Methods of Conducting Genealogical Research

—Phillip W. McMullin

Joseph Smith has advised us that the greatest work which the lord has for us to do is to seek after our dead. Genealogy is one of the four aspects of the correlation program of the Church today, making its achievement vital to the salvation of each individual.

But how can this work be completed by the average Church member? It seems apparent that the two easiest methods would be for the independently wealthy person to pay someone else to have this work done, or for someone with unlimited time to spend his entire lifetime doing his own genealogy.

Since either of the above conditions are seldom existent in our society, the average person interested in pursuing an extension of his family tree needs to turn his efforts in other directions. The purpose of the present analysis is to investigate various methods which might be used to achieve the goal of genealogical research. Although these methods are centered toward the Latter-day Saint family, any individual interested in such work can adapt the following methods to his own situation.

The first insturment which might be used, and certainly the ideal situation in the eyes of our profession, is for the individual to hire a trained genealogist to do his research. The implications, bot good and bad, of such a choice are as follows:

1. If a qualified researcher is chosen, the work will be done with minimal error, thus achieving the desired results. Errors can be easily made by even well-trained researchers unless they have had adequate experience. Someone who has constant exposure to research methods learns of periodic changes in techniques, new record sources, research policies, etc.

2. If adequate funds are available, such a method would probably be the desirable.

3. The best asset to having a trained professional researcher is his analytical prowess. Someone who has daily exposure to research gains proper insights into genealogical problems by hs increasing knowledge and experience.

4. The professional will also know sources to consult to avoid duplication and to learn from previous research. (These are the advantages of the CRA (Church Record Archives), CFI (Computer file index), IFR’s master file (Institute of Family Research) and the unlimited possibilities of future work with computers!)


1. It is quite expensive and the average person may not be able to afford such investment (expecially with large company overhead).

2. You may get a poor researcher.

The second method of accomplishing research is to establish a family organization. With the correct type of leadership, there is no limit to what such an establishment can achiev. However, different families are organized to perform in differnt ways, as follows:

I. The organization can ask for a set amount of dues periodically to support various research projects.

A. Yearly dues, e.g., ten to twenty-five dollars for all families is one option.

B. Leader consult with heads of each family and allocate the amount they can most likely afford, e.g., each family group could be assigned fifty dollars per month to go into the fund for research.

C. Individual members who are known to be well financed can be asked personally to give larger amounts on a regular basis, yearly or monthly.

Once a method of financing is chosen, a professional, or a family member can be commissioned to perform the work.

II. The organization could choose one or two family members to train to do the research. These members must attend classes in Sunday School and could be sent to BYU or similar institutions to learn methods of research. They would do all research for the family and would be paid for their time. It would be best to choose someone who is young, with an alert mind, although the older family members would probably have more time and perhaps be endowed with more of the Spirit of Elijah.

An important aspect in such a situation is that the leaders selected in the family organization must be self-starters, so that the researcher will be motivated to work.

III. The family organization could divide up the pedigree into various areas. Then the family could be divided — say, each of the four living family heads would be assigned one grandparent’s line to work on. This way all interested would be involved, and the work would get done with minimal expense. Also, because of the strong personal interest, spiritual insight and direction from above may exist that would not necessarily be present with the professional. This would perhaps be the ideal situation. Unfortunately no one would be qualified to ensure that errors were not made. Also, the in-depth knowledge into various research problems and the professional’s analytical insights would be lacking. This lack of knowledge may cause severe hindrances to progress.

In summary, there is probably no single correct answer to the problem. A family may be blessed with wealth, with ample time, with a special family member motivated by the Spirit of Elijah. Whatever the situation, the costs must be weighed by family leaders, who take their own initiative to seek the assets of the family and to come to the most beneficial conclusion.