Cynthia Doxey, “Elijah’s Mission, Message, and Milestones of Development in Family History and Temple Work” in Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal Restoration (Provo: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 2005), 157–71.
Elijah’s Mission, Message, and Milestones of Development in Family History and Temple Work
Cynthia Doxey was an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University when this was published.
The last verses of the Old Testament record the prophecy given by Malachi that Elijah the prophet would return to the earth before the coming of the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:5–6). Although these are just two verses of scripture, the prophecy and its fulfillment have had a lasting impact on the lives of people throughout the world. Elijah restored priesthood keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the latter days to carry out his mission of turning the hearts of fathers and children toward each other.
The restoration of Elijah’s keys and the associated temple ordinances have influenced the Church and people throughout the world as they now seek to join their families together. Joseph Smith’s role in the restoration of the temple and family history work laid the foundation for further developments to take place. The focus of this paper will be on the prophecies and fulfillment of Elijah’s mission in the latter days and the teachings of Joseph Smith regarding the redemption of the dead. Second, attention will be given to the effects of Elijah’s coming on record keeping, family history, and temple work in the past two centuries.
Prophecies of Elijah’s Return
The prophecy about Elijah’s coming and the resulting turning of the hearts of fathers and children is one of the few that is found in all the standard works: the Bible (see Malachi 4:5–6), the Book of Mormon (see 3 Nephi 25:5–6), the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 2:1–3; 110:13–16; 128:17–18), and the Pearl of Great Price (see Joseph Smith—History 1:38–39). Prophecies of Elijah’s return to the earth appear to be prevalent in the scriptures and in traditional folklore. For example, a custom is still observed during the Jewish Passover where a cup of wine is placed on the table but is not drunk, and the door is opened in the expectation that Elijah will return to unify the people and bring deliverance from oppression. 
Although many people expect Elijah to return, they do not understand why or what he will do when he comes. Without the Restoration and the further understanding that Joseph Smith provided in this dispensation, the purpose and fulfillment of Elijah’s return would not be accessible to us. In 1964 President N. Eldon Tanner said he had read a Christian commentary on the passage in Malachi and noted that the scripture was not well explained. He stated, “The full meaning and impact of this prophecy and promise could in no wise be understood until Elijah himself actually appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1836.” 
Joseph Smith related that when Moroni visited him on the evening of September 21, 1823, he spoke about the ancient record found on the gold plates and also taught him from the Bible. Some of the first scriptures that Moroni quoted were verses from Malachi 4, but Joseph said Moroni quoted them “with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles” (Joseph Smith—History 1:36). Interestingly, this passage is the only one from all those quoted by Moroni that was chosen to be included in the Doctrine and Covenants as section 2. Similar emphasis was given by the Savior in 3 Nephi 25:5–6. He restated the prophecy of Malachi for the Nephites because they did not have it in the plates of brass. Some of the “variation” that is found between Moroni’s quotation and Malachi’s original found in the Bible helps Latter-day Saints understand Elijah’s mission in the latter days more fully.
In Malachi 4:5–6, we read, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi’s prophecy states that Elijah will come back at some time before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, with the purpose of turning the hearts of fathers and children to each other. If this scripture were all that we had to go on, however, we might wonder what Elijah would be doing when he returned. Would he just come to visit people and bring love to families? Why would the earth be cursed if he did not come?
Latter-day scriptures and the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith significantly augment our understanding. The words of Moroni read: “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted” (D&C 2:1–3).
We learn from Moroni’s words that Elijah is not just coming for a visit at the Passover meal; he actually will reveal the priesthood or confer priesthood authority having to do with uniting families for eternity. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the reason Elijah had that assignment was because he “was the last Prophet that held the keys of the Priesthood,” and thus he was to “restore the authority and deliver the keys of the Priesthood, in order that all the ordinances may be attended to in righteousness.”  These keys bind or seal parents to each other and children to their parents for time and all eternity, allowing all the ordinances of the gospel to be ratified and in effect both on earth and in heaven.  Joseph Smith further commented on Elijah’s mission of redeeming the dead by teaching, “What is this office and work of Elijah? It is one of the greatest and most important subjects that God has revealed. . . . Now was this merely confined to the living, to settle difficulties with families on earth? By no means. It was a far greater work. . . . This is the spirit of Elijah, that we redeem our dead, and connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven.”  The restoration of these priesthood keys to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his teachings about the work of redeeming the dead help us recognize the importance of Elijah’s work and why it is so important to the Lord’s work to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
Moroni used different wording than Malachi’s phrase, “turn the hearts of the fathers.” Joseph Smith recorded that Moroni said, “Plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers.” This language emphasizes that the children of the latter days will be blessed with the fulness of the gospel, including the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. The covenant given to Abraham and his seed includes the promise of “the continuation of seed or the continuation of the family unit.”  As those promises of eternal family life enter the hearts of the children through the temple ordinances they perform in their own behalf, they should gain a desire to turn to their fathers and seek them out to perform ordinances vicariously. We often refer to that desire as the Spirit of Elijah. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: “We are the children, and after we receive these blessings for ourselves, our attention turns almost by instinct to the well-being of our ancestors who died without a knowledge of the gospel. . . . It thus becomes our privilege, on the basis of salvation for the dead, to search out our ancestors—to whom the same blessings have been promised as have come to us—and to make these blessings available to them through the vicarious ordinances of the house of the Lord.” 
Joseph Smith taught that “the word turn . . . should be translated bind, or seal,”  meaning that Elijah’s mission was not only to help families love one another but also to create eternal families through covenants and ordinances that bind individuals as families throughout eternity. That the responsibility of doing this work is laid on the children of this generation is again evidenced as we read in D&C 98:16, “Seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers.” The teachings of the Prophet and the revelations he received from the Lord greatly enhance our understanding of what it means to turn our hearts. The priesthood keys Joseph received from Elijah make it possible for Latter-day Saints to fulfill our obligation to bind our families together for eternity.
As we further analyze differences between these two passages from Malachi and Moroni, we find that the last statement from Moroni sounds much stronger than that from Malachi. Moroni says that if Elijah were not to come, “the whole earth would be utterly wasted at [the Lord’s] coming” (D&C 2:3) rather than that the earth would be smitten with a curse (see Malachi 4:6). Although being smitten with a curse does not sound good, being “utterly wasted” sounds devastating. The whole purpose of the earth would be a total waste without Elijah’s coming, because the earth was created to provide a place for Heavenly Father’s children to experience mortality and to make and keep covenants that would help them return to Him as eternal families. Furthermore, our own lives would be a waste because without performing temple ordinances to seal our families together, we would not have roots and branches (see Malachi 4:1), or eternal family units with ancestry and posterity. McConkie and Ostler state it another way: “If we do not accomplish the primary purpose for which we came to mortality, namely the forming of an eternal family unit, we have wasted our lives on matters that are not of eternal importance.” 
Fulfillment of the Prophecy
Without the additional scriptural revelations and the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, we would not have this understanding of the important work of Elijah. Although scriptural comparison is interesting, the more important thing to remember is that the prophecy of Elijah’s return was fulfilled! One of the great blessings of this dispensation is that Elijah did come during the latter days to reveal the keys of the sealing power to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. He came during the time of the Passover while the Jews were waiting for him.  Instead of coming to them, however, Elijah revealed himself to others of the house of Israel who were organized under the authority and direction of the Lord Jesus Christ in the latter days.
The restoration of the sealing keys is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 110, where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery described a series of angelic visitations in the Kirtland Temple, namely, the appearance of the Savior, Moses, Elias, and Elijah on April 3, 1836, one week after the dedication of the temple. The scripture states that Elijah told them the time had “fully come” for Malachi’s prophecy to be fulfilled and that he committed the “keys of this dispensation” into Joseph Smith’s and Oliver Cowdery’s hands (see D&C 110:14–16). Through the Holy Ghost, all people can gain their own testimonies that Elijah actually came. But there are other evidences that the hearts of children have been turned to their fathers.
In 1972 Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote that a further witness of Elijah’s appearance comes as we answer the following question: “Is there a recently developed and widespread interest among living persons regarding their forefathers?”  Elder Petersen responded with a number of facts about the development and increase of family history interest since the nineteenth century. He suggested there is ample evidence to show the effects of Elijah’s visit as we see the development of family history, records, research, and temple work both in the Church and throughout the world.  Since Elder Petersen’s statement, the continued growth and development of family history and temple work has demonstrated further evidence of Elijah’s visit to Joseph Smith.
Family History and Record Keeping throughout the World
Before the visit of Elijah, the general population in Western society showed little interest in family history. Genealogies were kept and recorded in the Bible as evidence that people had the lineage to be rightful heirs to the blessings of Abraham. Royalty and nobility could produce evidence of their heritage in order to claim their rights to the inheritance of thrones and estates. However, only a handful of people beyond these groups were interested in their own family histories, and there were no organized societies in the United States solely devoted to the study of genealogy. 
One of the milestones with which to measure the beginning of the interest in family history is the establishment of the United States’ (and perhaps the world’s) oldest genealogical society: the New England Historic Genealogical Society in 1845. Other genealogical societies such as the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (founded in 1869), the National Genealogical Society (organized in 1903), and the Society of Genealogists in London (beginning in 1911) soon followed and have multiplied to the point where there are now literally thousands of genealogical-oriented societies throughout the world. 
Not only was there a growing interest in genealogy research in the mid-nineteenth century, but governments also began placing a greater emphasis on keeping record of their citizens. It may not be coincidence that beginning in January 1837, the year after Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, England and Wales began civil registration of records of births, marriages, and deaths. Scotland began their civil registration in 1855. Similarly, in the United States, the mid-nineteenth century was the time when many states began to pass laws requiring the registration of vital records,with Massachusetts leading the way in 1841.  Another evidence of how records have changed since Elijah’s visit is the type of information that was required in records maintained by governments. Two good examples are the British Census, which began in 1841 to ask for names, ages, and birthplaces, and the United States Census, which changed in 1850 to ask for names, ages, and birthplaces for everyone living in the household, and in 1880 added the categories of “relationship to head” and “parents’ birthplaces.” Before 1850, the census asked only for the name of the head of household and the approximate age and gender for everyone else. The Spirit of Elijah may well have had an effect on government records throughout the world.
Development of Family History and Temple Work in the Church
Joseph Smith built the foundation for the process of redeeming the dead which has moved forward at an ever-increasing pace to the current time. Joseph taught the doctrines associated with the redemption of the dead, and every prophet in this dispensation has continued to emphasize this great work.  In addition, through the years since Joseph Smith, the Church has promoted a rapid expansion of family history and temple work with the building of temples and the development of family-history research tools such as microfilmed records and automated databases now available on the Internet.
It was some years after Elijah’s coming that Joseph Smith began to teach about baptism for the dead. On August 10, 1840, while preaching at the funeral of Seymour Brunson, Joseph Smith first mentioned this concept. Later, he gave the following instructions: “The Saints have the privilege of being baptized for those of their relatives who are dead, whom they believe would have embraced the Gospel, if they had been privileged with hearing it, and who have received the Gospel in the spirit, through the instrumentality of those who have been commissioned to preach to them while in prison.”  President Wilford Woodruff taught that Joseph Smith recognized the eternal significance and urgency of redeeming the dead: “When the Prophet Joseph had this revelation from heaven, what did he do? . . . He never stopped till he got the fulness of the word of God to him concerning the baptism for the dead.”  President Woodruff described how Joseph Smith and many of the Saints in Nauvoo performed baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi River before there was a baptismal font in the Nauvoo Temple.  In January 1841, the Lord taught the Saints that the ordinance of baptism for the dead belongs in the temple and commanded them to build a temple for baptisms and for the further ordinances that would be revealed (see D&C 124:28–41).
The other ordinances of the temple were restored through the Prophet during the Nauvoo period as well, with the endowment first being given to Church leaders in May 1842 in the upper room of Joseph Smith’s general store.  Prior to leaving Nauvoo in 1846, many members received these sacred ordinances in the temple, their anxiety being very great to receive the blessings of the endowment.  Although proxy endowments and sealings were not carried out in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith laid the groundwork for the work to go forward when the Saints were established in the Great Basin.  He also received revelations that brought further understanding of God’s eternal plan for His children. For example, Joseph Smith received a vision of the celestial kingdom in January 1836, learning that individuals who die without a knowledge of the gospel, but who would have accepted it, will be heirs to that kingdom (see D&C 137:5–7).
Since Joseph Smith’s day, the Church has spent much time, effort, and money in providing resources to further the work of redemption of the dead. The first temple to be completed in Utah was the St. George Temple in 1877. Today, temples are found throughout the world. In 1994, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, stated, “This is the great season of temple building and temple activity. . . . I am confident that the Lord will permit us and direct us to go on building these sacred structures as we become worthy of them.”  During his tenure as the president of the Church, the number of temples that have been dedicated or announced has grown from 50 to 130 as of October 2004.  This large increase in temples demonstrates a fulfillment of the words he spoke in 1994 and shows the importance of temple work in the Church today and in the future. President Brigham Young prophesied that the time would come when there will be “thousands” of temples on the earth. 
Many Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century turned their hearts to their fathers as they pursued their own family history research, but it was not a priority for all Church members. At the April general conference in 1894, President Wilford Woodruff put a new emphasis on the doctrine of sealing families together as he taught, “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. . . . This is the will of the Lord to this people.”  This focus on searching out our own genealogies led Church leaders and members to formally organize their family history efforts by creating the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) on November 14, 1894. The goals for the society were to establish and maintain a library, to educate members about how to do genealogical research, and to acquire records of the dead that could be used in temple work.  With the organization of the GSU, family history research went forward and increased in importance in the Church and has become well known throughout the world.
Much has happened since the organization of the Genealogical Society of Utah that makes the Church a leader in genealogical record keeping, storage, and dissemination. The library began with a small collection of 300 books in 1894 but has grown to include more than 360,000 books, 2.5 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records, and 742,000 microfiche records, along with many electronic databases and resources.  In the limitations of this paper, it is not possible to go into detail about all these events.  Therefore, the attached table mentions only a few of the major milestones that have had a great impact on family history research.
TABLE—MILESTONES OF FAMILY HISTORY IN THE CHURCH
1927—Temple Records Index Bureau (TIB)
The TIB indexes the names of individuals who received their endowments either for themselves or by proxy since 1842. It was the primary method for clearing names for temple work until 1969 when the International Genealogical Index began. 
Microfilming both preserves and makes available the records found in many archives and libraries. 
1963—The Granite Mountain Records Vault
The Vault was constructed to house the burgeoning collection of microfilms and to preserve them from damage. Inside the mountain, the vault has proper temperatures, humidity, and security for keeping the microfilms in good condition.  While the master films stay in the vault, they can be copied and sent to any Family History Centers for patron use.
1969—International Genealogical Index (IGI)
As computer technology became available, the Church created the IGI as a computer database for the purpose of indexing all of the temple ordinances for deceased individuals, replacing the TIB’s original card catalog system.
1984—Personal Ancestral File (PAF)
With personal computers becoming the norm for many households, this computerized method of storing and organizing genealogical data became available for families’ research.  This program is used extensively throughout the world because it can be downloaded for free from the www.familysearch.org website.
This program had several databases for searching family history information, including the lineage-linked Ancestral File with millions of names, a searchable IGI, the Social Security Death Index, Military Index, and the automated Family History Library Catalog. 
The method for preparing names for the temple became more accessible to Church members as TempleReady was automated at a Family History Center. The previous approval process took several weeks, but could now be completed in a matter of minutes. 
This Internet website has databases such as Ancestral File, the IGI, and the Family History Library Catalog. Since its launching in May 1999, more databases such as censuses from Canada, Britain, and the U.S., have been added to the site. The site is one of the most popular genealogy sites on-line, with millions of hits per day. 
The advances in technology in the past ten years have made genealogy research quite different than what it was before. Computerized databases and Internet resources with digital images of original records make it possible for people to carry out their family history research from their homes. The Church has continued to be a leader in making resources available to the public with more than four thousand Family History Centers scattered across the earth, along with the free Internet access to many of its computerized databases. In 1994 President Howard W. Hunter said that the Lord’s hand had guided the development of technology to accelerate the work of redeeming the dead. Looking toward the future, President Hunter declared, “We stand only on the threshold of what we can do with these tools. I feel that our most enthusiastic projections can capture only a tiny glimpse of how these tools can help us—and of the eternal consequences of these efforts.”  A partial fulfillment of that prophecy can be seen by the use of the Internet for family history work. It has made the research process much less arduous and has also provided rapid and accurate results. No doubt there will continue to be great advances in the work of collecting and providing access to records and in the building of temples, all to hasten the salvation of the dead.
Turning Our Own Hearts to Our Fathers
From the first visit of the angel Moroni to the visit of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple and continuing throughout his life, Joseph Smith laid the foundation of this great work of turning the hearts of children to their fathers. Referring to Moroni’s visit, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “It is tremendously significant to me that this declaration, this repetition of the wondrous words of Malachi concerning the work for the dead, was given to the boy Joseph four years before he was allowed to take the plates from the hill . . . and well before the Church was organized. It says much concerning the priority of this work in the plan of the Lord.”  Joseph Smith emphasized the doctrines and practices related to redeeming the dead, including temple work and baptism for the dead (see D&C 127 and 128). He recognized the importance of this work as he told the Church, “Let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over” (D&C 128:15), and “the Saints have not too much time to save and redeem their dead.” 
If the Latter-day Saints of this generation are to build upon the foundation laid by the Prophet Joseph Smith, we must work to fulfill our responsibility to research our ancestors and provide temple ordinances for them so that “they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (D&C 138:34). President Woodruff taught that if Latter-day Saints could see the labors of the missionaries in the spirit world, they “would lose all interest in the riches of the world, and instead thereof their whole desires and labors would be directed to redeem their dead.”  Other prophets have taught that “this work must hasten,”  and that “it matters not what else we have been called to do, or what position we may occupy, or how faithfully in other ways we have labored in the Church, none is exempt from this great obligation.” 
Clearly, today we have the responsibility to turn our hearts and seal our families together for all eternity, just as the Saints in Joseph Smith’s day had. Perhaps we may have an even greater obligation because it is now so much easier for us to access records and attend temples than it was for the Saints in the earlier days. Joseph Smith encouraged the Saints of his day (and ours) by saying: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free” (D&C 128:22).
Surely the Church and its people must build upon the foundation of the Restoration begun by Joseph Smith to do our part in setting the prisoners free.
 Ralph L. Smith, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1984), 342.
 Nathan Eldon Tanner, “The Heavens are Open,” Improvement Era, June 1964, 461.
 Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 172.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R.McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), 2:119.
 Smith, Teachings, 337–38.
 Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 24.
 Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 509.
 Smith, Teachings, 330.
 McConkie and Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration, 24.
 Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:101.
 Mark E. Petersen, “Why Mormons Build Temples,” Ensign, January1972, 49.
 Petersen, “Why Mormons Build Temples,” 52–53.
 James B. Allen, Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile B. Mehr, Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894–1994 (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 1995), 24.
 Kip Sperry, “From Kirtland to Computers: The Growth of Family History Record Keeping,” in The Heavens Are Open: The 1992 Sperry Symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants, comp. Byron R. Merrill and others (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 293–94.
 Sperry, “From Kirtland to Computers,” 292.
 Howard W. Hunter, “We Have a Work to Do,” Ensign, March 1995,64.
 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1960),4:179, 231.
 Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946), 153.
 Woodruff, Discourses, 153.
 Smith, History of the Church, 5:1–2.
 More than five thousand endowments were given in the temple from December 10, 1845, to February 7, 1846. The History of the Church, 7:541–80, gives reference to how many individuals received their endowments each day. The Nauvoo Temple records contain all the names and dates of endowments and sealings.
 Proxy endowments and sealings began in the St. George Temple in 1877.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Century of Family History Service,” Ensign, March 1995, 62. This talk was originally given on November 13, 1994, on the one hundredth anniversary of the organization of the Genealogical Society of Utah.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “Condition of the Church,” Ensign, November 2004, 5.
 Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954), 394.
 Woodruff, in Discourses, 157.
 Allen, Embry, and Mehr, Hearts Turned to the Fathers, 45–46.
 The most comprehensive description of the progress of family history research in the Church can be found in Allen, Embry, and Mehr’s history of the Genealogical Society of Utah.
 Allen, et al., 101.
 Ibid., 218, 223; R. Scott Lloyd, “A Century of Progress in Family History Work,” Church News, June 26, 1995, 5.
 Allen, et al., 239–240.
 Ibid., 324.
 Ibid., 330; Sperry, 296
. R. Scott Lloyd, 5.
 R. Scott Lloyd, “Today we are taking a historic step,” Church News, May 29, 1999, 8
 Hunter, “We Have Work to Do,” 65.