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."
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.)
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
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."
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."
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.
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."
if anything was being done about early historical figures, like Moses,
Socrates, and Cleopatra.
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.
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. "
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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