Oh vaulted ancestors!


The Granite Mountain Record Vault is a veritable temple, a slightly more natural- and secure-looking version of the one in Salt Lake City, not far away. A spiritual glow even radiates from the arched entrance to its tunnels (at least in this promotional photo). But this vault holds way more folks than the spired House of the Lord can seat: billions of people, in fact, from over 100 countries, described in 170 languages.

That's because the 65,000-square-foot space, set deep in sheer metamorphic rock, is the Mormon Church's repository for genealogical and historical documents of all sorts, including the Church's own internal records. Rows of steel cabinets contain more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilm with 3.5 billion images of birth certificates, census results, etc., from the world over. No doubt, you and your extended family are emulsified somewhere within.

The collection serves a variety of useful purposes. When a hurricane wiped out the archives of the small island of Niue, for instance, the LDS replaced their collection, no worries. But why are the LDS really interested in your non-Mormon soul? According to Church doctrine, even the long-deceased may receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and become Mormon. If it's true that life is eternal, repentance is possible in its next incarnation, and family bonds  are forever, then it helps to know who you're related to, and who still needs to be saved. Mortals even can serve as proxies for the baptism of their ancestors, and so on.

The Church began compiling names in the late 19th century, and first thought about building a 15-story archive downtown. Instead, it chose to tunnel about 700 feet into a wall of the Little Wood Canyon in the early 1960s for about $2 million. When they encountered water, they stopped, and it was a "blessing," according Brent Thompson, director of the Church History Department's preservation services, because that water is now used to process microfilm. Though it makes you wonder whether that rock is really impenetrable …

Visitors are seldom allowed, as the Church doesn't want dust, or blue jean fibers from swishing pant legs, floating around in the archive. Plus, an air of secrecy never hurts. Lest you think about intruding, to track down a lost soul, think again: Allegedly, its massive, reinforced doors can hold up against a nuclear blast. Or even reporters.

In some ways, however, this vault is more accessible than ever: you can explore its tunnels at FamilySearch.org, where you also can submit your own records, should you wish. Recently, Family Search announced it's adding another 300 million names to the  Web site. The collection's compiled from indexes of all types: 1935 South Dakota state census; Washington, D.C., deaths and burials 1840-1964; and Utah marriages, 1887-1966, to name just a few examples.

You might give it a whirl. President Obama, for one, "would learn that public speaking skills and stage presence run in his family—his maternal great-great-grandfather, Charles Payne, was noted as an auctioneer by profession in the census. With just a few keystrokes, he'd find that Charles and his wife Della were born respectively in Missouri and Ohio and living with their six children in Johnson County, Kansas, in 1900. Obama's great-grandfather, Rolla, was listed as their second child."

For more, take a video tour (or two), courtesy of the Church: