Recently I’ve been doing some genealogy research into my family roots, and it has been fascinating to see where I come from. On both my mom’s and dad’s side my ancestors came to America before the Revolutionary War, some as far back as the early 1600’s. My family predominantly comes from England, with a pretty large number also from Scotland, and a few Irish mixed in.
The Mormons, of course, are famous for their genealogical research, but many don’t realize that they have a theological reason for that research. They believe that they can “baptize” people by proxy, and this includes those who have passed away. So, if someone in your family tree lived before the time of Joseph Smith and was unable to follow the “restored” Mormon Gospel, then they can be baptized by proxy here and now, which will allow them to go to heaven.
Mormon theology is greatly flawed, of course, but there is a Catholic version of this. We believe that many who passed away in the state of grace go to Purgatory before entering Heaven, and, further, our prayers and sacrifices can help expedite their suffering in Purgatory. Today (November 2nd), in fact, is the feast of All Souls, which is intended particularly to remind us of the importance of praying for those who have died. Doing genealogy research can help us to pray for those in our family tree by name.
In my own family tree, it is obvious that my ancestors for hundreds of years were overwhelmingly Protestant: just about all of my ancestors were already Protestant by the 17th century. In fact, I have an ancestor who was the 2nd-ever Scottish Reformation “martyr”, who was burned at the stake in 1533 for embracing Protestantism. We often hear prayers for those in Purgatory “who have no one to pray for them,” and I realize that my most in my family tree have no one praying for them. So this All Souls Day I’m recommitting to praying for the souls of my ancestors, that if they are in Purgatory, they might be released to Heaven as quickly as possible.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine.
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.