The Family History Library in Salt Lake City Utah is the largest and perhaps most well known library of it’s kind. An estimated 1,900 patrons a day make use of the extensive free records collections there. But like most great things, it had small and humble beginnings. It started with a man inspired of God.
Wilford Woodruff was born March 1, 1807 to Aphek Woodruff and Beulah Thompson. He was much like any other young man while growing up, but looking back on his youth he acknowledged the hand of the Lord in preserving his life many times. Some of these experiences are recalled in Teachings of Presidents of the Church, Wilford Woodruff. It is no wonder that Heavenly Father was watching out after him, as on April 7, 1889 he was sustained as President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Long before then, Wilford had accepted the word of God. He had been baptized December 31, 1833, just two days after having heard the gospel for the first time. From that day on he immersed himself in the work of the Lord and building the restored church upon the earth. He served 5 full-time missions, helped with the migration of Church members to Salt Lake City from Winter Quarters, witnessed the first baptisms for the dead in the Nauvoo Temple, served as Church Historian, and as Prophet received revelation declaring that Latter-Day Saints should discontinue the practice of polygamy.
Also as Prophet, on November 13, 1894 he oversaw the establishment of the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU). His testimony of the eternal nature of families and of temple work for the dead had been evidenced for much of his life. It began with a discourse given by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
In Teachings of the Prophets of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, Page xxxiii, second paragraph, we read: “About three months before the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, he delivered a discourse to a large assembly of Saints. Elder Wilford Woodruff, who recorded a synopsis of the discourse, said that the Prophet spoke on “one of the most important and interesting subjects ever presented to the Saints.”
…He spoke of the need to be sealed to our parents and to continue that sealing ordinance throughout our generations.
…For the next few decades, the Latter-Day Saints knew that there was to be “a welding link of some kind or other between the father and the children”. However, their procedures were not completely set in order; as President Woodruff observed, the Prophet Joseph had not lived long enough to “enter any further upon these things.” Acting according to “all the light and knowledge [they] had,” they often had themselves sealed, or “adopted”, to Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or other Church leaders of their day rather than to their own fathers and mothers.”
President Woodruff sensed that there must be more concerning the sealing revelation. And on April 5, 1894, additional revelation came to him from the Lord.
In Teachings of the Prophets of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, Page xxiv, second paragraph, we read: “When I went before the Lord to know who I should be adopted to…, the Spirit of God said to me, ‘Have you not a father, who begot you? ‘Yes, I have.’ ‘Then why not honor him? Why not be adopted to him?’ ‘Yes,’ says I, ‘that is right.’ I was adopted to my father, and should have had my father sealed to his father, and so on back; and the duty that I want every man who presides over a temple to see performed from this day henceforth and forever, unless the Lord Almighty commands otherwise, is, let every man be adopted to his father.
…We want the Latter-Day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents and run this chain through as far as you can get it…”
And would God give this command without providing a way for it to be accomplished? As Nephi, a prophet living in the Americas long before Jesus’ birth testified, He will always provide a way for his commandments to be obeyed.
In 1 Nephi, Chapter 3, verse 7, we read: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
So it was, that seven months after President Woodruff received further revelation about work for the dead, that the Lord made a way for Latter-Day Saints to find their ancestors so they could be sealed to them back through the generations.
The Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) grew slowly at first but over time it’s record collections grew extensively and a main repository, the Family History Library we know today, holds all of the information The Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) has collected. In addition, .
Truly Malachi’s prophecy is unfolding before our very eyes. While the Family History Library is not the first library established for the purpose of genealogical research, its establishment was divinely appointed. It was founded in Utah, where thousands of Latter-Day Saints looking to perform ordinances for their ancestors, would have access to it. Wilford Woodruff was the instrument of God in the founding of this amazing resource. I have a testimony that he really was a Prophet of God, and I am grateful for the revelation that came to him concerning how families should be sealed and how to make that possible.