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To Members Far from Temples, 1916

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 29, 2008

One of the chief draws for the Saints to gather has been to enjoy access to temples, both for oneself and one’s deceased family and friends. Obviously many Saints lived and died far from Temples. That number only continued to grow once Church leaders began to ask members to build up the Church in their own lands, and not to move any central gathering place.

While Saints could begin to perform temple ordinances for their deceased friends beginning with the 1877 completion of the St. George Temple, and while this work received renewed emphasis after Wilford Woodruff’s 1894 teaching that each member was responsible for his direct ancestors as far as the information was available, there was no systematic plan for extending temple privileges to the ancestors of members who lived far from temples. In 1916 Joseph F. Smith took steps to remedy this problem.

Arrangements are now being made to assist the saints residing in the various missions of the Church, and in other places remote from theTemples, who are thereby unable, personally, to perform Temple ordinances in behalf of their dead kindred, or friends, to obtain the needed services of proxies. It is our desire that faithful members of the church, in the condition stated, shall be helped, to the fullest possible extent, to accomplish this sacred duty that all Latter-day Saints are required, by divine injunction, to fulfil.

The information needed to properly identify the dead, for whom Temple ordinances are to be performed, includes the following: names in full (maiden names of women). Date of birth. Place of birth (Town, County and State or Country). Date of death. name of heir, or friend,[1] at whose instance the work is to be done, and his, or her, relationship to each one named. When this information annot be given as complete as desired, that which is lacking may be approximately formulated, by following instructions that will be published in periodicals issued in various missions of the Church.

Members of the Church in missions, and localities a great distance from the Temples, who desire to comply with the gospel requirements for salvation of the dead, should confer with the President of the mission, or district, in which they reside, stating what ordinances they wish to have performed, and they will then be provided with the blanks, and instructions needed.

The proper method of compiling records of names of the dead, for whom Temple work is desired, is provided for in a blank book specially prepared for that purpose,[2] which can be procured, at a moderate price, by application to the mission presidents.

Donations are thankfully received at the Temples, to assist in meeting the heavy expense of their maintenance, but the poor, who can give nothing, are cheerfully accorded all the privileges that the most liberal donors receive.

There is no charge made by the Temple authorities for performance of the ordinances, but, when proxies have to be obtained to act in endowments for the dead, which occupies the time of an entire session in Temple work, it is customary to pay such proxies a small sum, to partly remunerate them for personal expenses; usually a man receives seventy-five cents, and a woman fifty cents, for such services.

Arrangements are already made whereby faithful members of the church who have died in various missions or who may die therein hereafter, without having received temple ordinances in life, will have those ordinances attended to in their behalf. The names and genealogies of all such worthy individuals are now being sent to the St. George Temple, by the mission Presidents.[3]

The editors of our Church publications, in varioius missions, are requested to insert a copy of the foregoing in their respective periodicals, to be followed, when convenient, with instructions concerning Temple work, copies of which can be furnished them by the mission Presidents.

Joseph F. Smith,
Anthon H. Lund,
Charles W. Penrose,

First Presidency.

[1] The designated heir was usually a family’s oldest male convert to the Church, but could also be a woman, and all relationships were calculated from this heir. It was intended that a family’s heir never change; I don’t know how the system handled the obviously frequent intermarriage of families with different heirs, or how long this system was in place (paging J. Stapley!). For modern saints, the only practical consideration is to know the bare facts in this note so that you understand how some of your distant cousins may have been baptized “at the instance of Brigham Young” decades after Brigham Young’s death.

[2] Printed with the title “Temple Record” or “Record of Temple Work” or variants, these books were always maintained by the family, not the temple. I make that point because a few clients have told me in sometimes embarrassed or even slightly fearful confessional tones that they found such a book in a grandparent’s papers and were worried that they had the official temple record, and wondering whether the recorded ordinances were valid because they were no longer in the temple’s files. No worries. That’s a family heirloom, not a purloined relic.

[3] Although such records no longer go to a single temple, this procedure is still in place. Any member of the Church who dies without having received all of his own temple ordinances in life will have the work done by proxy. There is always a lag of at least two years between death and ordinances, though, to allow time for family members who may want to do the work themselves. If a death is not reported to the Church, the member is presumed dead at age 110 and the work is done then.



14 Comments »

  1. A couple of my ancestors were widowed women who lived in Salt Lake City and spent a lot of time doing temple work. It was very interesting to learn in this post and others from Ardis that they may have been eking out a small subsistence doing proxy work to help stretch out what would have been by necessity very small amounts of support from their grown children. It’s too bad they didn’t pay equal wages. Based on a very short note in my family history, it’s probable that for a period of just over thirty years (about 1898-1932), most days the Salt Lake temple was open Sister W (my ancestor) was there.

    Comment by Researcher — August 29, 2008 @ 10:16 am

  2. And there were no quickie 2 hours and done temple sessions back then.

    My grandfather and my great-uncle John and their new brides went to the Salt Lake Temple in October 1914 to be endowed and sealed. They entered the temple before dawn, and by the time they were finished with the sealings, and left the temple, it was after sundown. As they left, John looked back over his shoulder at the temple and said “I’m never going back there again!”

    Luckily, that was not a promise he kept.

    Can someone tell us when the different proxy ordinances were separated?

    Comment by Mark B. — August 29, 2008 @ 11:34 am

  3. Ardis, you may have found the answer to the rumored decline in temple attendance, but only if they equalize the pay scale!

    Thanks for putting up this document. As always, you find really interesting stuff.

    Comment by kevinf — August 29, 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  4. Actually, Researcher found the reason for the decline–her ancestor Sister W is no longer around to keep the numbers up.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 29, 2008 @ 2:45 pm

  5. You better believe it, Mark. When you’ve done 4000 day-long endowments, plus scads of baptisms for the dead, you can start sneering. ;-)

    Comment by Researcher — August 29, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

  6. Ardis, obviously great minds are thinking alike, before I read the footnote I thought, “sweet! Ardis is going to give me answers to a question I have had for sometime now!”. As far as I can tell the policy of having a family heir persisted well into the twenties…I think it may have been one of those things that was just too hard to manage on a large scale. I’m still working on it though.

    As to when the endowment was shortened, after the death of pres. Lund, George F. Richards became president of the SLC Temple and reformed practices between 1921-1923, with changes including eliminating temple healers, calling temple president wives as matrons, reforming the endowment, and shortening the garment. I’m traveling and can’t check now, but I think the endowment changes were in 1922.

    Mark, I’m not sure that there is a significan’t history of doing all the proxy work in the same session as a rule. I’ll look at some resources when I am able, though.

    Thanks as always Ardis, for the great post.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 29, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

  7. I would be interested to know, within reason, more about the evolution of the temple work during the 20th century. Certainly, bearing in mind the sacred nature of the temple, we couldn’t discuss all changes and so forth, but I do find it interesting. I have heard that in earlier days there were parts of the ceremony, including singing, that was done in the Celestial room. Does anyone know anything about this? (I hope I’m not deviating too far from the original post on this.)

    Comment by Steve C. — August 29, 2008 @ 9:34 pm

  8. Mark, I’m not sure that there is a significant history of doing all the proxy work in the same session as a rule.

    J., I’m looking to you to write it.

    Comment by Justin — August 29, 2008 @ 10:12 pm

  9. Steve, I’ll let Ardis set her own ground rules, but I don’t think that I am comfortable discussing such details on the blogs.

    I also remembered that I have an account about a temple worker in, I believe, 1914 that indicated his salary as $20 a month (workers used to be paid in thise days) – a bit more than the going rate for dong an endowment a day.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 30, 2008 @ 12:17 am

  10. J. Stapley and Justin,

    It doesn’t matter to me which one of you does the research and writes it. I’ll be grateful either way.

    I had thought (and maybe it came from thin air), that at some time in the distant past all the initiatory ordinances and the endowment would be done by the same proxy on the same day, and that before then even baptisms would be done at the beginning of that day. (I know it can be done, even now, with family names.)

    Anyway, I’m happily awaiting enlightenment.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 30, 2008 @ 6:03 am

  11. I’ve received a note from Left Field with a very funny opening line (“Hmm, I suppose the extra 25c was to compensate men for the trouble of the proxy ordination?”) and giving his reasons from personal experience to date the “segregation” of ordinances to about 1980. My experience dates to 1981 when the options he described were not offered, so he convinces me.

    Friends, with that, let’s all please refocus on the original topic: helping the Saints accomplish their obligations to deceased family members when those Saints had little hope of regular temple attendance. Our other discussion is one I would enjoy were we all gathered in the same room as friends, but not in public. I’ll post a similar note on the other thread where this discussion has spilled. Thanks for your cooperation.

    Some of you must have served missions before temples were scattered abroad, and in places where the Saints would be lucky to travel to a temple for even their own ordinances. Any memories of how they thought of temple work for their deceased friends and relatives?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 30, 2008 @ 9:31 am

  12. Ardis,

    My brother inherited our great-aunt’s “blue suitcase”, in which she kept all her genealogy and temple records. Baptized in 1961, she was an ardent genealogist, but limited by money, health, and distance in her ability to do temple work personally. But I know that she diligently sent every scrap of information to the temple so that the work could be done for her ancestors. (I inherited a puzzle–the identity of her great-grandfather–she had worked on all those, and was at last able to solve it in 2001).

    Your article also sheds light on what my own grandmother (a convert in Arizona the mid 1940′s) had to do in order to do her family work. I hadn’t realized that taking a name to the temple was an all-day thing. She did dozens, despite having small children and fighting tuberculosis.

    Thanks for this.

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 30, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

  13. I am gone for a day and come back just in time to miss the comment window on the threadjack. I’m devastated.

    Great post, again, Ardis. This was very interesting.

    Comment by Ray — August 30, 2008 @ 6:02 pm

  14. That’ll teach ya to miss a day of Keepa excitement, Ray. Best wishes for a speedy recovery from devastation!

    Coffinberry, congratulations on solving your genealogical mystery. I wouldn’t be surprised if your great-aunt had something to do with it, and that isn’t just a Sunday School response. You give us a hint of the commitment of thousands of Latter-day Saints doing genealogical research and temple ordinances under conditions that — given the aid of computers and the ease of temple attendance available to many of us now — demand our respect. Thanks for commenting.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 30, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

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