Reporter at Large, The Mountain of Names
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     Each newly received dead person's name and its accompanying data are run through hundreds of GIANT's "program modules" -proprietary software designed by the society's own resident programmers-to make sure that he has not already been cleared for temple work in another guise: Ann Brown of New York City, for instance, may have already been processed as Hannah Braun of Nieuw Amsterdam. Names, dates, and places have different "uniqueness factors," Cahoon told me. "Reynolds Cahoon is a high-uniqueness-factor name; John Smith is not. Each name is assigned a statistical uniqueness factor, which has been determined by studying demographic records and learning the frequency of the name's occurrence. Obviously, if you know the names of a person's parents or children, that is even more uniquely identifying." Apparently unconcerned with the conceptual difficulties raised by degrees of uniqueness, he continued, "The uniqueness factor of a place depends on its size and population. Dates become increasingly unique the more complete they are, with the year, month, and day being the most unique. The earlier the date, the less unique it is, because the probability increases that somebody else has already found that he was descended from the same person and has submitted the person's records." Uniqueness decreases with time, in other words, because the probability of being related to any given individual increases, and because the number of records available for genealogical research decreases. "The uniqueness factor of the year 1500, for instance, is .003. The uniqueness factor of 1980 is 2.68."
     Once the uniqueness factors for the dead person's name, event place, and event date have been determined, GIANT computes his over-all uniqueness factor. If this is below a certain threshold, his entry is rejected. If it is high enough, his entry is matched against the other names from his locality who have already made it into GIANT's data bank, which is called the Genealogical Mass File. If the person is from a "high submission" area, a request is generated to check the Temple Index Bureau as well. If the person is found in either place, he "dupes out." If not, he has "cleared." He joins the Genealogical Mass File, and his name is included in a packet that is sent to one of the temples, and it is also entered in the International Genealogical Index, the public part of the File. (There are exceptions to entry in the Index-for instance, those whose next of kin have petitioned to have their name remain confidential.)
     Putting refined computer technology in the service of nineteenth-century millennialism might strike some as peculiar, but Tom Daniels has no trouble explaining it. "People don't understand why they invent things," he said. "All things that are conceived are conceived in the preexistence." The preexistence is another Mormon doctrine: the mortal body is a "probationary state" between the preexistence -in which we existed for aeons as God's "unembodied" spiritual children-and eternity. "Maybe this is parochial," he says, "but I see modern technology as coming on primarily for the Kingdom of God and secondarily for secular purposes." Nobody is more forward-looking than Reynolds Cahoon. "This system is too old," he complained of GIANT. "It needs to be replaced. It was written before highlevel languages and data-base management systems came on. They have evolved greatly, and our whole theory of names processing is going to change. People aren't like airplane parts. The matches aren't perfect. They don't always have the same name all their lives, for instance. I think we should move toward making human beings more efficient in doing the job."
     The society is worried that it is falling hopelessly behind. Each year, about fifty-five million people around the world die, but only between five and six million of the dead have proxy ordinances performed for them in Mormon temples. Each year, many more names are filmed than are extracted, slightly more are extracted than are cleared (ten and a half million to eight million in 1984) and many more are cleared for temple work than have work done for them. Even if the society lost access tomorrow to all the remaining un filmed records in the world, it would still be busy for perhaps two hundred years. In 1974, while dedicating a new temple in Washington, D.C., President Kimball spoke about the pressing need to catch up: "The day is coming not too far ahead of us when all temples on this earth will be going day and night. There will be shifts and people will be coming in the morning hours and in the night hours and in the day hours. . . because of the great number of people who lie asleep in eternity and who are craving, needing, the blessings we can bring them."
 

          IN 1972, the society created the Royalty Identification Unit and put Robert Gunderson, who has been tracing royal pedigrees since he was a teen-ager, in charge. If a person who is "medieval" (pre-1500) or "royalty" (a category that includes the various hereditary nobilities) is submitted, his case is referred for special handling to the unit. Most of the royal and the more prominent noble pedigrees are well-travelled avenues of descent, and the rates of duplication-and of fabrication, among people endeavoring to make a connection to them-are particularly high. In 1984, Gunderson and his two assistants, Rachel Kirk and Tina Plaizier, personally cleared almost eighteen thousand names for temple work and rejected as duplicates many others. Gunderson is probably one of the world's most productive genealogists, but his work is not widely known; he seldom publishes, and he confesses to being a poor correspondent. "I'd rather spend my time on the charts," he told me when I called on him one morning. I asked why connecting the names of the dead was important for temple work. "The church is responsible for all the dead," he explained, "but the individual church member is primarily responsible for his own ancestry. If he comes upon a line of his progenitors that we have already traced-which happens with most of the cases we deal withthis frees him to start working on another one."
     Gunderson was sitting at a long table piled high with pedigree charts, each of which contained five "lineagelinked" generations, together with numbers referring to the previous and the following charts of descent. He estimated that he had four or five thousand charts out on the table and a couple of thousand more filed away. Most of them traced the kings and queens of England and their kin-his specialty. From time to time during our talk, his telephone rang, and Gunderson picked it up and answered, affably, "Royalty."
     "I probably would not be in the least bit interested in genealogy if it wasn't for my religious beliefs," he told me. "Mormons believe that to be resurrected and to inherit a degree of glory you have to do nothing. You will receive immortality, and we know that it will be a marvellous inheritance, because the Bible says that 'a day with the Lord is as a thousand years with man.' Even on the bottom rung-the Telestial-you will be an angel. Joseph Smith said that if a man could just glance into the Telestial he would commit suicide to get there. But angels can't have posterity increase, whereas if you enter the upper thirdthe Celestial Kingdom-you can create spiritual children, besides those born to you in life. Man is that he might have joy, and joy is expanding and having children, providing for others, and helping them to reach their capabilities. The joy of parenthood is teaching your children to cope with life. The joy of temple work is enabling people to go to the Celestial Kingdom, and helping them go prepared. Without receiving through endowment the gift of knowledge, which is an essential part of the progression, and without entering into the everlasting category of marriage, you wouldn't be happy there; you'd be like a drunk in a swank place, or somebody who was out of his social element. If I didn't have these beliefs, I probably wouldn't be in the least interested in genealogy. I'd probably be out making money.
     "I landed my first job here in 1964, as a researcher, and as soon as the Royalty Identification Unit came into existence I started collecting the descendants of Edward IV. This in itself was an impossible task-after four or five generations, there are more than you can count-so I took a bigger bite and went four generations farther back, to Edward III. All Americans with British ancestry are probably descended from Edward III, although many of the connections we've looked at haven't held up. At the same time, I started working backward, from Prince Charles. A lot of his maternal ancestry is lost, because the wives weren't named, but after twelve years I've got him descended from Edward III almost two thousand different ways. If you just kept plugging away at these two pedigrees, you would eventually run into everybody in history. Imagine what it would be like if there was a structure-a computerized ancestral file-that everybody could tie into. That's the day we're all working toward."
     I asked if anything was being done about early historical figures, like Moses, Socrates, and Cleopatra.
     "At this point, we aren't involved with Biblical people, or with historical people before 200 A.D.," Gunderson said. "We consider that Moses and the prophets have done all their own work, and other Biblical figures will be done in the millennium, under the direction of the Lord."
     I was hoping that Gunderson could confirm a story from my father's side of the family. Among the few possessions that my paternal grandparents took with them when they left Russia, in 1917, was a copy of a miniature by the portraitist Peter Sokoloff, who painted many of the notables during the reign of Nicholas 1. The miniature, in a red velvet frame, shows an ethereally beautiful young woman-a blue-eyed brunette whose hair is in an enormous chignon interwoven with strands of pearls, and whose bare shoulders are draped with a filmy stole. The woman's name is Sophie Phillipeus. My paternal grandfather was her grandson, and the miniature had been in his parents' house in Moscow. According to family legend, Sophie was a granddaughter o( a Frenchwoman named Josephine Emilie-Louise de La Valette, who-as every French schoolchild knows-saved her husband's life by changing clothes with him in prison. Her husband, Comte Antoine-Marie de La Valette, had been Napoleon's Postmaster General, and in the Bourbon Restoration he was sentenced to the guillotine. The ruse enabled him to escape to Luxembourg. Mme. de La Valette went mad in prison, and after the Bourbon government released her she spent the rest of her life in a sanitarium. The story of her self-sacrifice was recounted widely, and may have given Charles Dickens a good part of the inspiration for "A Tale of Two Cities." Having heard this much of the story, Miss Kirk excused herself, and after twenty minutes she returned with Volume C of a British publication entitled The Gentleman's Magazine & Historical Chronicle for January to June, 1830. In it she had found the following obituary: "Feb. 15. At Paris, M. de Lavalette, formerly Director-General of the Post-Office, who was condemned to death in 1815, but was saved by the heroic conduct of his lady."
     M. de La Valette's maiden name was Beauharnais. She was a niece of Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais, the first husband of Empress Josephine, and served as lady-in-waiting in charge of the Empress's wardrobe. Around that time, she became involved with Napoleon's younger brother, Louis Bonaparte. Napoleon was not in favor of the match, and he forced her to marry de La Valette, a man seventeen years her senior. After their marriage, de La Valette went off on the Egyptian campaign, and she stayed with an uncle at Fontainebleau, where she contracted smallpox. (This may explain why her husband had so many mistresses after he came back from Egypt.) At the time that she sprang her husband from prison, Mme. de La Valette was four months pregnant with a child who, if the family story is correct, would marry a man named Phillipeus. My grandmother had told me that Phillipeus was Swedish and was a "governor of Warsaw;" she had no idea what his first name was. Sophie, she said, was their daughter.
     Gunderson went into his files, and in less than a minute he had come up with thirteen pedigree charts linking Josephine Emilie-Louise de Beauharnais in an unbroken patrilineage to Guillaume de Beauharnais, born in Orleans in about 1365. Unfortunately, there were no charts going in the other direction. J'here was nothing about Josephine Emilie-Louise's children-nothing that would have enabled me to claim her as anything more than a putative ancestor. Gunderson and I looked through the A nnuaire de la Noblesse de France and the Repertoire de Genealogies Franqaises lmprimees and discovered all sorts of de La Valettes; twenty-seven other families had used the name, which is a nobiliary epithet rather than a surname. One family, the Pari sot de La Valettes, produced a grand master of Malta, for whom the capital, Valletta, is named. According to some versions of our family history, which I got from other relatives, the wife of the "governor of Warsaw" was Julie or Marie Parisot de La Valette. That would mean, of course, that she was not a daughter of Josephine Emilie-Louise at all. Gunderson apologized for not being able to settle the matter. "We're barely scratching the surface," he explained. "A great deal of the European nobility isn't getting into the machine. We don't even know how much material is available. In Poland, for instance, where I suggest you try for Phillipeus next, there are castle archives we haven't got to at all. And a lot more people are involved than have been recorded. Many records give only the male lines, or only the lines of first sons. "
     All the BeauJ1arnais family members in Josephine Emilie- Louise's line, I noticed on their pedigree charts, had been baptized, endowed, and sealed between 1937 and 1949 by a woman named Amy Hagman Young. "She was an ardent genealogist who married one of Brigham Young's grandsons," Gunderson said, "and she discovered an illegitimate descent through a Swedish prince on her father's side which would have made her the second great-great-grandniece of Josephine."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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