’s restriction of the priesthood and top leadership posts to men.

Although Ms. Anderson would not describe any of the changes, she said the revision “gives me hope and renewed faith that changes will occur in the future as they have in the past.”

All the recent modifications were made in the “endowment” ceremony, a ritual considered essential to assure Mormons of life after death.  Mormons participate in the rite only once on their own behalf, usually as young adults who are about to do missionary work or be married.  But they may repeat the ritual any number of times on behalf of their ancestors.

Participants follow a dramatic reenactment, once performed by actors but now presented in most temples by films, of the Creation, life on earth beginning with the sin of Adam and Even in the garden of Eden, and a return to God.

The ceremony also contains elements resembling the Masonic rituals current in 1830, when Joseph Smith founded the church on the basis of revelations that he said he received in upstate New York.

The latest revisions diminish these elements, including gestures symbolizing the participant’s pledge to undergo a gruesome death rather than reveal the rituals.  Also dropped is a scene in which Satan hires a non-Mormon “preacher” to spread false teachings.

Some Previous Changes

The rituals have been changed before.  In 1927, an oath to avenge Smith’s death was dropped.  Smith was killed in 1844 after he and his followers had been forced to migrate first to Missouri and then to Illinois.

Brigham Young led the church’s members to establish a new community in Utah, although a minority established the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which does not share the same rituals, in Independence, Mo.

“The language and whole framework of the endowment ceremony seemed to me very reflective of the 19th century,” said a Mormon woman from the New York City area who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“The stuff about the preacher didn’t trouble me so much, because I thought, well, it just reflected a past time and that’s how people thought then,” said the woman, who described the ceremony as moving.  “The same with the women stuff.  Like any other ritual, you make it your own.”

Ross Peterson, the editor of Dialogue, an independent Mormon quarterly, said the unfamiliar elements of the ritual frequently “catches young Mormons cold” and disturbs them.   “I’ve known an awful lot of people who went once and it was years before they’d go back, especially women,” he said.

Mr. Peterson, like other church members interviewed, would not comment directly on the comment of the ceremony.

Both church members and non-Mormon scholars said the changes reflected a new sensitivity toward women in the church and an evolution of Mormonism away from its stormy origins in 19th-century America to a multicultural world religion.

Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of the church’s communications office in Salt Lake City, denied that the changes were made in response to criticism or social pressure.  The Mormon Church believes “in continued and modern revelation,” Mr. Olson said, so that practices might be changed when “the Lord clarified” church teaching.  In 1978, for example, the church dropped a longstanding policy barring blacks from the priesthood.

Church Growth Overseas

But some Mormons see the church as responding, without admitting it, but to critics and to the church’s growth overseas.  About 40 percent of its membership is outside the United States.  Of 10 new members named to one of the church’s high councils in March, three are non-Americans and one, Helvecio Martins, is a black Brazilian.

Among the critics are many conservative Christians who complain that Mormonism features occult practices.

Mormons consider themselves Christians, and the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus are central to their faith.  But besides believing in sacred books other than the Bible, Mormonism holds a polytheistic theory that God, Christ and the Holy Spirit are distinct divine beings.

Ms. Anderson rejected these criticisms.  “The temple and what it means is extremely important in my spiritual life,” she said.  “I do not find the secrecy inappropriate.  In an age of so much communications, there may be some value in having something you only think about and share in a special place.” (Steinfels, Peter, The New York Times, 3 May 1990)

“Mormons Modify Temple Rites

Ceremony” Women’s vow to obey husband is dropped.  Changes are called most significant since 1978.

The central temple ceremony in the Mormon Church has been changed to eliminate the woman’s vow to obey her husband and other elements that some members said were offensive and outdated.

In the new version of the rites, women now pledge to obey God and to merely listen to the advice of their husbands.

“That’s the most significant change in the church since blacks received the priesthood in 1978,” said Ron Priddis, vice president of Signature Books in Salt Lake City, an independent publisher of Mormon-oriented books.  “In a church that is so patriarchal, that’s quite a step.”

Two other features dropped were a dramatization suggesting that Satan beguiles Christian clergy to teach false doctrine and the requirement that members make throat-slitting and disemboweling gestures as signs that they will not reveal the ceremony’s contents.

Despite verbal oaths of secrecy that remain in effect, a consistent picture of the changes introduced last month has emerged from interviews with both Mormons and non-Mormons who monitor church activities.

The new version “reflects greater sensitivity and awareness of women and women’s role in the Christian church,” said Robert Rees, a Mormon bishop who also directs the fine arts program for UCLA’s extension department.  Although unwilling to disclose elements of the ritual, Rees nevertheless said that some parts eliminated “were historical and cultural anachronisms.”

Lavina Fielding Anderson of Salt Lake City, editor-elect of the Journal of Mormon History, said she received the revisions “with joy.”

“I anticipate further changes with hope and faith,” she said in a telephone interview.  “Some portions of the temple ceremony have been painful to some Mormon women, and in some respects, still are,” she added, without identifying what elements may still be objectionable.

Women, for example, still cover their faces with veils at certain points in the ritual, sources said.

Also dropped is an “embrace” of a man representing God, who stands behind a ceiling-to-floor veil.  Reaching through a slit in the veil, the church member puts his or her hand to the back of the deity and presses against him at the cheek, shoulders, knees and feet with the veil between them.  The contact at “five points of fellowship,” including the hand to his back, has been omitted, although the member must still give a secret handshake and repeat a lengthy password.

Spokesmen for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the formal name of the 7-million-member Mormon Church, have declined comment on the changes saying the details of the rites are sacred and confidential.

“We are a church that believes in modern and continuous revelation, and the changes that were recently made in our temple ceremony are reflective of that process,” officials said in a statement this week.

One of the most common temple rites performed by members in good standing are proxy baptisms and weddings–in which members stand in for ancestors who are thus offered Mormon membership and privileges in the afterlife.

Objections to parts of the ceremony have been raised obliquely in Mormon intellectual circles in recent years.  Mormon academics have said that the temple rites, rather than deriving purely from ancient religious sources, borrowed certain features form Masonic fraternal rites during the last century. 

David John Buerger of the university of Santa Clara wrote in a 1987 issue of the independent Mormon journal Dialogue that, while many Mormons found the temple ceremonies entirely meaningful, some were disturbed by “the implied violence” of gestures of throat slitting, “the portrayal of a Christian minister as the hireling of Satan” and the depiction of women “as subservient to men.”

In pledging to never reveal the ritual, Mormons formerly made three motions-drawing one’s hand quickly across the throat, another indicating one’s heart would be cut out and the third suggesting disembowelment.

“That’s why I stopped going to the temple, because [the ritual] was so offensive,” said a former woman member in Salt Lake City.

The so-called penalty gestures were criticized as “outgrowing their usefulness” in a talk before a Mormon audience about a month ago by Keith Norman, a church member in the Cleveland area who holds a doctorate in Christian studies from Duke University. “I had no idea this change was about to take place,” Norman said after the modifications were introduced.

In recent weeks, anti-Mormon, evangelical Christian ministries have been spreading reports of the changes.  Some candid Mormon officials have acknowledged in interviews that the whole secret ritual was published years ago by church critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Salt Lake City.

“I feel that dropping the wife’s oath of obedience to the husband was a concession to the women’s liberation movement,” said Sandra Tanner in a phone interview.

Ex-Mormons Chuck and Dolley Sackett of Thousand Oaks, who circulated a brochure detailing the changes, noted that single Mormon women also had been required to swear obedience to their husbands–despite the fact they were unmarried.

“Single women will be somewhat relieved of the extreme pressure to marry,” said the circular.  “The wife will no longer be reminded with each temple visit that her only channel to her god is through her husband and that his faithfulness determines her eternity.” (Dart, John, Los Angeles Times, Religion, F20, 5 May 1990)

“Mormon temple rite gets major revision

Revolutionary changes have been made in the sacred Mormon Church temple ceremony, including the elimination of some secret handshakes and a reference to clerics’ being employed by Lucifer, as well as a softening of sexism.

The changes in the Temple Endowment Ceremony are seen as a move to bring the secret ceremony closer to mainstream Christianity.

the changes are the most drastic revisions of the century, rivaled only by the church’s removal at the turn of the century of an oath to avenge the killers of church founder Joseph Smith, according to Mormon insiders.

“They’re major changes,” confirmed a practicing Mormon, who asked not to be identified.

The church member added, however, “They are substantive, I would say, in the cosmetics of the thing rather than in substance.”

But a former Mormon familiar with the changes said the ceremony’s climax has been eliminated.  Removal of that part of the ritual, he said, is the equivalent of taking the Eucharist out of the Roman Catholic Mass.

Not all Mormons are happy with the ceremony changes.

“I certainly have Mormon friends who will see it as a step toward apostasy and an accommodation to the world,” said one practicing Mormon in Utah.

Church officials in Salt Lake City refused to discuss the ceremony, which is shrouded in secrecy.  In fact, the church has issued a directive to temple members telling them to refrain from talking about the changes in the ceremony.

`House of the Lord’

“We look at the temple as a very sacred place, quite literally the house of the Lord, so we don’t publicly discuss details of sacred temple worship,” said L. Don LeFevre, public-relations manager for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.

LeFevre decline further comment.

Another prominent Mormon, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that portions of the ceremony have been removed.

“The temple ceremony has been significantly abridged,” he said.

The changes were made earlier this month by church President Ezra Taft Benson, the First Presidency and the church’s Quorum of Twelve, all members of the ranking hierarchy.

Changes in ceremony

Changes in the ceremony include:

*Removal of the climax of the ceremony, in which members perform a set of secret handshakes and incantations.  They embrace a man representing God, with the participants standing on opposites sides of a ritual sheet.  The embrace represents what the church calls the Five Points of Fellowship.

Critics have charged that the ritual is a Masonic rite.

Some Mormon Church historians have said that the introduction of this ceremony seems to correlate with Joseph Smith’s acceptance into the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge in Illinois.   His brother, Hyrum Smith, also was a Mason.

*Elimination of a portion of the ceremony wherein a man portraying Lucifer sends another man, representing a clergyman formally trained in theology, to seek converts.

Critics have said this part of the service symbolizes that paid clergy, such as those of mainstream Christianity, are employed by Lucifer.

Mormon clergymen are not paid by the church and come from the priesthood of believers, or Mormons in good standing, not ordained theologians, as in mainstream Christianity.

*A modified version of the woman’s vow of obedience to the husband.  She now vows obedience to God.

“I think this is a response to the feminist movement in the Mormon Church,” said Sandra Tanner, a former Mormon who now heads Utah Lighthouse Ministries in Salt Lake City.  “Many of the women objected to the obedience.”

*Removal from the ceremony of “penalties” for revealing any portion of the rite to people outside the temple.

The penalty ritual involves a series of motions using the thumb in which Mormons indicate their throat may be cut, their heart may be torn out or their bowels removed should they disclose the sacred ceremony to outsiders.

The removal of the penalties does not mean Mormons will talk about the ceremony, because they take their temple covenants seriously, one Mormon said.

`Formalizing commitments’

The temple ceremony is “a formalizing of the commitments of the faith,” one Mormon explained.

“There is not a single oath taken or preached during the ceremony that you won’t find from the pulpit of (mainstream) Christianity,” the source said.

The ceremony begins with a film–the story of the Creation, which the entire ceremony revolves around–and then participants move into the temple’s “Endowment Room,” where formal rituals are held.

In addition to preparing for eternal life, Mormons stand in for deceased people who were not Mormon.  Mormons believe certain rites must be performed when one is living.  However, those who did not perform the rites before death can be given another chance after death if someone performs the rites for them.

Not all Mormons can attend the temple.  To be eligible, they must meet a set of church requirements, including being a faithful tither, and must be recommended by their bishop.

Mormon attendance at temples has been declining steadily for the past two decades, and some believe the changes in the ceremony may help to boost attendance.  The church recommends Mormons attend the temple twice a month.  A temple worker checks identification before allowing members to enter.

The Mormon Church has about 7.3 million members worldwide.  Arizona has about 236,000 Mormons.” ( Perkes, Kim Sue Lia, Arizona Republic, 28 Apr 1990)

19 May:  “Family Search” genealogy software.

“`Family Search’ facilitates sacred task

New computer software and compact-disc files give quick access, linkage to millions of names

New computer software designed to help simplify the task of family history research and hasten the work of redeeming the dead has been announced by the First Presidency.

The software, called FamilySearch, was announced in an April 2 letter to general and local Church leaders.

In the letter, the First Presidency also announced that a new system–separate from FamilySearch but using similar technology–is being developed that will enable Church members to clear names for temple ordinances.

“Members will be able to take family history information to their meetinghouse and use a computer system to check immediately for completed temple ordinances,” the First Presidency stated in the letter.

Currently, the family history information must be sent to Church headquarters where it is checked for completed temple ordinances.

“The success of the new system will depend on the work now being done in the Family Record Extraction Program to convert temple records to an automated form,” the First Presidency explained in the letter.  “We invite stakes not currently participating in this vital program to do so; already participating stakes will want to examine their efforts.  Increasing our extraction efforts will hasten the day when members can clear names for ordinance work.”

The FamilySearch software–and its associated files stored on compact discs–is being released to some 1,100 family history centers (formerly called branch genealogical libraries) throughout the United States and Canada that have appropriate computer equipment.

A researcher can go to the Family History Library or any of the family history centers and use a computer with the FamilySearch software to search huge genealogical files stored on compact discs, according to Elder J. Richard Clarke of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department.

“These discs make it possible to copy and widely distribute large storehouses of information,” Elder Clarke said. “The new technology also enables researchers to make instant, computer-printed copies of information they discover.”

Information found with FamilySearch can also be copied to diskettes.  Researchers can then take the diskettes home and load the  information into their own personal computers.  The information can be copied to the diskettes in a format compatible with he word processing software or with the Personal Ancestral File, the Church’s genealogical software for home computers.

FamilySearch includes computerized versions of three tools in the Family History Library: the Library Catalog, the International Genealogical Index and the Ancestral File.

the Library Catalog describes the content of some 1.6 million rolls of microfilm and 230,000 books in the library’s collection.  IT will be updated at least annually.

The catalog has been available before in card catalog and microfiche versions.  But the computerized version on computer disc allows a researcher to find information that would be difficult or impossible to locate manually, according to David M. Mayfield, director of the library.

With a computer the catalog can be searched by location, family names or keywords in the notes and titles of the catalog records.  Exact spellings of names are not required, as the computer can search the file using only part of a name.

With information from the catalog, anyone in a family history center can order microfilms form the library’s extensive collection.

The International Genealogical Index, one of the most used genealogical research tools, is also a part of FamilySearch now.

The index contains information for more than 150 million names, Elder Clarke noted.  Once a researcher enters the appropriate name and information into the computer, the computer retrieves the names and information that most closely match the request.  The computer can also search the file’s Parent Index, which helps locate possible family groups.

The Ancestral File is another component of FamilySearch.  It is a collection of family-linked records that have been contributed to the Church since 1979.  It is available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and will be distributed to family history centers in mid-1990.

Researchers can search for any information the Ancestral File may contain about their ancestry.  They can display, print or copy to diskette any information they find.  They can also find the name of the person or persons who contributed the information, enabling them to coordinate their research efforts with the contributor of the information.

“This file will become increasingly valuable as researchers continue to contribute their genealogies to it,” Elder Clarke noted.

Other FamilySearch files will be announced as they become available, he said.

FamilySearch is available only at family history centers and the library; it may not be ordered for individual or home use and cannot be accessed via computer modem due to reasons of cost and security.

Thousands of users of the Family History Library and the family history centers are not members of the Church.  However, they are in a position to share the results of their research with all patrons, Elder Clark pointed out.  It is anticipated that non-members will contribute their compiled research to help build the Ancestral File for the benefit of everyone, he added.” (Church News, Deseret Publications, pp. 3 and 5, 19 May 1990)